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Vacation wrapup, way way late

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya. But life's been busy for the past month or so. Lots to blog about, so let's get at 'er, starting with this wrapup of the big Big Ass Summer Tour 2007.

Saturday, July 21, Amanda and I set out on a big drive, aiming to get to Riviere-du-Loup by sundown. First stop was Wendy's somewhere to try the new Baconator. Yes, two quarter-pound patties of fresh-never-frozen beef, six strips of bacon and two slices of cheese. The Baconator delivers. It's a little mushy, and the first half is best, 'cuz it's hot.

It was a cloudy, rainy day heading through New Brunswick. But more distracting than the rain was the accumulation of bugs on the windshield. I used the gas station squeegee to wipe off the slime each time we stopped for gas, but we could barely keep ahead of the insect carnage.

Arrived in Riviere du Loup and negotiated through the town courtesy of Mapquest's left-right-left-right-left-right-left directions, instead of going straight down one road. Ended up at Motel Boulevard Cartier. You'll note that the motel is attached to the local St. Hubert Chicken restaurant. In fact, the check-in desk is right next to the take-out counter. Check that... the check-in desk is the take-out counter. We checked in to the unremarkable but perfectly passable room. No non-smoking rooms available, unfortunately, so it felt like a real old-school experience, back to the days when all the rooms were smoking rooms. I promptly noticed a fly on the ashtray, turned around, and was delighted to find a flyswatter sitting on its own hook. Thwap! First amentiy used.

St. Hubert, in my mind, has always been the franglais equivalent of Swiss Chalet. And I luvs me some Swiss Chalet. So we ambled over to the restaurant to try out a quarter chicken and frites. This ain't no Swiss Chalet, kids. Tastes like cafeteria food. We added a bit of Nova Scotia flavour by purchasing some Keith's beer (Keith's Red, weirdly enough) to enjoy with dinner. Entered to win a Keith's guitar. Haven't won, so far that I've heard. Our friendly server Benoit told us about a fireworks show scheduled for 10pm down by the water. Cool beans! I luvs me some fireworks, too. If Swiss Chalet had fireworks, they'd be on to something, man. Fireworks show was better than the July 1 one in Halifax, I shit you not.

Next day was time for the killer drive of the trip, from Quebec to Bradford. Lunch was at McDonald's ("Mc Do'"), and the difficult problem of ordering a Bic Mac, no pickles, no sauce (my choix du jour on the rare times I go to the Arches) en francais. Amanda grew up in Northern Ontario (town of Swastika -- look it up) and actually worked her previous job in french, and we negotiated frickin' Paris together, so I figured ordering a Combo #1, no pickles, no sauce would be a breeze. But me, I learned Ontario core french, in which they teach you the names of things. French immersion, sure, you sound like you know the language, but you don't always end up knowing what stuff is called. Amanda was unsure what "sauce" was in french, even when I suggested that it may be "sauce". Pickles were a whole other matter. I asserted that "cochinons" was the word. She didn't know. So, between her and the counter man, I got a Big Mac sans sauce, but avec pickles. I could pick those off. Pickles, it turns out are "cornichons". Unsure so far what "cochinons" is, if anything.

Goddamn Ontario driving. The drive from the border to Toronto is ... is ... is ... no fun. Just no fun. The 401 isn't beautiful to drive on. Worse still when there's a collision and rubberneckers and idiots thinking they can get a tiny bit further ahead by cutting through the service station, then coming out four abroad into a one-lane merge, ending up driving on the shoulder, and ... anyway, Amanda convinced me not to shout anything out the window or hop out and slug someone in a Rav-4.

We crawled into Bradford quite late and found a Pizza Pizza open late. I don't miss Pizza Pizza pizza. Panzerotto Pizza and Wings, yes, I miss that. Toppers Pizza is good, too. But Pizza Pizza isn't the kind of pizza I miss, you know what I mean? Settled in for a nice night at Amanda's folks.

Off to my old stomping grounds on Monday. Bradford is just north of Newmarket, where I was raised. We hit Upper Canada Mall, where I worked at Compucentre as a teenager. Ate in the food court (Made In Japan/A Teriyaki Experience), shopped around, bought my nephew some cool sunglasses at some baby-stuff store. Saw my old house. Jee-zus, Newmarket has grown. Huge. Very different.

That night we had steak and caesar salad. I luvs me some steak, y'all. Then Barb and Wendall took us out to the movies. We saw Hairspray starring John Travolta. Amanda turned to me in horror during the opening sequence -- "Oh my god. I forgot to tell you, this is a musical." No bother. I knew it was a musical. I spent part of the movie trying to figure out where they shot it -- Toronto, obviously, but it was neat to figure out all the locations. Good flick, despite Travolta, drag or not. The popcorn was fan-tas-tic. Fantastic.

'Manda's mom took us to Ikea on Tuesday. See, the first Ikea in North America was across the harbour in Dartmouth, but they closed it down years ago. Shame! So it was a treat to go to Ikea for the first time in more than two years. We didn't buy anything huge, but it was fun to dream. Ikea actually serves good food in its cafeteria. Meatballs and soup and little potatoes! By this point in the trip, I was getting very tired. Nearly fell asleep in the car to and from Ikea. Dinner was burgers and corn and more caesar salad. Good times.

On Wednesday, we had a surprise lined up for my parents. We'd been swerving my mom and for weeks about our vacation plans, based on my sister's suggestion of arriving unannounced. It worked. We pulled in to Stratford and visited with my sister and baby Ewan for a while, then rolled over to the 'rents abode and walked right in. My dad looked puzzled. Mom was in the basement doing laundry, so I just walked right down and surprised her. Clearly she wasn't expecting it. Oh, I forgot to mention -- a Baconator for lunch. We indulged in Dairy Queen after a dinner of BBQ chicken at Chris and Shannon's.

Amanda drove off to London the next day to visit her sister Amy, while I walked around town with Shannon and my dad. Stratford's a beautiful place. It was nice to spend some time with family seeing their town again. We took my folks out for dinner at the nice hotel -- prime rib for all! And DQ to follow! A fireworks show down by the water was supposed to cap things off, but it started inexplicably early. Who starts a fireworks show at 9:15pm in early August? Just ridiculous. So we missed the whole show. Back to Shannon's to hang out with them and the baby some more. That baby is such a hoot. Hilarious. Babbling and screaming and freaking out and making faces. Tons of fun.
The tour resumed Friday as we dined on nachos at Shannon's, hung out at mom & dad's a while longer, then hit the road for Toronto! We found Sandra and Byron's new house -- eventually -- I had the wrong address. Had the wrong address for a few weeks, apparently, as I sent her birthday card to the wrong place. Their new place is delightful! A renovated place north of the Danforth with lots of room and high ceilings on the main floor. Just fabulous. We went down to the Danforth for a filling and tasty Greek dinner. Byron even ate octopus, or squid, or some tentacled beasty that was in the middle of the plate of dips. It was great to see my friends again; it was like we hadn't been apart for long.
Amanda went out early the next day to visit with a relative, and I went to breakfast with S&B. Good food, good company.
Off to Quebec City! We managed to find a Lick's Homeburgers restaurant on the way out -- one of the things we really miss about Ontario. Big, juicy, garlicky burger. Yum yum yum.

The drive to Quebec was a long, long one. We took an impulsive detour through Trois-Rivieres in an effort to take the "scenic route." We should've learned from the Banff trip that the "scenic route" is just a narrower road with more trees. As we arrived in Quebec City, it began to pour rain. Like, seriously, lots of rain. Somehow, somehow, we got to our hotel, parked, and checked in at the Hotel Auberge du Quartier.
We learned that the beautiful breakfast room was no longer the breakfast room, and no longer beautiful. The man at the desk told us that a guest had recently returned to his room thoroughly drunk and puked all over his sheets. He pulled off the sheets and put them in the shower for a rinse. He left the water running and passed out on the bed. The shower flooded the place, and thus, the breakfast room was ruined. Shame. On the up side, we'd get breakfast around the corner, gratis. We hunted down a local pub in the rain and ate a well-earned meal -- some kind of fancy panini sandwich for me, chicken caesar for Amanda.


... (Oct 3 2007) okay, this post has been "in progress" for a month and a half now. Let's just say that the Quebec vacation was wonderful. We walked a lot. A lot. Walking and walking. Saw lots of beautiful stuff, and ate some great food. Took a horse-drawn carriage ride. I'm gonna rush through the rest of this.

I wanted to mention that on the first day, I noticed that Scientology was front-page news in the paper. Apparently the "Church" is trying to improve its image in the city by expanding its storefront operation. The paper had a two-page spread. Nothing about Xenu.

We also spent a delightful weekend in Annapolis Royal, staying at the King George Inn. The place is effing gorgeous, and Faith the innkeeper is a whirling dynamo of a host. Highly recommended. I think we'll stay there again. Having never heard of Annapolis Royal before, we were blown away by the rich history and quaint feel of the small town. It was the capital of Nova Scotia before anyone dreamt of Halifax. The oldest English-marked grave in the country is there.

We also went out on the Digby Neck, along the Bay of Fundy. We went on a disappointing whale-watching trip -- only saw a few whales, it was cold, and Amanda was sea-sick. Ate scallops of several varieties. They was good.

On the last day, we went to visit the famous Balancing Rock. A whole lot of stairs -- seriously, a lot of stairs -- and a nice view. Pretty cool.

Okay, this post sat unfinished for a long, long time. And it's, IMHO, still unfinished. But now you have a small idea of what we did on our summer vacation. For pictures worth several tens of thousands of words, check the appropriate gallery on my flickr page.

Yes, the inclusion of virtually everything I ate was intentional. Two weeks of eating and travelling, two weeks of morning-show shifts with dinner right before bed, and a recent habit of eating cinnamon buns at work have pushed my weight up to "before un-weighted" levels. Crap.


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