The night before we left Knigston and the a Hilltop Motel we decided to head to Montreal to get a taste of French speaking Quebec, and also because Dean had found what looked like a great hostel that had a family room for 2 nights.
Driving through Montreal was very different to other parts of Canada. There was obvious poverty and a ramshackle feel to the city suburbs. Toronto by contrast had been clean, full of middle class suburban 'Bovis Home' suburban estates. Montreal by contrast is characterised by the old buildings with iron staircases on the outside. They were full of people whiling away the time smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. There was even the odd sofa on the pavement!
Our hostel was on Sherbrooke one of the main roads that goes to the heart of Montreal. Despite this we had no problem finding parking. However very confusing parking restriction signs (in French only) seemed to say that for one hour on one day of the week (different days and different hours on the opposite sides of the road!!!) you couldn't park. Turns out that many years ago this was to enable roads sweeping. They no longer road sweep but they've kept, and enforce, the restrictions! The hostel was fabulous. An old Montreal 'mansion' with all original features and a terrace at the back draped in vines, it was staffed by young french people on gap years.
After 4 hours in the car we set off on foot to explore the Latin Quarter via 'The Village'. The gay quarter was beautifully festooned with rows and rows of pink orbs strung across the street that light up at night. Leather Bars, Sex clubs, and shops (there were only a few but their advertising was impactful!) meant that Fred's questioning allowed us to cover off more than the DfE 'Health and Social Education' curriculum requires for both primary and secondary years!
In the Latin Quarter we settled onto a rooftop terrace just as the heavens opened for a biblical thunderstorm. With a local beer we grazed through a platter of deep fried appetisers, I had misread the menu and not realised that the traditional french platter of charcuterie, fromage and accompaniments were going to be treated to a heavy dose of Glaswegian style cooking!
When we got back to the hostel after the storm had cleared we chilled out, got chatting to other guests and planned our day in Montreal city for the next day. Fred's highlight was meeting and getting a lesson in sparring from the Argentinian boxer who is the South American champion. He was staying with his coach at the hostel for a month training for a series of fights in Canada and the USA.
After a breakfast of homemade pancakes, fruit, bagels and buckets of coffee on the terrace we set off for the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. We wanted to see the Pompeii and Tolouse Letrec temporary exhibitions as well as the main collection that stretches from Roman times to contemporary work.
Poor map reading on my part meant a detour and us purchasing tickets at the Contemporary Art Gallery before we realised. The very helpful lady on the desk refunded us and sent us in the right direction! My error however meant that we walked into the centre of The Montreal International Jazz Festival which we didn't even know was on....! We picked up a programme and decided to come back and catch some acts after we had been round the Fine Art Museum.
The museum was stunning, spread over a huge area we took in the fabulous art. It's by far and away the best collection I've seen. We spent 4 hours there and then headed back to the Jazz festival. A great Quebec Dixie Jazz band was playing on one of the free stages and we got seats right at the front. The band members looked like double glazing salesmen and were having the time of their lives. The audience was brilliant and the whole atmosphere was a real unexpected treat. As we headed back to the hostel a 'jazz train', literally a small train with a different musician on each open carriage, came past. They were a Steam Punk band (Vince Ion we thought of you and Chantelle!) who played some ethereal funky music. Unplanned surprises continue to bless this trip
With Canada Day looming and no plans Dean started his search for our next destination. Our original plan had been to head north up the St Lawrence River further into Quebec. However we were tiring of the more aggressive and less welcoming french region and people we spoke to said Quebec didn't celebrate Canada Day in the same way as the rest of the country. Driven by accommodation availability and towns Dean thought looked interesting we booked the Westport Station Motel back in Ontario. We liked the idea of a town with a population of 700 that had had a population of 700 one hundred years ago. It also was in the heart of The Rideau Lakes and had lots to do around it.
We left the hostel the next morning saying goodbye to new friends. Fred had breakfasted before us and we came down to find him holding forth on Premiership football and the reasons behind Leicester's success with a table of lovely young french backpackers. We sat as far away from him as we could!
As it was a beautiful day we drove to The Aquatic centre, built for the Olympics. We watched the Canadian diving team training (presumably for Rio) as we swam and sunbathed - what a treat - it's stunning to see professional divers up close and marvel at what they can do! Five hours of pool fun and reading set us up for the 4 hour journey to Westport.
We got off the highway at Brocksville and took a small road through a succession of hicksville farming towns. Having missed any supermarkets where we had planned to stock up in preparation for the Bank Holiday we finally came across a small store in the town of Athens. Run down and impoverished we both felt like we were in the opening scene of 'Cabin Fever' as we left.....but the people were so friendly. Fred was accosted by a group of older ladies who called out "My what a handsome boy! You gonna have the girls chasin you soon!"
A few wrong turns to Westport and I got out of the car to ask an old man, in a rocking chair on his farm porch, directions. He was delightful, with a long plait down his back under his cap, and set us on our way. We finally arrived in Westport having driven through beautiful countryside, rather like a flat Lake District, passing only pickup trucks on our way. It's a lovely motel with a kitchen this time, great as we're now reigning in our budget to our daily allowance and have to make back the early overspend of the first few days!! A homemade dinner of Carbonara with chicken, mushrooms and onions, and salad washed down with a local Pinot Noir made for a solid nights sleep by 10pm
For me this trip is all about having a great adventure with my family. Its taken years for us to finally stop talking about it and do it - simply because it both excites and frightens the life out me! So I'm stepping out of corporate life, where I singularly failed to achieve a work/life balance....to experience different cultures and spend time with those I love xx