Sunday, July 31, 2016

Beautiful Quebec City

We have been very busy with the Escapade and are way behind with the blog.  We are also out of order because so many people wanted to hear about Mado's birthday party.  This post is about our visit to Quebec City three weeks ago on the way to Lac Ha Ha.   We crossed the border on the Fourth of July and spent three days in Quebec City before heading further north to Camp Lac Ha Ha for our friend Mado's 80th birthday party. Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only walled urban area north of Mexico. The city is the site where the British defeated the French in 1763 on the Plains of Abraham.
Even though we stayed at Jean Paul and Celine's in Quebec six years ago, we only drove about 30 miles in the province. On this trip were planning to drive over 600 miles, so we needed to get used to the traffic signs in French. Most are pretty straight forward as you can see. We did like the cross winds sign and figured out the orange signs mean construction no matter what language they are in.
Looking down from Parc Montmorency on the Saint Lawrence and the lower city, the oldest part. A visit here is as close as one can get to a European city without having to cross the Atlantic.
The statue of Samuel Champlain on the Place d'Armes. This spot has a beautiful view of the Saint Lawrence River below.
Du Petit Champlain is lined with shops and restaurants and has a real European feel. Access to the lower part of the city is either by the Breakneck Staircase or a funicular, an incline elevator.
Beautiful Du Petit Champlain is like a step into an old European city. 
There are many murals in the city. This one depicts life in the 1800's.
The Royal Plaza is surrounded by the homes of rich merchants, ship owners and shipbuilders. Old Quebec really is a step back in time in the middle of a modern city.
This is a salute to the French voyagers who explored much of Quebec while trapping in their canoes.
Notre-Dame-des-Victories Church is one of the oldest in North America. It was heavily damaged in the 1763 bombardment. The bust of Louis XIV, the Sin King, was placed here in 1686.
The mural of Quebecers depicts 400 years of Quebec City history. It shows fifteen historic figures, including Jacques Cartier, Felix Leclerc and Marie Guyart.
There are sculptures and fountains all over the city. The small fountain and statue is a tribute to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that was founded in Quebec City in 1945. Top middle is a Dali and right is a whimsical bird man on a rooftop. The bottom two, the squeaky wheels and oil cans, were across the street from each other.
It looks like the U.S. political campaign is influencing people's thinking here. St-Roch is undergoing a renewal with new shops and restaurants.
This is a great city for walking but it is very, very hilly so be prepared. There was an elevator beside these steps but we opted for the climb.
The streets are lined with many wonderful restaurants and as you can see they are not all French. It is a great place to relax, enjoy a meal and people watch. It is great that the old city has preserved and maintained the old style.
Don't miss looking up because even the rooftops can be interesting.
The crown of the city is the Chateau Frontenac that is now a Fairmont hotel. It was built by the railroad in the late 1800's and evokes the chateaus of the Loire River Valley in France. The Walk of the Governors is a great place to see the river and access the citadel 310 steps above.
The Saint Lawrence River carries ocean going ships that can travel all the way to the Great Lakes. Quebec was built here because the river is narrow at this point and easy to defend. This is the last place that a bridge crosses the river.
WOW Nanc almost stepped into the paint.
The citadel on Cap Diamant, known as the Gibraltar of the Americas, sits at the highest point of the city. The guards are part of the Royal 22nd Regiment which is the only French speaking regiment in the Canadian Army.
The old lighthouse in the citadel showed the way for ships on the river far below.
The view is also one of the best for seeing the chateau and old city.
It was a bit blustery that day but well worth braving the wind for the view. You can only get to this spot if you take the tour of the citadel.
The Je me souviens (I Remember) memorial honors the past and present members of the 22 Regiment. These three soldiers are honored for their heroism during WWI and WWII.
Being a walled city, there are only a few access points into Old Quebec. Gate Saint Louis, one of gates that guarded the entrance to the city.
The chateau at night. Old Quebec is without a doubt the most beautiful and well preserved city that we have ever visited in North America. Even with the crowds of tourists, it is still like stepping back in time.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Year Nine Summary

I have changed how I present the summary of our year of travel and have added the cost of fuel and campgrounds. The first column is now the total for our whole time on the road, the second is the nine year average of the total and the third is the info for the past year.

THE LIST.............................. TOTAL.........AVERAGE.........YEAR 9
Motorhome Miles.....................80138................8904.................6481
Average Miles Per Day...................24.4................24.4...................17.7
Average Trip...............................172..................172...................175
Gallons of Diesel Fuel..............10286................1143...................848
Cost of Diesel Fuel..................35713................3968.................1885
Average Cost Per Gallon.................3.47.................3.47..................2.22
CRV Miles..............................97291..............10810...............10203
Camp Sites..................................465...................52....................37
Average Nights in Each....................7.0...................7.0..................9.9
Cost of Campgrounds per Day...65078....................19.79..............23.04
Number of States(Provinces)...........50(11).............17(2)...............12(1)
National Parks & Monuments........160...................18.....................6
Blog Posts...................................675...................75...................55
Days of Exercise (Jim)...............1698..................189.................195
Days of Exercise (Nanc).............2208..................245.................251
Number of haircuts (Jim).................0......................0....................0
Old & New Friends & Family..Priceless...........Priceless..............Priceless

Once again writing a yearly travel summary makes us realize how fortunate we have been. We have now been retired and living in Opus, our house on wheels, for nine years. In that time we have put 80,138 miles on the RV and another 97,291 on the CRV while visiting all 50 states and 11 Canadian provinces. We also visited five countries; Jamaica, Mexico, Honduras, Belize and the Bahamas for vacations. It has been, and continues to be, a wonderful experience that has exceeded all our expectations. While the opportunity to visit great and beautiful places all over North America is fantastic, it has been making and seeing so many friends on the road that has become the best thing about our lifestyle.

This year we put 6,481 miles on Opus and 10,203 on the CRV. We stayed in 37 places at an average cost of $23.04 per night. This is the most we have paid in our nine years on the road and is really a reflection of staying in the East where free boondocking sites are hard to find and wintering in Florida where it is more expensive. Of course this increase in campground costs was off set by the cost of fuel at $2.22 per gallon, by far the least we have paid in our nine years on the road.

We started year nine in Eastern Pennsylvania where we toured Longwood Gardens, the Brandywine Museum, Valley Forge NHP, Amish country and the New Jersey state capitol. We then headed back to WashPA for our annual visit with friends, family and doctors. We took in a Pirate game, played euchre with the old card club, had John's wonderful wood-fired pizza, ate at several of our local favorite restaurants, and enjoyed hearing the local musicians. We got to see way too many friends to list here. Nanc ran the Great Race in Pittsburgh and finished very well in her age group. The day we left WashPA we had new rear tires put on Opus because it was near the time they were due and we had a leak in one of the tires. It turned out the leak was a bad air pressure monitor causing us to change our plans and missing Washington, DC and a visit with Nanc's sister Michelle and her husband Keith.

We then headed to the Outer Banks for four weeks of sun, fishing and friends. Mike and Sherri stayed with us for a few days and Jean Paul, Celine, Tom, Georgie, Richard and Valerie all stayed nearby so we had a great time visiting with them. When we left Hatteras Island it was on to Raleigh to add another state capitol to our list and then on to Florida for four months. We had Opus serviced in Ocala and then spent a week at the Escapees park in Bushnell where we got to see Wanda and Wallace. Our next stop was a month in Tampa where we saw Jean Paul, Celine, Mark and Renita. We visited the Dali Museum in St. Pete and flew to Mexico for ten days of sun and fun at Secrets Akamul where I got to swim with the sea turtles, a very neat experience. In what is now a Florida tradition we spent the last two weeks of 2015 with Mary Lou in Jupiter where our time was filled with music, food and two plays, all while celebrating the holidays.

We started 2016 staying a month at the Florida Keys Elks where we enjoyed the weather and spent time with many people who we had met there on previous visits, Tim, Pat, George, Linda, Joe, Kathy, Gary, Jean, Dick, Beth, Dave, Linda and several others. We did a day trip to Marathon and had lunch with Scooter, who we met at Betty's a couple of years ago. In February we had another month long stay in Christmas where Joe and Kathy were also staying so we had more fun with them. While there we took our first ever cruise, a four day trip to the Bahamas. Mike and Sherri flew down to escape the winter weather and we toured the Kennedy Space Center and checked out a couple of local beaches. The last week we were there we had lunch with Cal and Marie, other friends from Betty's, and with John who drove south for some winter golf. The first of March we went to Cedar Key, a very neat old Florida fishing village turned tourist destination. In Cedar Key we had one of those strange chance meetings when we ran into Mouse McKee, who we knew from WashPA and had no idea he was living there. Because of incoming weather we then did two 300+ mile days (very rare for us) to Breaux Bridge where we were surprised to find Joe and Kathy who where waiting out the bad weather.

Next we enjoyed a two month stay at Betty's where we have made more new friends than anywhere else we have stayed. On my list of those who were there during our visit this year I have more than 150 names and over a third of them are friends we had made on earlier visits. Tom and Georgie drove down with a personal mail delivery and spent a week enjoying Betty's famous happy hours and the Cajun culture. Rick and Denise flew down for a long weekend and had the full Cajun immersion experience. Just a few of the things we did there include the Boudin Festival, Touchet's and Museum Cafe jam sessions, Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Fred's Lounge radio broadcast, Cafe des Amis Zydeco breakfast, Martin Accordion tour, Tabasco, Jungle Gardens, Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Sounds on the Square and, of course, Betty's famous happy hours. We also enjoyed the great local restaurants. While Opus was parked at Betty's we took our second cruise of the year, seven days to Cozumel, Honduras, Belize and Costa Maya. It turns out that Joe, Kathy, Paul and Trudy were on the same cruise so we had a fun time hanging out and exploring with them. Just before we left Betty's to head north we had a couple of bumps in the road. I had a terrible allergic reaction to something that covered me with hives and required two visits to the doctors before it went away. Then on the day we left the check engine light came on and it turned out we needed a new battery and alternator. With this issue, my hives, and the fact it was the weekend, we ended up in Breaux Bridge for six extra days.

Because of our unintended extended stay in Louisiana, we had to pass on a planned stop in Arkansas and headed to Memphis for some music on Beale Street and a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel. Next stop was at Charles and Sandy's place in Tennessee for a whirlwind three days. We managed to squeeze in dinner with Grover and McKenzie, our first Uber experience, a STYX concert, a picnic lunch at Arrington Winery, and tours of George Dickel and Prichard distilleries. This in addition to a couple of wonderful evenings on the patio and a chance to meet their neighbor Spud. Then off to Kentucky where we toured the capitol and Buffalo Trace Distillery. Over Memorial Day weekend in Ohio we toured the capitol and just relaxed. Our next three stops were all about seeing friends. We spent three days in Senecaville, OH with Jim and Darlene where we got to see Steve, Christin, Wiley, Tom, Georgie, Frank and Jan. Then we did a short four day visit in WashPA where we saw Tom, Georgie, Jim, Darlene, Bill, Kim, Mike, Sherri, John, Patrice, Rick, Denise and a few others. Next was four days at the lake fishing in Pymatuning with Mike and Sherri.

We then headed to the Catskills in Eastern New York where we toured Bethel Woods, the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, the Roosevelt Home National Historic Site, the Roosevelt Museum and Library and West Point where I found the grave of Civil War veteran and distant relative, John Caldwell Tidball. We then moved to Schenectady from where we toured the New York state capitol and the Saratoga National Historic Park. Our last stop in New York was near Plattsburgh for 10 days where we explored a bit of the Lake Champlain area and did a one day trip to visit Old Montreal.

On July fourth we crossed into Quebec for a couple of weeks. Our first stop was Quebec City where we toured Old Quebec and the Citadel. We then moved to Lac Ha Ha for a week to celebrate the birthday of our friend Mado. It was a fantastic party for her 80th birthday. Many of our Canadian friends who we met at Betty's were also there; Rick, Alain, Mirna, Remi, Lucie, Michelle, Michele, Lionel, Flo, Yvon and Denise. We did a tour of the Saguenay Fjord and a couple villages with Mado and Rick. We enjoyed evenings around the campfire, pontoon boat rides and a couple of hikes. It was great seeing all our friends and getting to explore the area with  local residents. From Quebec we went to Vermont. On our first stop we added the state capitol to our list, toured Ben and Jerry's and the Rock of Ages Granite Quarry.  It was then on to Essex Junction for the Escapade where we got to spend time with many Class of 07 mates and other Escapees friends; Bob, Molly, Howie, Nora, Ron, Linda, John, Lora, Mike, Sandy, Rick, Terry, Steve, Sandy, Mike, Sandy, Mark, Lanny, Lois, Bill, Jan, Rich, Mary Dennis, Carol, Brenda and Dave.  All these people arrived early and are working at the Escapade which starts on July 24, the first day of year ten of our RV adventure.

As we look forward to year ten after the Escapade we will be going to WashPA for our annual two month visit. In October we will be heading to Michigan to have Opus serviced and to see friends. We then plan to take a month or so going cross country and touring state capitols on our way to the Mesa area where we will stay until 2017. We have a reservation in San Diego for a month. In the spring when the weather warms we will work our way north to Washington to see Nanc's brother Dave and his family. Then we will take a couple months heading back to WashPA. While this is the big picture we will be deciding specific stops depending on time, weather and friends we want to see along the way. That is the great thing about the way we live, it's wherever a whim takes us.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mado's Birthday and Camping Lac Ha Ha

We have met many Quebecers at Betty's over the years and have visited Jean Paul and Celine at their home in St. Omer.  Every spring at Betty's a group lead by Mado and her husband Rick stop at Betty's on their way home from wintering in Mexico.  Over the years they have encouraged us to come north for a visit and this year fit perfectly into our travel schedule.  Since we were coming to Vermont for the Escapade, it would only be an extra 600 miles.  As an added bonus, we would be there for the celebration of our friend Mado's 80th birthday. 
The drive from Quebec City to Camping Lac Ha Ha was only 117 miles, but as you can see there where many ups and downs.  Our GPS chimes when we are coming up to a steep hill or sharp turn.  It sounded like church bells on Sunday morning for most of the trip.  Look at the grades, I don't think we even encountered anything like this going to Alaska.  The good news, most of the steep hills were  short and we could opt for the longer, flatter, but less scenic route on the return trip.
We arrived on Friday and were greeted by many of our friends from Betty's.  We all gathered in the camp hall that evening for supper.
Mado, Jim, Rick and Nanc at the celebration that started at noon with the roasting of four large roasts on a spit, an afternoon of games, and a party with a band that lasted late into the night. 
You know it is going to be a fun time when someone is wearing a hat that has been modified to carry jello shots.
The evening started with a great meal.  They even had salmon for those like Nanc who don't eat meat.
A few of the revelers.
People we have met at Betty's. Top, Remi, Lucie, Lionel and Flo.  Bottom Yvon, Mirna, Alain, Denise, Michelle and Michele.
Some of Mado's family. Top, her husband Rick, daughter Isabelle, Mado and sister Monique.  Bottom, daughter Suzanne, son-in-law Rejean, their daughter(?), sister-in-law Claudette, brother Ramon (whom we met at Betty's) and brother Christian.
Party time!!!!
Even a Mado hat.
Nanc and Suzanne.
Alain, Remi and Mado.
Mirna, who is from Mexico, and Ramon singing in Spanish.
Things got a little wild:-)  You never know what to expect from Mado.
Lucie, Mado, Michele, Mirna and Nanc.
Dancing the night away.
A big hug for the birthday lady.  Thank you for making us part of the celebration.  What a fun, fun party!  Since many people were just here for the weekend we all gathered for a good-bye breakfast Sunday morning.
We were staying a week to spend more time with Rick, Mado, their family and Lionel and Flo who were staying for a month.  We got to go out on their pontoon a couple times to enjoy Lac Ha Ha.
Talk about a party barge.  I know many people in Pennsylvania and Louisiana who would love this set-up. 
On Monday we drove to La Baie, where Rick and Mado live, and took a boat tour on the Saguenay River through the fjord.  This is the auberge (hotel) overlooking the river that Mado and a couple of her brothers built and ran a few years ago.
The boat made three stops along the way.  This is the village of Sainte-Rose-du-Nord, a small place that was originally only accessible by boat. 
The second stop, Trinity Bay, was to drop off and pick up people who hiked to the top of the mountain to the statue shown below.  The climb included a rope bridge to cross the cut between the two peaks.  No Thanks!!
This section of the tour was through Saguenay Fjord National Park.  The statue of Notre-Dame du Saguenay was placed here in the 1880's.  Because of its weight it had to be cut into pieces and hoisted up the steep cliff from two small boats below.  It was restored in 2008.
It is a beautiful cruise on the river through the beautiful fjord with its towering cliffs.
Michele, Rick, Michelle, Nanc, Mado and Jim aboard the boat.  I sure was over dressed in a sweatshirt as the weather went from a cool and overcast weekend to hot and sunny for most of the remainder of our stay. 
The boat landed in L'Anse-Saint-Jean where we went to lunch and then explored the village before boarding a bus for the return to Le Baie.  Along the way back we made several stops including this bakery where they bake everything in a wood fired oven.  We sampled a sweet roll and gave it a thumbs up.
The covered bridge is interesting for the works of art about the village that line the interior walls.
At another stop there was a park with many different nativities designed and made out of a variety of materials.  They ranged from the traditional to abstract and were very interesting. 
We spent the rest of the week at beautiful Lac Ha Ha where we went out on the boat, fished, hiked and gathered around the campfire every evening with Mado and Rick's family and friends.  This is the view of the lake and campground from the top of the that last 14% grade we drove down before entering the park.  The next day Rick, Lionel, Nanc and I climbed to the top of Mt. Du Four, that peak on the other side of the lake.
To save us six extra miles Rick used this small boat to take us across the lake to the bottom of the mountain where we started our climb.  It was only a mile to the top but it was all up hill and very, very steep most of the way.
We were rewarded with this beautiful view of the lake, campground and mountains.  That is the road we drove in on coming over the mountains.
Tradition is that those who climb to the top should leave something on the flagpole.  There was no way I was going that close to the edge, but Rick volunteered and tied my bandanna to the pole, so we have left a bit of ourselves at Ha Ha.
Lionel, Nanc and Rick celebrating at the top.  Rick is holding half of a memento that an earlier climber had left tied to the tree.
While most of our friends left after the weekend party, Lionel and Flo were here for the remainder of the week.  They have not been to Betty's for a couple years, so we had a fun time getting caught up with them.
On our last day Rick, Nanc and I took a hike through the woods to the other side of the lake.  It was an easy and beautiful walk but we paid a big price with all the mosquito bites we got.
When we got to the other side of the lake look who showed up in the kayaks, Lionel and Mado.  The locals spent a lot of time on and in the water, but it was too cold for us.
We had a great week at Lac Ha Ha and enjoyed our time with friends.  We were rewarded with this beautiful sunset.  Once again meeting people on the road has become the best thing about our lifestyle. We want to say thank you very much to Mado, Rick and their family for their hospitality and the wonderful time we had in their little piece of paradise.  It would be a beautiful place to return to some time in the future.