Roots and Ben and Jerry’s

My dad’s side of the family has a lot of its ancestry mapped-out, and due to that, I know for a fact that all the way back to my 6th great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family, they had lived in and around this tiny town on the outskirts of the White Mountain National Forest. I’d never been in this part of the country and with the recent passing of my grandfather, who was born there, it seemed like a spot we needed to visit. As expected, it was about as tiny as tiny gets. City-center is a post office, a small general store, and not much else. I imagine it’s been that way for quite some time. We tried to drive around to see where my grandfather had grown up but only found a baseball diamond and a propane place. We took a few pictures to document the moment, which I’m keeping for myself, family, & friends (too personal for this page). It felt good to go, and good to move on.

From there we made a beeline to a spot all of us were excited to visit, the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, VT. The place was packed because (we learned on the way over) it was National Ice Cream Day. Nevertheless, we persisted (sorry, hard to resist that) and we took the tour (on Sunday’s there’s part of the tour you don’t get but I can’t remember what it was we missed out on) and at the end of the tour, we got a tasty sample of ice cream. That, of course, whets the appetite, stokes the fire of patience, and bolsters the endurance needed to wait in the line that wraps around the building to go buy a heaping, HEAPING big ice cream cone with ANY Ben & Jerry’s favorite you want. Trust me, unless there are dietary discomforts or life-threatening allergies at play, you will totally go for the mega portions because come on, it’s Ben & Jerry’s. This became our supper. With a wistful farewell, we waved at the black and white bovine in the field as we pulled out and back onto the highway. Sometimes, life is just very sweet.

That night we drove down to a little town outside of Boston for the second sibling visit of the trip. There was something mighty welcoming about a flat driveway and a long extension cord that powered our a/c. The icing on this otherwise sweet day was my itty bitty 4-day old nephew in his daddy’s arms there to greet us.

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KID THOUGHTS ON NEW HAMPSHIRE AND VERMONT (or, Kid thoughts on Ben & Jerry’s that sound a bit like free advertising)

D~ “Ben & Jerry’s is not like other businesses. It is non-GMO and supports good treatment of animals. It also supports good treatment of the earth, too.” 

Djr~ “Ben and Jerry are still alive! They are 60!” (please note, Djr’s grandparents are still alive and over 60)

A~ “Ben & Jerry’s has ice cream that changes the world.”

Halifax and the Last Canadian Hurrah

We started out too late in the morning to catch the ferry over to Nova Scotia, so we drove back over the bridge to New Brunswick and then on to Nova Scotia. We arrived at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, but too late to take in all the exhibits and had to rush through them, which made it less enjoyable. Currently, there is a great exhibit on the Titanic, as well as The Great Halifax Explosion that happened in December of 1917. Inside, we had a very in-depth chat with the woman that was tending the Robertson Store exhibit because she could see my children wanted to know what everything was for. The store was basically your one-stop hardware store for ships. Out back behind the museum, the Acadia is worth exploring (included with the museum admission). 

We strolled around the docks for a bit and spied our chance to have real Canadian Beavertail. Don’t worry, no beavers were harmed. It’s basically a funnel cake only in the shape of a beaver’s tail (though I’m not sure the purveyors would appreciate that comparison). You can get an assortment of toppings including our family favorite- Nutella, we opted for the original.

Danny found a good lobster sandwich there, too.

Afterward, we drove over to Peggy’s Cove, rumored to have an iconic and oft-photographed lighthouse. There are not many things in this world that live up to their hype, but it was clear why this spot is a favorite. We had our shutters clicking, too, the digital ones. My kids loved hopping around the big rocks. There were signs to caution visitors against fatal wrong steps. I made sure my kids understood the price could be deadly if they didn’t heed the warning. I saw a tourist take quite a slip while hopping over a puddle. Thankfully, that space between the rocks was a shallow one and he only had to deal with sopping wet pants and a bruised ego.

We drove a little farther on to the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial. A sobering reminder to make the most of what is in front of you. The memorial is set in a gorgeous natural area that’s been preserved. It was a horribly sad and tragic way for the lives of those aboard to end, but their resting place has been given the care and respect it deserved.

That night we had our last meal in Canada for this trip and it was at our last “must” on the Canadian food list- we ate at Tim Horton’s. I didn’t link it because they’re rather easy to find, even in some northern US states. Unfortunately, we hit this location at the wrong time because they were out of just about everything but what we ate was okay. I know I saw tastier things at other locations when we were traveling around, and I’ve had better stuff at Tim Horton’s before (granted, that was over 13 years ago). Please understand I’m saying that as someone who is not a big fan of fast food. My kids were excited to finally eat there, though.

After our meal, we drove as far as we could because we had an important stop coming up, a long overdue visit to see some family.

Funky cool lampposts in Halifax

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KID THOUGHTS ON NOVA SCOTIA

A~ “My favorite thing was trying the beaver tail delicacy.”

D~ “First time at Tim Horton’s!”

Djr~ “My favorite part of today was everything of today. Maritime (Titanic), lighthouse (climbing on rocks), eating cinnamon beaver tails, eating at Tim Horton’s.”

Where Anne Shirley lives

“It’s very Adirondack pretty here so far. Big pines, rolling hills, and lots of signs warning us of moose crossing.” – from my journal on our approach to Prince Edward Island.

We drove pretty nearly straight-through from Quebec City through the province of New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. By the time we made it to Confederation Bridge which connects NB and PEI, the kids were wiggly and grumpy. Travel was getting to me, too. I was ready to pack it all in and take a flight home. I wanted my bed. I wanted to be alone. It’s hard to travel in a group (even with those you love most in the world) and to be in crowds off and on every day, as an introvert. I was missing my recharge time. This is all to say, thank goodness PEI lived up to its hype.

We popped into the visitor center after we arrived and then headed straight for Marco Polo Land, the campground we would stay at for two nights. My kids LOVED this place. They had a lot of fun things for kids to do and it gave us a chance to get our clothes washed and to clean the RV (sorely needed at that point). I even caught up on emails and messages (after midnight) because there’s excellent wifi at the camp (if you can get on when the teens aren’t using up the bandwidth). It felt like a break in the middle of the trip.

The next day we made our way over to Green Gables for a tour of the house from the famed book. I loved it. It looked so much like what I’d imagined it would. It felt like walking into a page from my childhood (adolescence, to be more specific). We walked through Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Woods. Then we toured around the Macneill Homestead and LM Montgomery’s grandparent’s home/post office (where she was raised) and then over to the cemetery where she’s buried.

We drove over to Prince Edward Island National Park and it was straight out of a storybook. (Click on the photos section on that website, you’ll be glad you did. Gorgeous stuff.) There were cliff-like dunes and sandy beaches. The sand and rocks are red sandstone and very red due to the iron in them and in no time, my children were building in the sand. We picnicked in the parking lot and then drove over to LM Montgomery’s birthplace and then over to the Anne of Green Gables Museum * at Silver Bush, which in Maud’s own words- was her favorite place on earth. It was easy to see why. It overlooked the Lake of Shining Waters. Seeing my own children running around the yard that’s visible from a window that LM Montgomery stared out… I don’t know, it felt full circle for me and I was besotted with the place.

*this is the spot to pick up the Matthew’s Carriage Ride if you do that

After touring Silver Bush, my children begged to go back to PEI National Park, so we drove back over.  They played and played. One of our girls grew tired of the beach and needed a little respite from the crowd, so I walked with her back to the RV. We played some games while the others enjoyed the beach. The only real blemish on this part of the trip was the jellyfish that stung my other daughter.

That evening we ate at Chez Yvonne’s which was a treat after a full day. My children found plenty of things they wanted to eat. My husband finally got his fill of fresh seafood. I enjoyed my steak, too. They won bonus points with Djr because they had Strawberry Pie, but the others were not sad about their cheesecake. 

We went back to the camp that night and we enjoyed some hot showers and a little more R&R.

The caption made me smile, so I snapped a picture of it.

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KID THOUGHTS ON PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Djr~ “I really liked the bubbly river [babbling brook] where you find a milk bottle in a creek and also the sound was nice…the strawberry pie was also delightful.” (babbling brook is in the Haunted Woods at the Green Gables Heritage Place)

D~ (after about 3 references to the Jumping Pillow at the campground) “My favorite part of the day was the ocean beach. Talk about a lot of rocks! Ever heard of Giant’s Causeway? I made a version of it. The water was not that cold!”

A~ “My favorite part was the Jumping Pillow but I can’t wait for Anne of Green Gables Stuff.” (She decided that she was really an Anne and I made a pretty good Diana for her. I can’t quite convince her otherwise.)

When in Quebec, We Did As the Tourists Do

This is one time a little research might have saved us some headache. The day we were visiting happened to coincide with the Quebec Fest* (it ran from July 5-15, we were there in the middle of it) and performances that would start in the evening before we’d made it back to our RV. As it was, we had to go out of our way (on foot, when we were exhausted) to go blocks and blocks around until we could get access to the RV. We’d essentially blocked our access to it. This cloud did have a silver lining, but I’ll save that for the end.

I kept reading that the Plains of Abraham was a top 10 item on many lists of what should be seen in Quebec. We were not disappointed. So don’t be deceived by the bland descriptions you might find on the internet, this was a pretty cool stop.

We were led on our tour by none other than “Abraham” (Abraham Martin had cattle that roamed the hillside in this area which later became known as the Plains of Abraham) who took us on a tour of his grounds, in character. It was entertaining and engaging. The museum is insightful and also has a section of interactive displays for children. We also toured the Martello which was pretty neat to see and offered us some shelter during a rainstorm. We even picked up some sightseeing hints from Abraham before he went back to the museum. The grounds hold a gorgeous garden with a beautiful Joan of Arc statue at its center. Worth a gander even if you don’t have time for the whole tour.

Unfortunately, part of the Plains of Abraham grounds were off-limits due to some construction on a neighboring hotel and for the concert set-up (Quebec Fest). Another slight distraction (not a deal-breaker) was the constant loudspeaker testing for a concert that would play later that night. (This might have been welcome had we been there about a week earlier and I might have lingered closer to the stage.) The fest & construction essentially meant no access to touring the Citadel. We walked all around it but couldn’t get up to the wall which we thought we’d be able to do.

We walked over to the Promenade and explored that area. The Chateau Frontenac (it’s a hotel now) was in the distance and it felt like walking up to a fairy tale. It was the first time I’d seen a real castle.

Along the boardwalk, we came upon the entrance to the St. Louis Forts and Chateaux museum. A lot of the National museums are free in Canada this year in celebration of its 150th birthday. My kids loved this museum. It was a bit like the archeological one in Montreal because you could see the original walls and, this time, walk through a lot of the structures. These are all “underground” because the Promenade is overhead but that just added to the cool factor for my family.

After we left the museum we made our way over to the Funicular which is a glass elevator that takes visitors from one elevation to another (Quebec City is similar to San Francisco, CA, with all the ups and downs). There is a small charge for it but fun to do just to say you did. It’s more of a necessity if you have mobility issues.

From there we caught a Traversiers ferry over to Levis for lunch at a great barbeque joint, La Barbacoa. Then we took the ferry back over to Old City and it was like stepping into Europe. It really is quite picturesque and worth the sore calves from the hill-walking. (Our Plains tour guide, “Abraham”, said you can tell who the locals are from the well-defined calf muscles. Ha!) I was having serious issues with my phone and asking my husband for his phone to snap a photo became annoying for both of us. If it’d worked, you’d see some cool shots below. 

Eventually, we started making our way back to our RV which is when we learned we’d get more steps on our fitness-trackers because of the fest kicking into full-gear. We meandered through rows of vendors selling everything from cars to crafts to Quebec Fest gear and… the silver lining, or maybe it’s brown, a Nutella Café truck giving away free samples!! We each had a small little treat that made it slightly easier to bear our detour.

And with Quebec City ticked off our list, we geared-up for a long drive to my personal favorite, Prince Edward Island.

*This is no small thing. If you’re around in July (I’m assuming it runs around the same time of year annually) and you love concerts, there are big players involved. The American groups/singers I recognized (most are Canadian groups, I think) were Pink, Lady Antebellum, and the Who.

Joan of Arc Garden

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KID THOUGHTS ON QUEBEC CITY

A~ “And who can forget the St. Louis Fort with the dog tag free from the souvenir shop!” (Fort St. Louis and Chateaux Museum, and as part of the 150th celebration, the kids could complete an activity book and earn a souvenir dog tag with the park’s name on it.)

D~ “My favorite part of the day was the Martello Tower. These towers were also known as Bulldogs.” (Bulldogs because they were intimidating barriers)

Djr~ “I liked being able to hold a “cow” and getting ice cream.” (“Abraham” had my children look after some of his cows (stuffed) while we toured the plains.)

Marcher à Montréal

When you cross into the province of Quebec, all signs change to French. This didn’t intimidate my husband nor myself because we both have some working French in our vocabulary. However, the road signs are still fairly obvious as my children pointed out. It was clear which were speed signs or stops signs. You may want to review your directions (north, south, east, west) but really, especially with a GPS, it’s very easy to navigate.

Note, it’s not just the U.S. that has massive summer construction season. It seemed to be alive and well in Canada, too. It did occur to us that their fix/build season is probably shorter than our own.

First on our list for Montreal was the Biodome/Space for Life which is the former 1976 Olympic park buildings. It is mini-ecospheres under one roof and it’s neat to travel from a North American forest to a tropical rainforest in a matter of moments. The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium (on the same grounds) has many options, too. The one show we attended had Adirondack style chairs around the periphery and bean bags in the middle. It was cool, and dark, and relaxing and some of us retained more content than others (since “others” might have fallen asleep… I’d pay for that nap again. Just sayin’).

We also went to the Montreal Tower which is a 45-degree angled tower that rises high above the city (take that Pisa, with your 5-degree tilt). It’s not as tall as the CN Tower, but still provides a very cool view of Montreal. 

From there we hopped on the Metro to visit the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum of Archaeology and History. This was pretty amazing. They’ve done a good job of bringing history to life. You are standing on ground that belonged to the Indigenous groups that lived there. In one room you are standing on a transparent floor and can see the old walls that were part of the first settlements. The demonstration there shows you where you are and what was there before the colonists arrived, and the changes that were made over time. It moved me. I felt like the historians and curators have tried to portray a real and balanced history of the place and that’s not something I’ve experienced in the U.S. We were not the first to inhabit this ground and our actions have a lasting impact, for worse and for better.

After that, we took the Metro back to the RV, made supper, and began driving to our next stop.

Penguin Dab?

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Biodome

KIDS THOUGHTS ON MONTREAL

A~ “I learned that the Tower has a world record for ‘tallest leaning tower’.”

D~ “The artifacts in the museum [Pointe-a-Calliere] were preserved very well and they had very small houses.”

Djr~ “I learned that the French and Native people weren’t always peaceful, but they did have peace for 60 years straight.”

Toronto, we’ll be CN you soon!

 

The afternoon we arrived in Toronto. We had two things on our minds. The CN Tower and the Nutella Café. There aren’t many Nutella Cafés in the world and our family always buys the big jar when we’re at home and made sure it was part of our travel pantry, so, for the kids and myself- it was a must.

The CN Tower feels overpriced for what you get ($36 adult/$26 child), but it’s a “must” if you’re visiting Toronto. There are more options for visitors now than there were a decade or so ago when I last visited. You can even pay the big bucks ($225) and do the Edge Walk where they hitch you up to rigging and you walk around the outside of the tower. I would have done it except for the price.

While in Toronto, we also explored the Toronto Railway Museum (we just nosed around the exterior stuff), which was pretty cool, and the free zoo at High Park. The free zoo feels like a free zoo but it’s still pretty cool in light of how long it’s been around. And we saw some R.O.U.S.es (a Princess Bride reference- Rodent Of Unusual Size, these were Capybaras).

We managed to park the RV by backing-in to a space at High Park. If you have a similarly-sized RV (27’) you’ll be okay, but it was tight for us. So, RV-driver beware.

After our supper in High Park (we cooked in the RV), we headed out for our next destination.

Toronto Skyline

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KID THOUGHTS ON THE CN TOWER

Djr~ “It surprised me that the CN Tower was a big lightning rod. I am curious if it could survive a tornado.”

D~ “One thing that I learned was that they poured cement 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 40 weeks, to build the tower.”

A~ “I learned you can jump off the CN Tower.” 

Falling for Niagara Falls

Day 1 was finally upon us. We pulled into Niagara Falls (Ontario) around noon. Parking was a bit of a trick. We didn’t do our homework and just figured we could park somewhere close to the Falls, but many of the closer parking lots are not open to RVs. We did eventually get redirected to Rapidsview Parking Lot. There we paid $10 and we made lunch in the parking lot before heading out. There is a free shuttle (the We-Go) from this lot to Table Rock. From there you could pay for the bus/shuttle but we chose to walk. A lot. We walked to Niagara Falls and took about a thousand photos with our children in the forefront and the Falls behind them.

We had purchased tickets for the Hornblower Cruise (Canada’s version of the Maid of the Mist) online before we arrived, but when we walked up to get in line, the ticket-holder line was wrapped so far back it would take over an hour to get through, so we opted to walk around a bit and come back to it later.

My husband had the genius idea to walk across the bridge to the U.S. and then walk back so we could finally get stamps for the children’s passports. My kids were excited and so was I. Ha-ha! We’d figured out a way to make it happen. We went through to the U.S. side. The Customs Officer was all smiles and welcomes and my children explained their earnest desire for stamps. She dug out her nearly dry ink pad and accommodated. We had stamps! Albeit, stamps to mark our arrival to the U.S.

We walked around a bit on the U.S. side but it was hot and we were feeling a bit foot-sore on our first real outing in this year of travel, and after an hour or so, we trekked back to Canada. This time the bridge was full of tourists, including the gentleman in front of us who comes down from Toronto to purchase can’t-finds (in Canada) cheaply. He was headed back to catch the bus that would take him back to Toronto.

We made it up to the Canadian Customs Officer and with eager grins explained how it was our children’s first time in Canada and how kind the U.S. agent had been. We were waved away. “We don’t do that. Next!” Alack, alas. We learned that even in Europe, the days of stamps in passports are coming to an end. It’s all electronically monitored and that our best bet is in more economically-deprived corners of the world where things are operating a bit more “old school”. Wah-wah.

On the way to our Hornblower Cruise, we stopped at the Secret Garden Restaurant and had our first real Canadian specialty, Poutine. If you’re unfamiliar, Poutine is a pile of French Fries covered in gravy and cheese. The type of cheese varies from place-to-place but it’s always cheese. This time it was shredded Cheddar but we saw it with cheese curds in some places.

At long last, we boarded the Hornblower with our complimentary ponchos (if you go, feel free to recycle these at the end, or, like we did, dry and stash them in your vehicle in case you need them later). From the bridge when you looked down at the tourists in line, you’d see scads of people in their own clothes going into a building and all coming out in red ponchos. It looked like a little factory.

I will admit I didn’t expect very much from the cruise. The Falls are breathtaking but I figured my kids would be more impressed than I was. When we got out there though, I was gobsmacked. You get as close as you safely can and there is no way to really grasp how massive Niagara Falls is without being at the bottom of them. I can’t fathom what the Indigenous groups must have thought of them when they first encountered them, or the colonists when they arrived. I can’t imagine being where I was in a smaller vessel. It was impressive and worth the cost ($26 adult/ $16 child).

After that we headed for our overnight spot. It’s worth checking with friends and family along the way if you’re RVing to see if there are spots you can park or park and plug-in overnight. It saves a bit of cash if you’re just heading from point-to-point and not staying more than a day.

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KID THOUGHTS ON NIAGARA FALLS

D~ “What surprised me the most was the diversity of cultures.”

Djr~ “What surprised me the most was the amount of mist!”

A~ “The thing that surprised me the most was the food at the Secret Garden. It was awesome. AWESOME!!” [she had a grilled cheese sandwich]

Without Further Ado, Canada, Here We Come!

The mail and paper service was on-hold, our RV was packed, and we were on our way. Later than expected, which tends to be our family norm, but we were on our way. In the early evening of July 7, 2017, we set out on our first family expedition in this year of travel that lies ahead.

Ambassador Bridge

Around midnight we were nearing the U.S. border into Canada (Ambassador Bridge) and were greeted by a fireworks finale and the traffic that follows. Gratefully, we were just slipping through a portion of that traffic and soon were at pace before the border checkpoint. I made a mental note to check for events along our points of travel in the future. (This becomes a theme.)

The border crossing was rather straightforward. First time in Canada? Where are you headed? Are you bringing any fireworks or weapons? The only slight inconvenience was having to wake the children so customs/border patrol could verify the children in our vehicle were the children presented on the passports. Pretty standard stuff. The only disappointment was a lack of a stamp in my children’s passports to mark their first trip to another country. (This becomes a theme too, thanks to the electronic tracking of movements and the redundancy created by the stamps.)

When asked where we were headed, we mentioned several things including going to Prince Edward Island to pay homage to the literary sites made famous by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The customs officer stared at us blankly. My husband shrugged his shoulders in that manly “I know, right?” way. The officer queried further, “you’re going to PEI because of a book?” I nodded enthusiastically. He shrugged like my middle schooler. I think at this point he decided we were both a non-threat and maybe a bit dim.

Moments later, I was trying to snap a photo of the bridge as we drove over it.

We settled for the night around Chatham-Kent. First new thing for me? The exits were all marked “On Route” and I liked that better than “exit”. It felt a bit more like enjoying the journey instead of just wishing you were at the end.

The only trouble this night was a bit of excessive snoring and a pesky mosquito. Small stuff.