It was packing up and moving on day today. Robyn had an appointment at the bank to open an account (obviously not possible to do this in the 2 months she has been here!) and I set off to the airport to pick up a hire car for our 3 week tour of the Gaspesie Peninsula, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
By the time I had cleared our room and got the bus there, it was 11am and Robyn arrived shortly afterwards. I then had to negotiate driving an automatic car (my pet hate) on the right hand side of the road with a left hand drive car. No doubt by the end of the trip I will be used to it. However, that said, it wasn’t too bad, with the most stressful part being getting out of the airport car park. I (and Robyn) soon discovered that the brakes were quite fierce and it was a good job she was wearing a seatbelt!
It was a very long drive mostly along autoroute. Once we had passed Quebec City, we looked for a small town/village where there might be a cafe but, as luck would have it, we picked the one whose (one and only) cafe didn’t open on Tuesdays. So, we drove a bit further and found a cheese factory that also sold sandwiches and cakes.
After our late lunch, we continued along the minor road, following the St Lawrence. It was a very pretty route, passing through a number of small towns and villages but it was very slow and, conscious of the distance we still had to travel, I reluctantly returned to the autoroute.
We stopped once more at Mont Joli to look for a supermarket, as it was getting late and we thought the local ones might be closed by the time we arrived. This took a while and it was quite dark by the time we set off again. We eventually arrived at the hostel, a very welcome sight as far as I was concerned, at 8.45pm.
We didn’t rush this morning as I, for one, was still tired after the long drive yesterday. After breakfast, we drove into Matane and had a walk along the river and into one or two shops in search of some warmer clothes. The only really warm ones we found were Icebreakers from N.Z, which I really refused to buy on principal! It was a beautiful blue sky day but the wind was absolutely freezing.
Afterwards, we headed for the information centre (located in an old lighthouse, of which there are many along this coast), and collected some pamphlets about the peninsular.
As it was lunch time by this stage, we then drove along a bit further to the small village of St Ullrich to the chocolate shop, which, luckily, also had a limited selection of other food so we weren’t forced to have chocolate for lunch! This actually worked out extremely well, as we had an excellent cabbage soup (definitely tastier than it sounds), a roast pork baguette, slice of cake and hot chocolate, which was what was on offer for the menu of the day.
Feeling suitably replete, we wandered to the end of the village, stopping to play on the swing and to admire a very ornate house, which a local told us used to have far more decorations around it but the man who did it had now died, and his wife was slowly getting rid of everything. The village, like all the others we had passed through, seemed very quiet and empty and we wondered what people did for work here or if a lot of the houses were just used for holidays. I should imagine it would be very bleak in the winter.
Back in Matane, we spent quite some time perusing the limited amount of warm clothes on offer in Walmart (must be a hardy lot in Canada as there were still no thermals) before driving back to the hostel, which is about 12km along the coast.
It was very appealing, then, after we had taken a walk through the village, just to relax in the lounge whilst we sorted out what we were going to do tomorrow.
L’Anse a Valleau
Today was somewhat disappointing. We had planned to do a detour into Gaspesie National Park and go for a hike for 3 or 4 hours before travelling on around the northern coast of the peninsula. However, we woke to rain and grey, cloudy weather and we would have been wet within minutes and not seen any of the view if we had gone for a walk, so that idea was abandoned fairly quickly.
Consequently, Plan B went into operation and we took a very slow drive along the coast to our accommodation at L’Anse de Valleau, where I had booked a motel. We stopped a couple of times along the way and each time had to brace ourselves against the icy wind.
First stop was at a windmill farm where, up until the beginning of September (as we found out), you could go up a windmill, which would have been quite interesting had it been open. We have passed a number of ‘arms’ and ‘legs’ being transported along the road, with the accompaniment of about 5 vehicles as they are, of course, extremely large loads. Apparently, they are manufactured somewhere in the area here but I haven’t found out where.
Stop number two was at Ste Anne des Monts, where we bought supplies for lunch/snack (excellent pizza slice, cake and lentil soup for later). The pizza and cake we ate in the car overlooking the St Lawrence, where we could see that the other side of the river was enjoying more clement weather than we were!
As we were still hungry, we stopped for a second lunch of homemade vegetable soup next to the Madelaine lighthouse, where the cafe was someone’s kitchen and the gift shop was a throwback to the 70’s with knitted and macramed items for sale amongst the other standard souvenirs of key rings and lighthouse models.
The weather brightened periodically, with the occasional bursts of sunshine before relapsing into rain showers again. It was never warm though! We arrived at our destination at about 3.45pm, only to find nobody home. Luckily, Robyn had a functional phone and, after several attempts, we spoke to the owner, who hadn’t got the booking and wasn’t expecting us. She arranged for someone to come with a key and we eventually were let into the room.
We then decided we hadn’t got enough food for the evening, there were no cafes around and definitely no Four Squares (for the uninitiated into quaint N.Z. customs, this is a chain of small supermarkets that are located in almost every town and village in the country). We ended up driving back up the road for quite a number of kilometres to purchase a ready made meal from a grocers. Forward planning is not our forte!
The rest of the evening was spent huddled in the room, except when I went to pay the owners, who eventually turned up specifically for receipt of money. They didn’t seem to know where on the map New Zealand was located, didn’t speak English, but otherwise seemed quite normal!
Having heard the rain in the night, I was dubious about the weather when I woke this morning, but, in fact, it was a beautiful, cold, blue sky day.
We set off at about 10am and drove the short distance to the Forillon National Park, which is at the very tip of the Gaspesie Peninsula, passing through quite a number of villages along the way. The houses seem to perch by the side of the sea, with no gardens, hedges or fences between them making them appear very exposed and bleak. However, it would certainly not be a problem getting a house with a sea view here!
Once at the park, we stopped on the north side for a look at the cliffs but decided that our walk was going to be to the lighthouse at Land’s End on the south side. Robyn apparently couldn’t possibly do this without food, which resulted in our stopping at a restaurant and having a table d’hote 3 course meal before we started! There is not a great choice of cafes, as we have discovered, in some of these rural areas, so we have to take our chances when we see them. This was not a particularly marvellous meal but it served the purpose.
Afterwards, we drove back into the park and got ourselves well wrapped up against the wind for our walk. This took us along the coast of the Bay of Gaspe and up through woodlands before we emerged onto the point where the lighthouse was located. There was a lookout down below, which was supposed to be Land’s End so, naturally, we had to tick that box too!
There were a number of seals in the water, but they were quite boring and I really wanted to see a whale (or even two or three or a pod). However, they are proving quite elusive, although we did think we saw one as we were walking back to the car. It may, of course, just have been wishful thinking! A number of porcupines crossed our path on the way back, which was reasonably interesting, as I haven’t seen one before.
By this time, it was after 5pm and we still had quite a long drive to Perce. It was a beautiful evening, though, and a very picturesque drive up and around the Gaspe Bay. We stopped in Gaspe itself for petrol and the supermarket and arrived in Perce at about 7.30pm. Luckily, we had bought some bread and cheese as Robyn was hungry again and there were no cooking facilities or even a kettle. My coffee in the morning is going to be sorely missed!
Our plans today were once again thwarted by the weather. We had intended to take the boat over to Bonaventure Island, go for a hike and see the gannet colony. However, it was blowing an icy gale, albeit not raining, and no boats were going out.
After breakfast, well wrapped up once again, we strolled into town and stopped at the bakery, where I got my coffee fix and we bought supplies for lunch. We also had a lovely chat to the Australian whose boyfriend owned the bakery. We were almost as excited as she was to meet a fellow antipodean, there not being many of us about!
Plan B was formulated after a visit to the tourist office and, armed with a local map, we set off up the hill to Mont Sainte Anne, which overlooks Perce and the wider area. No doubt the view would have been extremely spectacular on a blue sky, clear weather day but it was very impressive nevertheless.
We managed to select the steepest path to go up and arrived at the top, without gloves, scarves and hats, having become quite warm on the way up. However, it didn’t take us long to don all the garments once again as the extremely icy and strong winds whipped through us. At one point, I couldn’t even stand still to take a photograph, which came out decidedly blurry!
At the top was a statue of Saint Anne, patron saint of sailors, apparently, and an arrangement of seats that suggested the odd service might be held there. We had a snack as Robyn was starving again, but didn’t linger before taking the scenic route down, stopping at the view points along the way.
Back in town, I forced Robyn to walk along by the sea and up to a view point of The Rock, at which we nearly got blown over. Heading back to town, via the jetty and promenade, waves were crashing over the edge and the path was decidedly wet.
Next stop was back at the bakery for coffee/hot chocolate and a delicious bowl of spicy tomato and chickpea soup. We seem to be having a lot of soup at the moment but it seems the most appropriate food for this type of weather!
Afterwards, Robyn went back to the motel, fed up with the wind, whilst I went in search of a stone shop that I had seen advertised. The area is well known for its agate and the father and son combination worked with all local stone, some from Perce itself, whilst others came from the Chic Choc mountains and Gaspe. As they didn’t take credit cards and cash was very low, the father offered to drive me to the money machine, which I had been looking for and not found. Apparently, he does this often and has been known to give the keys to tourists to drive themselves when he has been too busy to take them! He’d lived in Perce all his life and used to be the postmaster and was very trusting.
Having made my purchases, I strolled back to the motel, where we spent the rest of the evening in the warm.
The temperature had risen by about 15 degrees this morning and there was a warm wind blowing with sun shining through the light cloud. I feel I am becoming a little obsessed with the weather! We delayed our departure so that we could check to see if the boats were running to the island today but, unfortunately, one trip had been out and the captain couldn’t dock as it was too dangerous, so no more boats were going today.
Back to the bakery, then, for coffee before we set off on the next stage of the journey, with our destination being Campbellton, which is over the border in New Brunswick. It was a fairly slow drive along the coast, passing through many towns and villages, which all seemed to run into each other. The south coast of the Gaspesie is very different from the north, being much more populated and the hinterland being much flatter. There were a lot more farms and we decided that this was where the milk must come from for all the cheese we had been eating as we certainly haven’t seen many cows up until now. It is very picturesque and it would have been nice to have had more time to stop and look.
I had expressed a wish for seafood, as this area is known for its lobster, in particular, and fish in general. Robyn was going to treat me for my birthday and had gone through the gourmand food brochure that we had picked up from a tourist office. The first one she selected was closed for the season, the next couple were just fish shops with no cafe and we, finally, arrived at one that promised seafood, amongst other items on the menu. Alas, very little seafood and nothing that appealed to Robyn, which greatly disappointed her. We therefore decided on a couple of starters to take away and went and sat by the water for a picnic lunch, which was very enjoyable and far preferable to sitting in the auberge. Luckily, we still had some bread and cheese for Robyn and my seafood chowder was delicious!
On the road again and we headed for Miguasha National Park, which is renowned for the fossils that have been discovered there, including one in 2010, which provided scientists with the link that confirmed that tetrapods evolved from fish. It has a very long name, which I have forgotten, of course. We paid a vast fee for entry to the museum and park and spent a while in the museum looking at all the fossils, before going for an extremely short walk in the park itself. Had we just paid the $7.50 for park entry only, I would have felt very disgruntled, as it was literally a 20 minute walk through a few trees. We were not impressed!
It was a short drive after this to Campbellton, where I had booked a B&B. However, for some bizarre reason, New Brunswick is one hour ahead of Quebec, so we didn’t arrive until 7.30pm local time. We were greeted by the owner, who told us that if we wanted to eat, we had to go straight away as everything closed early. (People have dinner at 5pm here apparently!) He then proceeded to talk for the next 15 minutes!
We finally got away and went to the bistro he had recommended, only to find it was closed on Sunday evenings. We wandered around the totally dead town centre and eventually chanced upon a Grill / Bar type place that proclaimed it was the winners of the Grill competition, whatever that may be. I don’t think the standard can have been very high as, whilst my large glass of wine was fine (once I had got a lipstick free glass), and my steak and (microwaved) baked potato was acceptable, Robyn’s chips looked quite unappealing and her tempura chicken wings were coated in thick batter. They then tried to charge extra for my already overpriced steak meal, which the photograph on the menu and the fact that it was called a ‘meal’, implied that it was inclusive. The meal was accompanied by background music, soccer playing on the televisions on three different walls (we are still trying to work out who MCI is in the Premier League, having decided CHE was Chelsea) and people coming and going from the room where the pokie/slot machines were located. The whole decor resembled the public bar of a N.Z pub, not somewhere that I would normally frequent, especially not for a birthday dinner!!
Afterwards, we went back to the B&B and bed to recover from our feeling of being cheated all day!