My Eastern Canada Bus Tour – June 5-19th – 2013

My Eastern Canada trip. 5th – 19th June – 2013

I must confess that I haven’t exercised due diligence in putting up travel journals on my blog in the last little while, partly due to my daily humdrum routines, partly due to human nature’s inertia in starting or restarting old routines or work habits. And the last reason also it was because I haven’t done any long distance travelling for two years since 2011.

I returned home to Vancouver in the winter of 2011 after a three months root finding in China. I was satisfied that China did provide me with a certain degree of belongingness during my stay there, it also remind me with a certainty that although China is my ancestral homeland, my heart has settled for Canada a long time ago. There are emotional tie regarding things Chinese of course. I wish China all the best.

As some of my new Chinese Canadian friends jokingly mentioned the following two liners in a social get together, loosely translated, it meant the following contradiction between China and Canada: “Such chaos, such filth, such excitement! – China. Pretty mountains, pretty waters, pretty boring! – Canada”

For those who understand written Chinese, the following two lines say the same thing: 真 亂 真 髒 真 精 彩. 好 山 好 水 好 無 聊. It rhymes actually. It is not terribly complimentary of the new adopted country that they found themselves in, but given time, they will find themselves falling in love with the new environment.

At first glance, it feels funny and humor for the difference between the two countries. But in a deeper level, don’t you think it is only fair for us to spend more time with our newly adopted country before writing a comment like that?

I will return this October to Ningbo, China for a visit after a high school reunion in a Malaysia resort. China is a big country, the humanity, the vastness of the land; and the contradictories always put people at awe. I am one of them.

Let me pull back a bit for now, I want to report a recent seven days bus tour in Eastern Canada which highlights Princess Edward Island and the Maritime Provinces.

My buddy Ramon and I departed early morning from Toronto on the 9th of June to the 15th of June on a large air conditioning bus with Wi-Fi service on board. Together with 53 other passengers, our fast talking tour guide was originally hailed from Cambodia – a self taught Chinese Canadian in his 40’s.

I admire and give him all As for his efforts in having to please and inform all passengers on board in two languages and two dialects, English and Chinese, Mandarin a Cantonese.

The first day saw us driving through heavy morning rush hour traffic from the eastern township of Markham to Kingston. Kingston is best known for its penitentiaries, the men’s and the women’s. It is really nothing to look at or worth mentioning, because no one is ever allowed into the prison compounds.

The tour bus just drove by them and the famous Queen’s University, had lunch by Kingston City Hall, and off we went to Quebec City, Quebec City is the only walled city in North America, it is rather nice, well kept and well preserved by any standard.

I have been to Quebec City three times, frankly the first time was the best, and we did the usual touristy thing, buying souvenirs, taking snap shots, the second time, I did some sampling of local cuisine, the third time, I just did a bit of walk about and waiting for the bus to pick us up to our hotel for the night.

I might be jumping the gun here, but for a seven days bus tour, one must have six nights of staying in six different hotels. Luckily Ramon and I were very compatible travelling companions; neither of us snores, so we both claim.

We are early to bed and early rise type. Come to think of it, who wouldn’t? After routine 12 hour days of being bused from one tourist attraction to another. That said, bus tour is still the best way to see the country side and the city, if one can spare the time.

We stayed in a pretty decent mid size hotel in a suburb near Quebec City called Lakeview, we got there pretty late, around 5:30pm in the evening, funny thing is, and there was still a lot of day light outside.

Unfortunately the whole neighborhood around the hotel is commercial and industrial, we walked around for about an hour to no avail, and we just couldn’t find an eatery that feels right. Finally we settled for the first restaurant we saw, a steak house.

The next day 10th of June, the bus took us from the hotel to a little town on the south shore of Quebec City by the shore of St. Lawrence River.

The whale watching boat can safely accommodate about one hundred people, if safety floating devices were adequately provided for all aboard.

But I have a bad feeling that about one hundred and fifty people (tourists) were on board that morning, because we departed late to wait for another bus load of people to come on board. Finally the boat parted the dock half an hour late.

Lo and behold, half an hour into the pond, our boat returned to the pier to pick up another load of passengers. No body complained, as Canadians, we are accommodating and docile.

As the boat moved away from the dock the second time, the over capacity situation of the vessel became quite evident. Some passengers sat on flimsy plastic garden chairs while the vessel was steaming towards the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, where sea water and fresh water meet, and that’s where different kinds of whales come to feed.

Ramon and I chatted amicably with our fellow passengers on board, may be the touring season is still early in this part of Canada, the boat load of tourists were mostly of Asian decent, to my best estimate, the majority spoke Mandarin Chinese, not that it matters, it just showed that Chinese tourists or Chinese Canadians really enjoy touring by bus.

There were some South Asian Canadians on board as well, I strike up a conversation with a fellow by the name of Tony, he was a retired electronic engineer resided in a suburb of Metro Toronto called Mississauga, and he spent years working in Saudi, and this trip saw himself and his extended families on board with him.

His sister who works for the City of Toronto, and so when the subject of their mayor came up during the conversation, I was quite surprise to hear that he still has a lot of supporters among the citizenries.

Anyways, the much boasted whale watching cruise turned out to be a big disappointment, I think the whales are just weary of the boat and the noises we humans made, even though the boat’s captain did his best in turning the boat into a quiet idling speed when ever the whale spotter on board announced that there is a pod near by. All we managed to see were some little humps far away half submerged.

Anyways, lots of pictures were taken by my fellow passengers; the morning sky was over casted and grey, there were hardly any contrasts or reflection of any kind, so I did not take any pictures for the beloved whales, or bits and pieces of them.

Afterwards we say good byes to River-du-Loup and going onto Moncton – which is in the Province of New Brunswick. NB in my opinion has the second largest French speaking Canadian population next to Quebec Province. I found that so long as one make a honest effort to speak French in social situations, everyone will response in English and make you feel welcome.

We pulled into an almost brand new NB Casino Hotel at dusk in the City of Moncton; the front lobby is spacious and modern, staff friendly. It is almost a norm that in every bus tour, there will be one night that the hotel accommodation is out standing, and the NB Hotel Casino is no exception, the room is spacious, we got assigned into a twin double unit, enough room for quad occupancy.

After a short rest, we decided to hit the casino to try our luck. The casino floor combined with the restaurant, wet bar, snack counter etc probably come to about ten thousand plus square footage. It is bright, airy, non smoking, and quite high tech.

We dropped by the bar, and stayed there a while, reminisced the by gone days when we were dirt poor students trying to balance school, part time jobs, and perhaps some social life if and when time permits. An hour and two pints later, feeling no pain, and there was no need to drive home, we hit the casino floor with our ten dollar coupons in hand, Ramon burnt his in no time, while I hit beginner’s luck, I perched on a slot machine that stimulating picking a seat inside of an airplane. For some reason, the bells and whistles never stopped, and I walked away with forty three dollars and change.
Our aging beat up bodies were begging for rest at 1:30 am, so reluctantly we went back to our hotel room for a much needed sleep, for our tour guide has told us that we would be marching on at 7:30am sharp next morning.

Next morning the bus took us into the Province of Nova Scotia, it was a drizzling day, and we inched towards Peggy’s Cove – quite a nice corner of the world only if the weather would be a tat more cooperating.

The cove is a large piece of rock face with a light house built on it. Legend has it that way back there was a ship wreck near the rock face, and when local fishermen found a lone survivor on shore, the young lady was very hysterical and the only word she managed to say repeatedly was “Peggy, Peggy.” Since the area had no known name at that time, so locals call the cove “Peggy’s Cove” since.

Near the light house there were a bunch of souvenir shops and a nice restaurant attached to the biggest shop. We took a bunch of snap shots, since there was nothing else to do, weather was terrible, everyone piled into the shops to get warm up, and at the mean time, do the touristy things.

An hour later, the tour bus started for Halifax, the foul weather and grey sky followed us all the way to Halifax, by the time we got to Halifax; it was around 4 pm in the afternoon.

There was a harbor tour that utilizes a land-water vehicle that cruises the inner harbor, we didn’t sign up for it, and so we took a short hike to the famous Citadel Hill, which is only a fifteen minutes walk from the water front. On the hill there is a clock tower that was gifted to the Dominion of Canada by the Prince Edward, around the top of the hill there is the ruminants of the old armory on top of the hill. We took a brisk walk around the paved road way, and you can pretty much see and sense what Halifax was in her glorious days.

These days it has a few government buildings, CBC building, tourist centers, and a few large insurance head quarter buildings. In some ways, there is no difference between Vancouver and Halifax but Halifax seems lot more subdued and quiet. I guess in a gloomy day, everything looks down casted and depressed.

Our optional lobster dinner was scheduled around 6:30pm in a near by sea food establishment called Murphy’s, we started piling into it around 6:15 pm to get warm up, and get ready for a feast.

Yes, they provided you with a half size plastic bib at the table so you don’t make a mess of your self while feasting on the salacious lobster. We all have the one pound variety that evening; the lobsters were steamed rather than boiled, the plate came with melted butter. It was an experience that any travelers might want to try.
By the way, there was a graduation party boarding a harbor boat next to the sea food restaurant. Looking at the fresh faces for sure reminds me of the days gone by.

Day 4 saw us taking a ferry ride across Northumberland Strait, about an hour and some later, we arrived PEI (Prince Edward Island), this is the second time I visited PEI, and the first time was in 2005.

I must admit as far as travelling is concerned, the first visit is always mysterious, exciting and fresh. Physically PEI is the smallest province in Canada; one can drive the length of the Island in about two hours tops, and the width of it in about two.

The Island is of course made famous by Anne of Green Gable House and the potatoes the island’s red earth produces. There are many old churches built in the turn of the nineteen centuries.

We of course visited the must see like the Cavendish Beach, Charlottetown Provincial Building, Anne of Green Gable House, coming from a large metropolitan center like Vancouver and Toronto, I and Ramon felt that PEI is a lot like a country cousin to Vancouver and Toronto.
The highlight of this PEI trip was sampling the Cow Brand Ice Cream in Charlottetown; the town needs tourism in the summer, we were told by our tour guide that during snowy winters, sometimes even the world famous Confederation Bridge would be closed due to extreme weather, so the island is effectively isolated from the rest of Canada.

At night, we dined at the Fisherman’s Wharf for another good feed of lobster in a restaurant. Ramon and I figured that we will put the concerns about diets to the back burners for the time being, we have been eating fast food for lunches and smorgasbord dinner for a few days now, so we figured that another plate of seafood is not going to hurt.

Day 5 our tour bus took us back to New Brunswick via the Confederation Bridge which connects PEI and NB, the full length of the bridge is around 17 KM. We stopped by a place called Shediac – at the town center there is a huge fibreglasses lobster mounted on top of a little hill – it lays claim being the world’s biggest lobster statue. I was at this little town in 2005, little has changed, everywhere you go, and every restaurant in town offers the World’s Best Lobster Dinner.

The thing about bus tour is, “One never really has much time to sample or taste anything in leisure, and you are always ushered from one place to the next. But you do cover a lot of ground at the end of each day.” And you have a hot shower and a warm bed is waiting for you.
Our bus took a little detour to a tourist attraction called Magnetic Hill; then we hustled off to see Hopewell Flowerpot Rock National Park, this sea side park features the tides that rush in and out from the Bay of Fundy four times a day!
The high and low tides differ about forty feet within four hours. We got there after twelve pm, the beach area was easy to walk on and plenty of people took pictures of the soft rock formations on the beach. I spoke with some tourists, apparently they were on the beach around 7 am in the morning, it was high tide and they couldn’t walk down for safety reasons, and there was water marks on the hill side cliffs to prove it too!
Any ways, Fundy Bay provides lots of fine sills and micro organisms for local wild life habitats, too bad that sills are sills; all one see is one large mud flats as far as eyes can see.
Afterwards the bus hustled us off to the City of St. John (Not to be confused with St. John N.F.L.). We got to St. John around mid afternoon to see Reversing Falls, it is another one of those illusions that the city tourism industry devised over time to attract tourists.

During tidal changes, people can actually witness water flow reversing directions of flow mid stream if you perch on a strategic location like the observation tower they built for the tourists. I am say tourists comfort is their number one concern inside the visitor’s center. Weather on Day 5 was a bit overcastted, not a great day for photos, but adequate. We then rushed off to Fredericton in the early evening; on route we visited City Hall, to be frank, having visited quite a few City Halls in various cities during this trip, if I were to rank facilities for the top two spots, I will rank of the facilities in Ottawa the best.

After the 9-11 tragedy, Canada also stepped up security and safety for all her public building. Ottawa’s Parliament Building is no exception.
Even though it was quite a stroll from the bus drop off point to the bath rooms in the main building, it was worth the trip, so to speak, they are clean, bright, and well maintained.
The East Block is going through major exterior cleaning for the upcoming Canada Day celebration, a lot of public areas is now off limits to foot traffic.

Day 6 saw us stopped by briefly at the Hartland Bridge while we were on the way to Montreal and Old Montreal City.

We dropped by the Notre Dame Basilica by early evening, unfortunately the Basilica is closed, but we tourists nevertheless do what tourists do best.
More picture taking sessions, I am sure among all those snap shots, a lot of them are going to the recycle bins once we got home. We had 45 minutes of free time to roam around the vicinity, wouldn’t know it, when the bus started loading, we were short one, 10 minutes later, the missing person finally showed up, as a group gesture we all gave this missing person the one minute applause as she sauntered up the bus.

Day 7 started early at 6:30am, as we would have a full day, we pretty much had a full day of riding in the bus minus road side bath room breaks, we finally arrived Thousand Islands in the early afternoon, Ramon and I had previously took the boat ride, so this time around, we just relaxed in the sunshine, took some pictures and relaxed.

An hour went by quickly, and we by then were all itch to head home to Toronto, the weather was sunny, but we were all worn out by seven days of touring, and could hardly wait to head back to a routine and familiar routines.

So, is bus tour worthy taking, definitely, but one must travel light, there was a family of three, a young couple with a five year old boy, they carried as we say tongue in cheek, “ Everything but the kitchen sink!” I feel sorry for the young father – who had to lug the very large suit case in and out of the hotels we stayed every night.
Anyways, our world has becomes smaller, people not only share our life experience on line, we also share our emotions through social media, we had Wi-Fi on board the bus, people were constantly in touched with their loved ones and friends in their own communities back home.
I am about one month late in putting up this blog. My apology, I hope to report to you all again sometime in September when I will travel to Saba, Malaysia for a holiday, then back to China again for some more cultural education!

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