Thursday, December 21, 2017

Back through New Brunswick and Ontario: Surprisingly Not Awful

It's been a long time since our trip. Something like 16 months. I'm not going to do the math. 

I choose to blame motherhood on the fact that I didn't keep up with this blog at all and pretend that mom-blogging isn't a whole genre in itself. 

I'm getting there! 
Yes, that's wine in a mug


After our blah St John, New Brunswick experience, we were skeptical about what we would find in Fredericton, New Brunswick's capital. (For anyone wanting a brief review: Saint John was boring and weird.)

We were only in Fredericton to sleep after a long drive from the ferry that took us back from Newfoundland. We had to get back on the road early the next day to head to Ottawa to hang out with my family before picking up our pace westward. 

Unfortunately, a rainy Monday night in Fredericton isn't really the best time to be a tourist, but we had a phenomenal Airbnb stay (think luxurious sheets, chocolates on the pillows, spotless ensuite bathroom) and we found a Smoke's Poutinerie while walking around downtown! It wasn't enough time to get a feel for the city at all, but no complaints from us.

Driving through Ontario Didn't Suck
After getting stuck in bonkers Montreal traffic, we arrived fashionably late to dinner with my wonderful Ontario-based family.

We slept soundly and met up with my grandparents at Tim Horton's on our way to the part of the trip I dreaded most: over two solid days of driving through Ontario. Now, this could be totally avoided by skipping through the US. Several people made this recommendation to us when we told them what we were planning. But it seemed wrong to do a cross Canada road trip and skip out the middle bit. 

Unfortunately, due to our late start and my tiny bladder, Sister Bernadette was still chugging along the highway as the sun went down. For those of you unfamiliar with rural driving in North America, this is incredibly dangerous. Our teeny car would crumble to pieces if we hit a medium-sized dog. Knowing that we're driving through areas teeming with full-sized wildlife, like bears, deer, and moose, had us on edge. I scanned the horizon, very alert, looking for potential hazards. 

As we were nearing our Airbnb, I screamed as we passed a moose on the side of the road. Thankfully, he had no interest in crossing the road at that moment. We definitely would have been road toast. By the time we left Ontario, I had also spotted a couple of bears along the highway.

When we were planning our trip, I scanned the web for somewhere in our budget to stay that wasn't completely boring. Black-River Matheson, population 2,500, is an odd place to stop but I am so glad we did. PEOPLE, THERE IS A REINDEER FARM WITH PEACOCKS, HOMEMADE WINE, AND BUNNIES RUNNING AROUND EVERYWHERE FOR ONLY $70 A NIGHT

Who'd have thought that one of the coolest things we'd do in the course of our 6 week drive would be in Northern Ontario? No one. Especially not me.
Stuff (no pun intended) of nightmares
We chatted with our host Steve over a glass of his homemade fruit wine, learning about how he came to Canada from the US as a mining engineer and had a shortlived career as a local teacher. His house is full of taxidermied animals (which he did himself thanks to a random elective he took in college) and skulls of animals that he's shot on his property. This made sleep a little difficult to come by for us after touring his dimly lit house before bed.

Following a restless night, we were treated to delicious eggs fresh from his chickens and a tour, complete with reindeer breakfast duty. I am a city girl through and through, but I love animals. And Steve's cabin in the woods is full of them. The dozens of reindeer are, of course, the highlight. Being able to tell our nephews and nieces that we're friends with Santa (who is Canadian, adding credibility to our story) with photos of the Irishman with reindeer as proof is pretty fantastic. Definitely worth $70.
Proof (that's Santa behind Cathal)
Reindeer fact time! Did you know they shed their antlers every year? Poor Steve has piles of them in his house. If you have any ideas for crafts or obscure rituals that could use them, give him a call.

Sadly, we only had time to say hi to the animals and then had to be on our way. 

Let the Guest Room Crashing Begin!
Reindeer Way was our last paid-for accommodation on the trip. 

As we made our way across the country, kind friends reached out over Facebook to offer us places to crash. One perk of doing this trip at 30 vs. in our early 20's is that many of our friends have spare rooms. Score! 

The first guest room we crashed in was in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Ola, a classmate from my University of Toronto days, had moved back to her hometown, gotten married, and had two kids since I had last seen her. Yikes! Are we old? Don't answer.

After meeting her kids and sister, getting lovingly (right?) trash-talked by her hardcore road tripping mom for only driving about 10 hours a day, and dropping off our stuff, we headed downtown for, you guessed it, poutine. One bonus of knowing a local is getting the inside scoop on where poutine and amazing gelato are on offer. 

The Calderons gave us a tour which included dodging dozens of Pok√©mon Go players at a local lookout point. (Is that still a thing? It was THE THING that summer.) Beautiful scenery, fun conversation, and delicious food punctuated our last night in Northern Ontario.

But the Northern Ontario goodness was not over.

On Ola and Andrew's recommendation, we hit up Kakabeka Falls on our way to Manitoba the next day. While "Niagara of the North" is a bit of an overstatement, they are an incredible sight. Especially after years of living in intensely urban and dense Shanghai, having near total privacy near a natural wonder is surreal. 

Just don't ask us to come back in the winter.

And that was the end of Ontario for us! With "eastern Canada" in our rearview mirror, we prepared to meet up with one of my personal heroes in Winnipeg and visit one of my must-sees, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Can I actually wrap up these road trip posts before the end of 2017? Stay tuned...