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Category Archives: Canada

Vancouver

Skimboarding on the Spanish Banks, Vancouver, Canada

Is this city part of the fast pacing world of North America? The downtown streets are quiet in the morning. People walk slowly going to their business, some go to restaurants for breakfast or maybe a brunch. The atmosphere of a hectic Vancouver downtown looks more like a weekend morning in the New York’s West Village that a midtown affair.

Granville Island, Vancouver, Canada

We took the car and drove its streets just to find NO traffic. Everywhere we went, and we crossed several parts of town, from downtown, to Queen Elisabeth Gardens, to Spanish Banks to Kitsilano Beach and Granville and back to downtown we did not encounter any trace of the hectic traffic we are used in all our American cities. Besides, to add insult to injury we could easily find free parking on the streets around all these places we visited. And it’s Thursday…. Something must be amiss would think any New Yorker who cannot sleep thinking about his parking spot.

The waterfront, Vancouver

However we found the entire city packed exclusively by Chinese tourists. It feels that you are surrounded only by Chinese, groups after groups are strolling with umbrella signs going to and fro. Anywhere you go, maybe except the beaches, you’ll encounter this rush. You meet so many Chinese tourists, that you, as a tourist, start asking yourself if you are not Chinese also… After Hong Kong was handed over to the Chinese twenty years ago, lots of HK residents moved to Vancouver afraid of the Chinese Commies. That changed Vancouver social fabric coining also its nickname of Hongcouver. Lots of money were poured in its real estate market, many apartments were bought and left unoccupied by the Chinese investors that determined the Vancouver mayor to consider a special tax for unoccupied properties.

Gastown after the bike race

But still Vancouver makes for an extremely livable place, with its extended waterfront aligned with restaurants where we had an excellent dinner by the water in the sunset at TAP and a stroll again in the night through the stores of the old Gastown.

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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Blog, Canada

 

Across the border

Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada

The first impression when you walk in Vancouver is of a relaxed and airy space. Trees are aligning the streets and people stroll peacefully its sidewalks. Entire families are biking in Stanley Park that is full to the brim with people enjoying its shores and the lawns.

The totem poles from Stanley Park, Vancouver

We drove to Vancouver directly from the Seattle airport where we came overnight from Anchorage. A sleepless night…in Seattle. Just when to cross the border we noticed that our son’s passport was expired since March. With the new rules of Homeland security in the US we freaked out and started to call to figure out if we would not have problems entering Canada or coming back. The phone line from Border Control services had an extremely long automated message that was hard to apply to our situation and all forums were buzzing with similar situations and convoluted solutions that would cost lots of money and time. So we decided to go to the border and told straight the Canadian border agent the situation just to be waived through with no concern:”Don’t worry about. Have a nice time in Vancouver!”. “Yeah, but the Americans? What would they say when we get back?” “They won’t bother you. Don’t worry.” So we crossed and soon we drove in downtown Vancouver where our hotel was.

The girl in the wet suit, Stanley Park, Vancouver

After a sleepless night the best place to go was Stanley Park, an expanse of green and water right on top of the downtown where a long walk on the promenade by the bay woke us up. On the other side of town, in its oldest area, the Gastown, a short circuit bike race was zipping through its cobblestone streets.

Gastown annual bike race, Vancouver

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2017 in Blog, Canada

 

Gaspesie – Baie de Chaleur

Everything was great in Gaspesie but now we had to get back. Google maps was showing about 17 hours drive in smooth traffic toward Long Island. But it’s never smooth traffic on the East Coast….
Baie de Chaleur is the optimistic view of Gaspesie toward the Canadian summer. Here are the beaches where people bask in the “chaleur” for the several weeks of August. But as far as we saw there were more fleece than bathing suits. Also the southern coast, way lower and less rougher than the northern one has most of the historical and commercial traces of the peninsula.

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L’Anse à Beaufils, Quebec

Here, there were formed the first cod canning companies. The Robins who arrived here from the island of Jersey established the Jersey company that had practically a monopoly over the cod fishing. They were buying the entire fish catch from the local fishermen whom they paid in products imported by their own stores from USA and England. Most of the time the fish catch was insufficient to sustain the livelihood of the fishermen who recurred in requesting loans from the company that kept them indebted. It created for the people an almost complete dependency to the company that was able occasionally to manipulate the purchased fish prices. The Robin, Jones and Whitman Store in L’Anse a Beaufils is a perfect reenactment of a general store of 1929 where the local fishermen and their families were shopping.

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Paspebiac, Quebec

Further down the coat in Paspebiac are the reconstructed building of the Jersey operation with all kinds of shops needed for tending the boats and for the fishing industry. The triangular fish commerce was exported to the West Indies and South America from where they were loading rum, sugar and molasses brought and sold in Europe from where they purchased manufacture goods to be sold in Paspebiac and around Quebec.

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Paspebiac, Quebec

The entire Baie de Chaleurs is charming. The villages are small, with tiny houses with colored roofs, with nice gardens full of flowers in full bloom. It’s looking like the entire Gaspesie, a place where the life seems very peaceful. From Perce, you drive about three hours on this coast where all look the same, all serene, calm, bon-vivant. The last village in Quebec offers the most striking contrast between two civilizations where a metal bridge crossing the narrow bay lands you in another world: on one side are the sparse tiny houses with flowery gardens of Pointe-a-la-Croix, QC and in front you have the massive, brown brick tall constructions of Campbellton, NB like anywhere else in the industrialized north of upstate New York and Pennsylvania. The bridge is looking like is flowing you inside those building on whose top the smoke stacks stand like a symbol of another world and another culture, so far from the one we left but just across one tiny bridge.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

The birds of Bonaventure Island

If Forillon is the tip of Quebec, Perce is for sure the tourist magnet. The charm of this Michelin three stars town is incomparable with all the other places and its proximity to the Bonaventure bird paradise is its major drawing card. In front of the harbor is the Rocher Perce, a rock that looks from afar like a huge horse drinking water that is, in a way, the symbol of the town. At low tide a causeway opens up and you can walk easily to the rock, a procession that is always full of people walking occasionally their dogs.

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Perce Rock, Perce

But the main attraction is for sure the island in front, Bonaventure. Boats are leaving each hour from a harbor full of travelers who want to discover the gannet colonies of the island. We boarded the first boat of the day that takes you around Roche Perce and places you on the shore of the island where for another fee you are able to enter the National Park. As usual when all the people on the boat landed the rangers asked for the English speaking tourists to go aside and out of a full large ship of eager birdwatchers there were only us who joined the “sort of” English speaking guide…

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Gannet colony, Bonaventure Island, Perce

Bonaventure Island has several trails through bushes of raspberry and dense forests that carries you to the opposite shore where the large gannet colonies adorn the island ledges dropping into the sea. You see them when the boat surrounds the island, all perched on the top of the rock or in its creases, all flying in a cacophony of sounds and diving artistically after fish into the surf. The first sign of the approaching colony is the warble, followed by the pungent ammonia smell but the worst are the swarm of flies that surround the birds. A foray in the observation houses would wake up huge swarms that would land on the photographer and fly in front of the cameras for unexpected photos.
There are four colonies, all with gannets who are courting, fighting and protected their chicks in characteristic poses. Their deftness in diving into the water is in sheer contrast with the landing on soil where they funnily sort of crash land almost on top of the others.
The forth colony, and by far the largest, has in its middle a built up metal tower from whose top you are able to watch a sea of birds on the land and another one flying on top of it. It is an amazing spectacle of the nature. From there the path brings you back on the Chemin de Roi, skirting the coast to the only beach where curious seals pop out of the water and further visiting the houses of the families that once inhabited the islands going towards the harbor to catch the last boat going back to Perce.

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Perce seen from Mont Sainte Anne

If you have more energy, or another day to stay, you can climb the surrounding mountains, crevasses and caves. Mount Sainte Anne  stands tall on top of the town and from its five “belvedere” points confers spectacular views over the town, Rocher Perce and the Bonaventure island. On top of the mountain is planted the statue  of Sainte Anne, the patron of the fishermen. We climbed the mountain at sunset, after a full day hike in Bonaventure, and arrived, the last travelers, on the peak in admiring the quietude of the setting sun all the way to Cap Espoir and toward Baie de Chaleur. Except for some occasional breezy no sound could be heard and the paragliding flying peacefully over the landscape looked so natural. Eerie  and atmospheric.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Gaspe

Gaspe is the birthplace of Canada. Jacques Cartier landed here, in one of the deepest natural harbor in the world, and stayed for almost two weeks. Before reaching this point he sailed around the southern bay, Baie de Chaleur, where he encounter for the first time the local population of Micmacs with whom traded fur. Meeting also natives from the the Irqouian nation of Stadacone, the current location of Quebec, who were fishing in the peninsula he asked about the name of the country he reached. The natives chief answer “kanata”, the word for “village”, that eventually Cartier associated with the land itself and from here apparently came the word Canada. The MicMac, Mi’kmaq in their own spelling, tribe was the most predominant but in the museum that is dedicated to them in Gaspe I was told that nowadays more than half of them are living in Montreal.

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Gaspe first pilgrim cross

Jacques Cartier arrived in Gaspe in July 24, 1534, planted a cross and claimed this territory for the King of France, Francois I. In order not to antagonize the local tribes he downplayed the importance of the cross as an insignificant symbol. At the four hundreds years anniversary of the landing, in July 1934, a stone cross was mounted in the middle of O’Harra Square, the hub of the town located on the shore of the gulf almost across to the harbor where Cartier landed.

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O’Harra Square, Gaspe

One thing that you cannot fail noticing in Quebec is the race uniformity. The French culture is avidly defended by the locals who formed also a Parti Quebecois that organized several years ago a referendum to separate the province from Canada. French language is exclusively spoken with occasional English mainly for tourists. The entire population is white and you can hardly see any other race in the entire Quebec outside of Montreal. Even the tourists coming here are also 90% Quebecois. Most of the time we were the only English speaking people in an entire load of tourists and travelers. No Chinese, Koreans, Russians or Latino and very few blacks, way lower than you would expect. Coming from New York or even from Europe the population looks incredible uniform and you realize that not the Quebecois who are extremely nice and friendly but mainly the cold is the main cause that kept people at bay to come here. Everywhere you notice the vibe of a pleasant and slow pacing life. Nobody rushes, everybody eats taking their time, relaxing and enjoying the several weeks of summer.

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Cap des Rosiers, Gaspe

On another tip of the peninsula is the tallest, thou modern, lighthouse of the coast in Cap de Rosier. We spent here a night in a “Gite” and chatted with Jean Remond, its owner, who was telling us about the long winters that this year brought snow up to the second floor of the house. Snows falls till late April or even May and this year lasted on the ground till June. June and July “it rained almost continuously and only now we have a little bit of stable warm weather”. Outside the skies were almost to pour over us and we were wearing a fleece.

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Indian Head Bay, Perce

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Forillon

Forillon National Park is located in the tip of the Gaspe peninsula. The road that winds through the tip of the peninsula forks at one point and enters the park in several places, dividing the park in a northern and a southern sector. In the northern sector Cap Bon Ami looks like the deserted out-of-the-world beach from the “Planet of the Apes”; You may just expect to be Charelton Heston and see the destroyed statue of liberty just around the corner. Whales may roam unseen the far away waters but the seals pop out curiously out of the waves close to the shore standing there for long periods of time and looking at the intruders who dare to trample their beaches.

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Cap Bon Ami, Forillon, Gaspe

In the southern sector, the trail to Cap Gaspe, the most eastern point of the peninsula, is about 4 km. It is a popular trip full of Quebecois who walk or sometime ride bikes all the way to the Cap. At its end, the charming lighthouse overlooks a deep plunge into the wavy ocean that can you reached on a short hike that brings you to the most eastern point of Quebec, as it is stated on a board. The return hike can be done through Les Grave, a charming path surrounded by flowers close to the ocean and overlooking precipitous bays full of seals and lots of birds.

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Cap Gaspe, Forillon

In another part of the park a beaver colony captures each evening the attention of a group of travelers attended by a ranger who offers a tour in Quebecois in their habitat. Luckily we knew something about the life of beavers because the accent proved to be a serious barrier in understanding any French from her explanation. We tried to get some clarifications in English from a nice lady ranger who obliged and made tremendous efforts to put together an explanation and in the end with our combined efforts in choosing the right words in English something came about. East of Quebec is hard to get somebody to speak fluent English and as always we were the only English speakers around…

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Beaver construction, Forillon

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Gaspesie Coast

From Rimouski to the tip of the Gaspesie is a long drive so we kept going and eventually spent the night in a “Gite”, a special category of Bed and Breakfast, at Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, a charming fishing village in whose harbor a local artist, Armand Vaillancourt, created a tower of white recovered wood pieces named “The White Flag”. It’s so impressive that in the night it stands out like a unlit lighthouse attractting people who casual came to walk in the harbor to discover what is its story. From the top of another panorama tower the gulf in front looks like a typical Gaspesie landscape: small houses with red roofs, blue waters, boats in the harbor, white Anglican churches and French stone cathedrals all in a crystal clear chilled air.

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Sainte-Anne-des-Mont

The Gaspesie lighthouses are so numerous that there are brochures and separate tours just to visit only them on the way. The first that came our way was an out-of-service but still fully functioning manually operated lighthouse in La Martre. It was in full operation being winded every 6 hours till the mid 80s when the GPS made them obsolete. But its charm is still there especially to discover its clockwork mechanism that is ticking like it always did. Similar with this one but more advanced technological, there are many lighthouses on the coast and if it were to stop for all of them you may need several days just to drive the entire coast.

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La Martre

In the middle of the north coast is the village of St Madeline de la Riviere de St Madeline. Pretty cool name. It has a lighthouse, a charming harbor on the river the flows in St Laurent and a St Laurent river bed made out of slate rocks that invite you to explore.

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St Madeline de la Riviere de St Madeline – harbor

Panoramic sights are coming one after another on an elevated coast that plunges into the river that at this point is so large, more than 100km, that it looks like a sea. You drive on its coast that is sparsely populated with houses with occasionally colored roofs, atoms of endurance fighting the winter winds and drifted snow. I don’t think that you can see something like that anywhere else on water front properties that are highly valued and built up.

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St Madeline

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2015 in Blog, Canada