Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 16: It is hard to find free wifi in Canada

Cleveland was just a quick jaunt from Dayton; we arrived in the afternoon (after getting a bit of a later start than planned). Our first stop was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Two things to note about the museum:

  1. It costs $22 to get in (but you can get a military discount, thank you Graham).
  2. It will take you more than the hour and a half we allotted to see it all if you really look at everything.
  3. It's probably not worth $22 (or even the $17 that we paid).

We talked to an interesting employee who filled us in on the process for getting materials into the museum (they have to be donated by the bands), and who was quite skeptical "as a fan" of the legitimacy of the place. Curious.

The nice thing about the museum was that it was on Lake Erie, so afterwards we were able to take a nice walk around the pier, looking at the dead fish floating near the dock.

Graham introduced me to the wonderfulness of Wikitravel.org, which introduced us to our next stop: The Harbor Inn, the oldest pub in Cleveland. They only have one beer on tap (something crappy I don't remember), but dozens of domestics and imports in bottles and, according to Graham's judgment, an attractive bartender. We spent a good amount of time hanging out here, and even had pizza delivered from a local Italian restaurant so that we could continue our boozing. The atmosphere was awesome, very friendly and inviting.


Interesting buildings abound
After a bit of a walk around the piers we were good to drive, and headed out of the city. Impressions of Cleveland were positive, the only thing it really had going against it was the fact that it resided in Ohio. Transport it to the Oregon coast or anywhere on the west coast really and it would be a phenomenal place (from what we could tell, we obviously didn't get a terribly in depth feel for the city itself).

We holed up for the night just outside the city at a Motel 6 and watched some Olympians win some golds. Go Phelps.

Breakfast at Bob Evan's (a midwest institution apparently): awesome. After leaving Bahb Ehvahn's (you really have to imagine the accent), out next major stop would be Buffalo, NY. Instead of of taking the interstate, we decided to take our time and stroll up the coastal highways (is it still a coast if it's just a lake?). We passed through a bunch of little communities on the lake, some quite well off and others quite not. Erie, PA didn't really live up to the image we had in our heads, but to be honest we weren't really sure where that image came from in the first place.


Apparently "Pearl" is universal for restored old buildings
By the time we reached Buffalo it was well past beer o'clock, and we just so happened to pass something called the Pearl St. Grill and Brewery; putting two and two together got us dinner. I had the double IPA (22 ounces thank you very much) which was very hoppy and bitter, but with nice, almost citrus flavors (which gave me a definite buzz while waiting for our food to arrive). Graham had the sampler, a circular tray with miniature "pint" glasses of six or so of the beers.


After dinner we headed north (over a damn toll bridge; seriously, what the hell are taxes for up here?) to Niagra Falls. For some reason I had pictured Niagra Falls in the middle of a forested park that you had to hike down to. Reality it seems is very different. The falls themselves are pretty magnificent, the sheer amount of water that flows down those rivers every second is staggering. We tried walking over to the more famous horseshoe section of the falls when we realized why everyone over there was wearing plastic rain ponchos. To dry off we hiked around the central island for a while before crossing the river to watch the sunset over the Canadian side of the city of Niagra Falls. All in all, Niagra Falls gets an A+ for being visually stunning, and comparatively cheap (only $8 to park).


The only position from which we didn't get soaked
Departing from Niagra marked the beginning of our adventures into the great northern neighbor of ours: Canada. Crossing the border was the first challenge. The border agent grilled us for a while about what possible reason we had to visit his country, asking us the same questions multiple times trying to catch us in a lie. Not a whole lot different than passing through customs at an airport, really.

We headed around Lake Erie for a while, but as it was getting late we decided to find some place to rest our traveled bones. Grimbsy offered a decent Super 8, although all we could get once again was a smoking room. The desk lady was nice enough to give us the AAA rate, though.

In the morning we finished the journey up to our first major stop, Toronto. This city is pretty much giant, very busy, and very interesting. My initial impression of Canadian cities and towns was that they had a distinct British influence in architecture and feel; Graham thought they felt more Californian. A nice mix of both is probably the best way to describe it.

We had an address that apparently was a good place to park and walk around. Turns out the address was a park, a place to walk around. Oh well, close enough. While on our hike, the city decided to be a jerk and begin to thunderstorm. The sky opened and sent forth a torrent of Graham sized rain drops. We took refuge in a Lebanese cafe for lunch, gorging ourselves on delicious schwarma (maybe not authentic Canadian cuisine, but damn tasty none the less). Our last stop in Toronto was the Distillery district, and old warehouse and industry type place being reinvigorated a la the Pearl District of Portland. We hit up the Mill St. Pub, which served its own craft brews on tap. The bartender was extremely friendly, talking to us about the craft brew scene in Canada in general and where to find good beer in the area. We also met a man from Quebec who highly recommended that we check out Montreal (a city not on our current iternery) for beer at his ex-girlfriend's bar and smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz's.

Heading out of Toronto that evening, we discovered something amazing, something mind blowing, an indescribable phenomenon (despite my attempts to): poutine. We knew about this legend from such cultural icons as Super Troopers, but had yet to experience it first hand. This Canadian delight begins with french fries, but no it doesn't stop there. Add cheese curds on top. Add gravy over everything. Add an extra little dose of beauty and a dab of heaven, and you have poutine. Seriously, well done Canada. Well done.


Graham doesn't think Poland should beat the US in volleyball
For the next hour we were stuck in traffic (learn to merge properly people; and Canada, come on, don't close two of the three lanes on a busy express way the night of a sporting event), and then for the next couple hours we were on the road to Ottawa. An interesting thing we discovered about the GPS unit in my car: some parts of the map are just blank. Apparently the part of Canada between Toronto and Ottawa weren't important enough to include in the American database. I wonder who made that decision to just say "eh" to an entire region of the province.

We ended up rolling into Ottawa a bit late (one in the morning) only to discover that there was some sort of golf tournament going on that weekend, which meant nearly zero available rooms. We drove around from motel to motel, until we found a room for $200...which we promptly rejected. On a whim, we used the GPS to help us find a motel in the area, which led us to Webb's Motel, an awesome hole in the wall kind of place with rooms! Cheap (ish) rooms!


We found Graham sized ladies to have tea with
After a much needed nearly full nights sleep, we found a neat little diner for breakfast then headed downtown to the parliament buildings. We bit the bullet and paid for parking in a garage (with tiny little spaces), which worked out well as we were able to park quite close to parliament. The buildings themselves are brilliant; a bit gothic with intricate details, tons of bronze statues sprinkled around the grounds, and monuments to wars we didn't even realize happened (apparently America tried invading Canada, you may have heard of the war of 1812).

Out of Ottawa and back on the road towards Montreal. We decided that the promise of more delicious Canadian things was too much to pass up, plus we're doing well on our time table, needing only to get to Boston by the 19th.

It happened gradually at first; a sign here or an advert there. But when we stopped in a small town grocery store for something to drink and heard all the announcements in French, we knew we were getting close to the province of Quebec, French Canada. Passing into the providence itself, all traffic signs switched to French first, English second.

By the time we got near Montreal proper, it was approaching rush hour. Consequently it took us nearly an hour to go the last couple of miles. But we finally found our way to the recommended pub in the heart of a suburban/commercial downtown area. Not speaking a lick of French between us, we were a bit nervous, but luckily our waitress spoke English (enough to get our order at least). We drank down our brews and went for a walk to get some delicious smoked meat sandwiches (luckily the pub was in the same neighborhood as Schwartz's). And good they were. This was one of those hole in the wall shops, although it must be pretty famous because the line to sit down was out the door. If you wanted an order to go, though, you could just walk in; not a hard choice for us.

Our last major stop in Canada was to be the city of Quebec. The trip from Montreal was simple enough, and we arrived in town earlier this time (9 or 10 at night). Unfortunately, finding a motel was just as troublesome as it had been in Montreal. Every sign being in French only compounded our troubles (we did learn that "complet" means full or no vacancy). Our luck changed finally at a one star cheap motel, with a single bed in a cramped room. Oh and the TV was stuck on porn when we first turned it on (we finally figured out how to get back to regular broadcast TV).

In the morning we headed into downtown Quebec. The French/European influence was amazing; we could have easily been walking around in a city in France. Forget flying to Europe, save some money and fly to Quebec. We grabbed a sandwich for breakfast, then walked around the city for a bit. It is built on a bit of a hill, so we walked to the top to the "Citadelle", which seems to be an old military base or something. From there you can walk on the Governor's Promenade which circles around the outside of the hill through all the vegetation and offers a tremendous view of the river below. This led down to the old Governor General's palace, an enormous castle slightly reminiscent of something you would find at Disney Land.

For the rest of the day we headed south out of Canada, and through very rural Maine. Augusta was pretty much a hole in the ground, but just outside was the town of Hallowell. We stopped at an awesome (and quite busy) pub called the Liberal Cup. After a couple of pints we were back on the road again, finding a Motel 6 (after some calling around) in the town of Lewiston. There we experienced the history making winning swim for Micheal Phelps (woot), and in the morning ate at a restaurant which seemed to cater to the extremely old. From there, it was on to Portland, Maine...

Facial hair status: it's been a bit more than two weeks since I last shaved, and it's getting to the point where I can't really call it stubble anymore and need to deal with it by either shaping it into a beard or shaving it all off. Or I guess I could just keep on looking like a bum.
Mileage status (in miles since we're back in the good ol' oosuh): ~5000
Musical status:
Fiona Apple - Tidal and When the Pawn
Thrice - The Alchemy Index III & IV
The Beatles - Revolver
George Thoroughgood - Extended Versions Live
Daft Punk - Alive 2007
Norah Jones - Feels Like Home
Gnarls Barkely - The Odd Couple

4 comments:

Cate said...

Matt and I went and got Belgian fries last night at a little shack down the street and poutine was on the menu! Now I must try it! We must all go! Also, did you pick up any French? "Lapin" (i.e. rabbit - 6th grade French really comes in handy).

matt said...

now I want to go back and get the Poutine! glad to hear you guys are having a good time. you're not missing much here on the west side. its HOT!! really hot. and our aprt makes it worse. Porter has taken to moving as little as possible (less then before even) and sprawling out on the floor. I'm thinking about joining him.

colin douglas said...

Haha awesome. Oh man yeah we need to get some delicious poutine when I get back. Nothing compares, really.

g said...

I hadn't read this blog yet Mr. Douglas... it is quite good! I can see you were working hard all those hours while I was at the wheel...

And yes, I tried to ask one of those old ladies on a date... but she just sat there... in STONY silence... ahahahaha.

Although ont he plus side, on my way home, I think I got a date with an old lady that I was sitting next to ont he plane. I gave her my number anyway. Hahahaha.