Monday, 20 October 2008

"There´s a wapiti on the bus. How are we going to get it off?"

After drinking slightly too much with the people from the Beaver tour, I headed off next day bright and early on a new mini tour. En route to Montreal stopped off at The Big Apple, which was an apple pie factory. This was set up by an Aussie and in the (apparently) Australian tradition of having giant models of fruit and veg etc, this had a giant apple outside....which actually looked like a tomato. But that didn't matter because it was a mighty fine piece of pie.

After that we stopped off to go on the Thousand Island boat tour. These are a load of islands as indicated by the name that are between Canada and the US. There are two particular islands, one in Canada, one in the US, that are connected by a ten foot bridge, which makes it the smallest bridge between two countries in the world. Because we were in US waters I have now technically been to the US although I have no passport stamp to prove it.

So then we were in Montreal. Had a wonder round the old town with Takako, a Japanese girl from the tour who must have been about two feet shorter than me, which I´m sure caused some amusement to the locals. That night we went out in Montreal. Mike, the Tour leader took us to an Irish pub. First Irish pub after 5 days away isn´t bad, am usually in one far quicker! Also went to a pub where the pub quiz wasn´t even starting until 11 - its not like UK licensing laws.

Next day after climbing up Mont Royal, a load of new people joined the tour, and we headed for Mont Tremblant. Had some authentic Canadian cuisine on the way - Poutine - which is chips with cheese curds on top covered in gravy. Very nice! Had failed to have this in Montreal as we left the pub too late, so had to make do with, ahem, McDonalds.

Mont Tremblant was very nice. Was bizarre seeing a ski resort with no snow. It did have a dry toboggan run but unfortunately was closed, although it looked like you just shoot down a slope on a tricycle with limited brakes so might have been for the best. So instead just chilled out up one of the slopes admiring the view of the town and the lake.

The hostel was pretty good. Had a swim in an even colder lake than in Algonquin, and threw a Canadian football around for a bit (kind of like American Football). Also 7-balled an Australian guy off our tour at pool, which was taken with customary grace. A mention of the Olympic medals table also went down well.

Ottawa was the next port of call, but on the way we stopped at Omega animal park. Its kind of like Longleat as you drive your car in and the animals come up to you. So armed with a load of carrots to feed to them, we went in! Within about three feet of the opening cattle grid we were already surrounded by Wapiti's, which are kind of like deer but with no antlers. The door of the bus was open and its is normal for them to put their front legs in to take the carrots out of your hands. What isn't normal is for them to climb fully on the bus, but one got on! The tour leader had never seen this before, and we weren't quite sure how we were going to get it off the bus. eventually we coaxed it with a carrot and gave it a shove and it jumped off.

We also saw wolves, bison, bears, racoons, and red deer. It is mating season for the red deer and they are a touch aggressive, but despite our efforts we couldn't provoke one into chasing the bus, which has happened before. Then onto Ottawa. Wondered around the city and had more local dishes, this time a beaver tail, which is a deep fried piece of pastry covered in whatever you wanted. I had chocolate, peanut butter and smarties on mine. I left the tour that evening and got the overnight Greyhound back to Toronto so I could go to Niagara Falls.

Met up again with Heena who I had met earlier in the week on the Beaver tour. Our bus to the Falls got pulled over by the Police on the way for doing 80 in a 60 zone, but we were let off! Never seen so many people simultaneously scramble to put seatbelts on though! Stopped off for lunch at Niagara on the Lake, and my navigational skills came to the fore again as it took us forever to find the lake!

At Niagara went on the Maid of the Mist boat which takes you to the bottom of the falls, or near enough. This was pretty good and you do get wet, so its lucky they give you a poncho. Stayed in Niagara that night. It is an exceptionally tacky place. If the Canadian side is this tacky, I dread to think what the American side is like! Aside from the neon everywhere, it has five or more waxwork museums, a wrestling superstore, and a Ripleys Believe It Or Not. A classy place.

At the hostel in Niagara, for a few brief seconds I genuinely believed I was going to die. In the middle of the night there was all this crashing and banging like someone was trashing the place. It woke me up and i needed to use the facilities so trudged down the corridor. When i came out there was this bloke standing across the doorway. It was 4am, he could've used any other toilet. His eyes weren't right, he looked mental and I thought he was gonna kill me. Luckily he just stood there and i shuffled past. Wasn't what I needed when I was half asleep though.

Did journey behind the falls next day where you don another poncho but this was pretty disappointing in that behind the falls is little more than a small hole in the rock where you can see nothing but spray. Headed back to Toronto after that and had some beers with Phil, a colleague from EY who happened to be working on a job out there at the time. Might have been advised to go to bed a little earlier than midnight though as I had to be up at 4 to get to the airport to get my flight to Havana.

A few other random observations on Canada
- automatic doors aren´t automatic, you have to press a button
- prices are quoted excluding tax so just as you´ve spent ages sorting out the right money to get rid of some shrapnel, the tax is added on and you break another note
- Canada is giving the US a run for its money in the obesity stakes so ordering a starter and a main is the UK equivalent of about four main meals. I could only just eat it all.

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