Account of travels across the world. This blog provides descriptions of travels in different parts of the world. Pictures related to many of the blogs can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7330879@N05/ and for more information I can be e-mailed at ananda@wfu.edu

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wednesday October 17

The day was mostly spent in travel. We got a phone message in the morning letting us know that the US Air flight to Philly from Greensboro was going to be delayed. This meant we would have a longer layover in Philly. That was not a bad thing. We got to Greensboro airport in plenty of time and had a little bit of time to do some work. The flight to Philly was eventless, although delayed. We had lunch at the F-Concourse food court in Philly. These airports all are looking the same. Perhaps because I travel quite a bit I have grown to see subtle differences in the behavior of the people which gives the airports character beyond the very standardized food courts and other stores. I have seen so many “Hudson News” stores that I have lost count. When I was in India every railway station would have the “Wheeler” book store on the platform. The Wheeler of childhoods has now become the Hudson News. The Philly food court was interesting. As I was standing in yet another “Sbaro” Italian fast food line I overheard the people serving the food speaking in Bengali. It was interesting ordering Italian food in Bengali especially when their Bengali was the Bengali of Bangladesh as opposed to my West Bengal Bengali. The spicy potato that they have became “Alu bhaja” and the eggplant dish became “begun bhaja.” All that was missing was some “luchi.”

Anyhow, as we waited Srijoy caught up with some homework and I did some work. We eventually went on to the gate and flight to Montreal was eventless. Customs and immigration in Montreal was not a hassle and we were able to get out swiftly. There was a bit of a line at immigration but nothing major. We were quite delayed though. Our original plan was to arrive at about 1:30 into Montreal but it got to be 4:30 by the time we were getting our bags. I had rented with Payless and so we had to take a hotel bus to the Hilton and the Payless counter was located in the hotel lobby. It turned out that the rental outlet was also owned by an Indian family. We chatted a bit and then picked up the van. We hit the highway (A40 going East) at about 5 pm. It was horribly backed up with rush hour traffic. The radio was marginally interesting given we were in French Canada and the language was starting to irritate me. The lack of English when the surrounding is no different from upstate New York was a little disconcerting. We wound our way out of Montreal and it was getting dark as we finally hit the open stretches of the highway. The drive was pretty with fall in full swing. The leaves had turned and the setting sunlight literally put the forests on fire. We had not realized that we were hitting Quebec at the peak of Fall.

We eventually pulled into the outskirts of Quebec City about 8:00 pm. Finding the hotel was not a hassle (Courtyard Marriott, there is only one in Quebec City right by the St. James gate into the old city). The people spoke marginal English. I suspect they spoke better English than they showed. It is the old French style. I think the entire French speaking World still can not get over the fact that in establishing global colonialism they lost the language war to the people on the island. So, this passive aggressive French attitude about English. I have witnessed this in every French speaking area I have been to such as Geneva, Paris, and of course French Canada. Anyway, the hotel location was really nice right across from the public open air skating rink which was already open. I handed the car to the valet and checked in and wanted to exchange the US money for the Canadian Dollar. Not good news. What used to be 2 Canadian for 1 US is now 0.9 Canadian for 1 US. This was a shock and its ripple effects were felt all through the trip. What happened here? I thought we were the global leader (bully!) and we can not buy even 1 Canadian with 1 US? The main effect of this was the way things are priced in Canada. Going back to the days of the Canadian Dollar being under par things were priced to be on par. Thus a burger would cost 8 Canadian and that seemed reasonable. Now the price tag has not changed making that same burger incredibly expensive to poor Americans. This actually made the trip more expensive than anticipated.

We finally called it a day after a really expensive room service. Srijoy did some homework.

Thursday October 18

We got up early and breakfasted on the breakfast bars we had wisely brought with us. Mikku made some coffee in the room and so we did not have to go for the 12 Canadian Dollar breakfast buffet downstairs. We walked to the lobby and asked for directions to Starbucks. OK, get this, there is no Starbucks in Quebec City. I was doomed. I was directed to a café which proved to be unnecessarily evening for something that could be barely called coffee. We took a stroll around the old quarters, going through the artillery park, the cobbled streets and up to the Citadel which offers an excellent view of the St. Lawrence River. Quebec City has a very European feel to it, specially accentuated by the French language and influence. I eventually broke off from Swati and Srijoy and went off to the conference for most of the rest of the day. The conference was excellent and doing a best practices presentation brought out a large audience.

I met up with the family later in the day and we strolled around the old quarters. Of note was observing the shooting of some kind of an advertisement film right inside the old quarters. Of course we had no clue what the ad was for since everything being spoken was in French. We took the funicular down to the water side and then walked back towards the hotel. It was still light out and we went on to the skating rink. It was a lively place with lots of people skating. We rented a skate for Srijoy and he went skating and had a ball. It was a really lively place and it was just fun to listen to the music and watch people skate. Somewhat reminiscent of Rockefeller Plaza of New York but on a much smaller scale.

We just hung around outside for some time before eventually getting back to the room. Srijoy did some homework and we called it a day.

Friday October 19

Spent a little time in the conference after the in room breakfast. Also packed the stuff and went to old town to get some supplies. Eventually we hit the road going North East from Quebec City. Our destination was a place called Baei St. Paul which is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence fjord. The drive took us by the Mount Moncerey Chute (or waterfall). It was a beautiful fall day and we decided to stop at the water falls for a bit. The family pack allowed us unlimited access to the ropeway and we took it to the top of the Falls. A quaint French café was located there. After some expensive beverages we walked to the Falls and down the steps. Srijoy got a little wet from the spray. The place was not very crowded. This part of Canada goes through a lull in tourism during fall. The summer holidayers are gone, and the winter ski season is still not quite started. The weather was pleasant with colder nights and brisk days. The sun was out most of the times. After some more time at the Falls we continued going north. The towns were getting smaller and quite deserted with the shops mostly closed. The road winds by the St. Lawrence offering breathtaking vistas of the fall colored land by the sparkling water. We made it a leisurely drive stopping often and eventually got to the Motel. Finding a place to stay was tough at this time of the year. There are no chain motels in this area. Most of the Web sites were in French and when I had called to talk the people acted as if they did not know any English. So, I had made the booking through a generic reservation site. The hotel I had gotten was at best average. The service was poor, and the people were the basic garden variety rude French Canadians. They seemed to dislike the fact that I made no attempt to do the “Merci” with them but stuck to my “Thanks.” The room was not too bad and overlooked the garden. Srijoy and I spent some time in the garden while Swati relaxed in the room. Later in the evening we drove down to the town of Baei St. Paul. It was a small quaint town mostly devoted to art and artists. There were a few very nice galleries. We strolled down the main drag. The best thing was that there were hardly any other tourists there at all. Just some locals. We went into a chocolate museum (chocolate is big in this part of Canada) and we all had cognac filled chocolates. It was only after having it did I tell Srijoy about the cognac. He was amused. We had located a nice small café already and we got there and ordered a bottle of wine and had a very relaxed supper. It was good to slow down for a bit. The prices were really hurting. After that we drove back to the motel. It was still not too late so after Srijoy’s homework we caught up on episodes of the TV show called “Office.” It was a nice relaxed day and we eventually called it a day.

Saturday October 20

We left from the hotel by 10:00 am. Again we did the breakfast cereal bar and the in-room complimentary coffee. The drive today would take us further North East along the ever widening St. Lawrence to a town called Baei St. Catherine. After a quick gas stop we headed out. The place was getting increasing desolate and rugged. The towns were getting smaller and sleepier. The scenery was also changing as we were going further north. The peak of fall was over here and the trees were bare. My Global Positioning Unit told me that we were now at latitude of about 47 degrees north. It was not cold though. There were hardly any cars on the road other than some slow tractors. It was clear that some of the towns had shut down for the impending brutal winter and the “snow birds” have flown south. After about an hour and fifteen minutes we pulled into the sleepy town of B. St. Catherine. Other than one tavern everything else was closed. Other than that, we counted two other taverns and one hotel all of which was closed. There was not a soul anywhere. The day was perfect for our reason to be up there. The tavern owner spoke English and pointed out the boat dock. The gift shop was open and we were told that our boat would arrive at 1 pm. We still had an hour and half to spend. We drove about a mile up the road where it ends and one has to take a free car ferry to continue on the other side of the road. We did not do that but came back to the tavern and had lunch. After lunch we strolled by the waterway and eventually got back to the dock. It was sunny but a bone chilling North wind was blowing. The boat arrived at 1:25 and we boarded it to leave at 1:30.

This was the reason to come all the way North. The 3 hour boat ride takes the passengers up the St. Lawrence to a place in the fjord where one can see whales. We are talking about live wild whales that circle around the boat and you can see them in their natural habitat. From when he was very young Srijoy has been an avid whale lover and this was Heaven to him. There is no guarantee that one would see a whale but the very thought was exciting. Remember whales are mammals and so need to surface to breathe. This involves blowing water out of their spout taking in air and going under water. So one can see the whales when they come to the surface to breathe. Srijoy and I situated ourselves outside the heated cabin of the boat (there were probably 50 people on the boat) and took up a place at the fore of the boat. The boat was traveling at about 18 miles per hour and the wind chilled one to the bone. But then we saw it. A beluga whale surfaced and pushed its head in the air. That was only the beginning. For the next three hours the boat circled an area where we saw numerous whales of different kinds (Srijoy knows all the names). Some were really large, such as the fin whale which is the size of 10 elephants. Some were really close to the boat too. This was really a high point of the trip. After the boat left the whale area we got back inside the boat and had a hot cup of coffee from the concessions stand in the boat and finally were back a the dock.

We headed back towards B. St. Paul. It was dark by the time we were back at the motel. Hung out at the room and generally relaxed. Srijoy did homework. I eventually got some take out from a solitary McDonalds! The dinner at the hotel had a set menu with each person at 35 Canadian. It was unaffordable!

Sunday October 21

We had kept this day aside for the drive back to Montreal (about a 5 hour drive). We ate breakfast at the hotel. It was a really nice sunny day. We took some pictures at the hotel, packed the car and headed south. Again went through a set of sleepy old towns. Srijoy wanted to go back to the skating rink in Quebec City. Since it would be on the way, we decided to stop at Quebec City. Had lunch in the old town and then Srijoy did some skating for about an hour. Mikku also tried but had a bad fall very quickly and decided not to try any more. We spent the afternoon strolling around the old town. Eventually headed out towards Montreal. The drive was eventless. Everyone was quite tired. However, we did pull into downtown Montreal for a bit before heading to the hotel by the airport. It was an eventless evening. I returned the car and we just stuck at the hotel eventually ordering a Chinese delivery.

Monday October 22

Had an early start to get to the airport. Again had a long layover in Philly. Had lunch there. The flight was then further delayed due to mechanical problems. Our hope was to reach Greensboro by about 4:30 in the evening but we did not get in till about 7:00. Most of the time was spent in Philly airport where we did get a chance to catch up on work, homework and phone calls.


posted by Ananda  # 9:21 AM


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