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Canada: Three Days, Three Cities


I visited Canada, specifically the provinces of Quebec and a little strip of New Brunswick twice last summer. The first time for a bit above three days, and the second for a bit under 30 minutes... but that's for later.


A road trip with my 18-year-old grandson, punctuated by lots of talk about music, books and the future, his and mine, and bits and pieces of three fascinating cities, started with Montreal, where we were entertained by buskers (above and below) in the Place Jacques Cartier, which is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops.


Birds were on view as well, both this neatly-colored one who thought long and hard before drinking from the fountain, and the brightly-colored ones who lurked by the hundreds in a nearby shop.


Not far away is a pair of artistic and political rivals: the snooty Englishman with his pug turning up his nose at the Francophone cathedral while at the other end of the block a well-dressed French woman holds her poodle and turns up her nose at the Anglophone Bank of Montreal. The dogs, however, seem to have 'a thing' for each other.


A boat ride on the Saint Lawrence seemed like a good idea on a hot day, and gave us a view of parts of the city we wouldn't have seen. It also gave us a reminder that July 1st, the day we were there, is Canada Day. Post offices were closed...


Before hitting the road in the morning, we drove up Mount Royal, from which the city gets its name, and admired views both near and far. Far, and seeming to come from a galaxy even farther away, the Olympic Stadium, former home of the Montreal Expos. Near, just under our noses, a bunch of very busy bees.


On our way out of town, an impressive artwork on a wall, one of several.


Next destination, halfway from Montreal to Quebec, Trois-Rivieres, a longtime capital of Quebec's pulp and paper industry, and home of the Musee Pop, full of exhibits chosen by popular acclaim to represent Quebec folk culture. An unexpected find: Borealis, a museum that explores the history and technology of paper making. The tower, now for observation, was once the water intake for the thirsty process of making newsprint.


An amusing restaurant sign...


And another unexpected find: the city's small but magnificent Assumption Cathedral. I would have spent more time there, but a service was in progress. It was Saturday, and the Post Office was closed; my postcards to children and friends were written and ready, but no stamps.


Later that day, we arrived in Quebec and visited the Botanical Gardens and turning in for the night.


In the morning, we headed for the traditional city center, parking near the immense Chateau Frontenac, an icon of the city, and found almost nowhere open for breakfast... except the very expensive, but also very wonderful buffet at the hotel. The hotel is at the site where Quebec fell to British troops in 1763, but the little museum nearby is an early 20th century building.


We took the funicular down to the old port area, under the heights. It's now a much gentrified and tourism-oriented area—the fate of most old ports in the era of containerized cargo. Restaurants with cute signs and names abound. But alas, Sunday, and still no Post Office.


I'm still not sure if this sign is official or an ironic joke... Almost the same could be said for the Boston-based Museum of Bad Art, which had a traveling exhibit at the time.


Speaking of art, the old port is also home to two outstanding pieces of trompe l'oeil art. In the second image, only the couple in the foreground are really there...


Sunday night, we arrived in Fort Kent, Maine, just across the border from Clair, New Brunswick, and found a motel across the street from the border bridge. In the morning, I woke early, and recrossed the river into Canada. The Canadian border agent was surprised that my intended stay was "about fifteen minutes" and the American guard on my return was equally surprised that I had spent just over twenty minutes in Canada.

But that's all it took to be at the Post Office when it opened, stamp my cards and go. Back to the U.S., where we had to drive 50+ miles to find a place open for breakfast... on the Fourth of July.


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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