Fredericton, a wonderful fish bistro and a wayward GPS
The main problem with driving across Canada in a rental car is the exorbitant charge for the return of the vehicle to the original location. The cost of leaving the car in Nova Scotia was such that we decided to return it to Montreal, which entailed a much smaller charge and a feasible journey. Another ferry trip took us from Digby, Nova Scotia to New Brunswick near St John. The crossing of the Bay of Fundy was a three hour journey but it eliminated many more hours by road. We followed the St John River north along very pretty roads, enjoying the soft scenery and rolling farmland, with just a hint of autumn in the leaves as some began to turn reds and browns.
Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick and on the St John River, provided us with a lovely elegant B & B near the river, within walking distance of the tree lined city centre. It was reasonably newly opened and the lady of the house proudly showed us around the well-attired rooms in the beautifully restored old home. She was particularly proud of the bathrooms with their large mirrors, stylish free standing baths and basin taps that poured like waterfalls. For breakfast next day, she presented us with a fantastic spread of yogurt and warm peaches, French toast, sausages and blueberry sauce, and small blueberry pastries. Believe me, such breakfast feasts were not common in our budget-conscious accommodations.
We walked into town past the steepled Christchurch Cathedral encircled by lawn – it would have enhanced any English town – and the Legislative Assembly, undergoing restoration. The historic centre included the Garrison District with the Officers’ Square and the soldiers’ barracks, reminiscent of the strife between French and British. The lighthouse overlooking the river was a striking landmark, dating only from 1989; there were formerly over 30 lighthouses up and down river, indicative of the busy trade that once plied the waters. After a dinner of scallops and bacon for only $13.99, we found a bookshop still open and purchased several Canadian books featuring moose and bears for the grandchildren. We couldn’t go home empty handed.
The distance from Fredericton to Montreal was about 800 kilometres, to be covered in two days. When I divided the journey back home, I came up with the village of St Andre on the St Lawrence River in Quebec as a possible half way point for the night, meaning we had 400 kilometres to travel each day. The roads were very good and we did resort to motorways, so the distance was accomplished easily. We also found that Quebec was one hour behind New Brunswick, so we had an extra hour at the end of the day.
Our road from Fredericton continued to follow the river, with further gentle green scenery, though the autumn tinge of reds, golds and browns increased as we drove north. We took the road on the eastern bank, whereas coming down several weeks earlier, we had driven on the western side. We passed the Hartland wooden covered bridge and stopped again to admire its fine structure. At Florence-Bristol a little further on, there was another covered bridge dating from 1907. The town branded itself as the French Fries capital and included the Potato World Museum. There seems to be a museum for everything. Soon we were back in French territory in the northern part of New Brunswick with the occasional very large Catholic church in the centre of town, like Sainte-Anne-de-Madawaska.
St Andre was a narrow strip of a town, strung out for several kilometres along the only main road, running parallel to the river. The surrounding land was low lying and flat, but seemed to support prosperous agriculture. The St Lawrence River was several hundred metres from the back door of our accommodation, wide and grey and lacking the beauty of other sections of the river we had seen previously. When it came time to eat, we were unable to find a café or restaurant open in the town. The several that advertised their wares were closed; in fact, most of the town seemed to be closed for the coming winter season. Someone pointed us to the next village, Kamouraska, 10 kilometres away.
A stroke of genius, for we found the most wonderful bistro, Poissonnerie Lauzier. We lined up at the simple counter and tried to read the menu on the wall behind, but it was all in French, mostly a mystery to us. The couple in the queue ahead of us spoke good English and they explained the ordering procedure and some of the items on offer. Two young women worked industriously behind the counter, efficiently taking the orders and preparing the meals. We asked for panini aux crevettes – with shrimps. They arrived with a superb salad of lettuce, grapes, cranberries, red onion and capsicum and were beautifully fresh and soft. It was much better than the left-over remains of our lunch which, at one stage, we thought we would have to resort to. The bistro closed shortly after we received our meals, so we realised we had found the real treasure of an eating place just in time. Later by email, we mentioned our great meal to our Quebec friends and they replied saying we had certainly hit the jack pot there, for the bistro probably had the best reputation on the south shore.
The next day was another 400 kilometre trip, with all going smoothly until we reached Montreal. GPS Jane commanded us to cross the river on the approaching bridge, but lo and behold it was closed to traffic. By the time she had gathered her wits, we were passed the next bridge. She then redirected us, taking us miles to the south into the countryside and towards New York. No, we did not want to go there! The anxiety levels rose, especially on the passenger side of the car. Eventually we seemed to turn around and were taken across the river via another bridge and to our hotel. Oh, the joys of city travel with a GPS that had no idea that a bridge was closed.
At our hotel, we sorted our bags, throwing out things we couldn’t take home after nearly three months on the road, and repacked. The next morning we had another “Jane” experience. We set off for the plane, thinking we had plenty of time to return the rental car, when we hit an absolute mess of road works around the airport. Where were we going? Not the international departure area. We found ourselves in the cargo area, in another pond of panic and worry. Later we were told that many people got into trouble with the road reconstruction that was at least three years in the making. Praise the Lord, we found our way out, delivered the car back to the rental people with no hassles, and proceeded through the ticket and security routine with enough time to spare. GPS’s are wonderful, but they are like some humans in that they cannot cope with unexpected change. We flew out of Montreal for a four day stopover in San Francisco, before it was home to New Zealand.
It has been a great pleasure to write the Moosespin blog, working through my diary and photographs, remembering the many highlights and the few downlights of our sojourn across the land of maple leaves, Mounties and moose. I hope you have enjoyed travelling with us and are encouraged to plan your own trip to Canada. Bon voyage!
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