Day 5: Ottawa, Ontario to Quebec City
I woke up entirely too early, but I decided to take advantage of this and get on the road. I took Charlie for walk in Byward Market, which was just getting started for the day, and got to take a picture of him in front of the famous Ottawa sign, which is usually mobbed by tourists.
I grabbed a nice breakfast bagel sandwich and coffee from Byward Market and enjoyed it in the calm of the morning.
The drive out through Gatineau and into Quebec was uneventful, and traffic wasn’t a problem even through Montreal, though I just skirted that to the north. I stopped for lunch in Trois-Rivieres, which had a good portion of their downtown blocked off for pedestrian traffic only. It was quite enjoyable. Unfortunately the microbrewery I had chosen wasn’t doing outside seating for lunch, so instead I wandered up the road to Bistro Le Pot and got a nice cocktail and poke bowl. The Pisco Sour was made quite well, too!
From there it was a straight shot to Quebec City. I have never stayed at an Alt Hotel before, but the Alt Hotel Quebec found its way into my heart.
After catching up with work a bit, I decided to head into the Old City (Vieux Ville). Originally, I was going to park at the waterfront and wander around the area. Ha. Silly me. Between random detours and heavy traffic, it took be 45 minutes to get to the waterfront only to find there was a big concert going on there and the place was mobbed with people. OK, so I reversed course and drove into the upper old city, except there was no parking to be had. I did have a nice moment of grace when a random local saw me parking in a lot and pointed out that it was by permit only, and I would be towed or ticketed if I stayed there. It turned out that although he was Quebecois, he was a chiropractor who went to school in Davenport, Iowa, and recognized my Illinois license plate and correctly assumed I was a clueless tourist.
As it happened, I finally found a lot just outside St. Louis Gate, on the edge of the Plains of Abraham. The park looked fascinating and I would have loved to explore the hills and fortifications, but time didn’t allow, unfortunately.
The old town was swarming with people, though I learned that’s pretty much the way it is every evening in the summer. I did find a dog-friendly restaurant, Café-Terrasse La Nouvelle-France, which admittedly was a total tourist trap.
Dinner was French Onion Soup, Quebec Meat Pie, and Maple Pie. It was…OK. The maple pie (think the texture of pumpkin pie, with maple syrup) was the best of the lot.
As I was walking out, the reason for the concert at the waterfront became clear: It was part of Le Grand Feux, a summer-long themed fireworks program. Once the fireworks started, Charlie and I double-timed it back to the car, and they ended right as we got to the car. At least we beat the crowds leaving the festival! The drive back to the hotel was quick. Both Charlie and I was pretty wiped out, and sleep came easily.
Day 6: Québec City to Rivière-du-Loup
I wrapped up my stay at Hotel Alt Quebec after marveling a bit at their passive-aggressive anthropomorphic towel.
The drive out of Québec City was an easy one. Autoroute Jean-Lesage parallels the St. Lawrence River on the south shore running through mostly flat farm country, so the drive wasn’t a whole lot to look at, though the Notre Dame mountain range (a subrange of the Appalachians) to the south and east, rising 500 to 1,000 feet above the river bluffs, were a nice accompaniment.
Not far outside of Rivière-du-Loup, I stopped at the Tête d’Allumette Brasserie (Match Head Brewery). This was my first experience with the fact that, with the rise in the popularity of microbreweries, a microbrewery with very little around it quickly becomes a bit of a tourist trap. Still, it was a nice stop along the way.
Also, Charlie started to learn the local language!
Continuing just 15 minutes up the road, I arrived at my lodging for the night, Motel au Fleuve d’Argent (Silver River Motel). It was rather different from previous stops, but I adored the huge grassy field with amazing views overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
Once I was settled in, Charlie and I took a short drive into town to Microbrasserie Aux Fous Brassant (Brewery of the Brewing Fools)
Charlie of course charmed everyone around him, and helped me learn french because they wanted to say hello.
After dinner we walked around downtown a bit, admired the public art, and got some ice cream (while Charlie said hello to passers-by). We also stopped by the local landmark, the Chute de Rivière du Loup, an early hydroelectric facility with a 100-foot waterfall.
We ended the evening, enjoying the views from our motel.
Day 7: Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec to Moncton, New Brunswick
This was supposed to be an easy, straight shot down to Moncton, New Brunswick, but sometimes you have to be spontaneous (I’ll take a moment for everyone who knows me well to laugh themselves senseless). Ahem. ANYWAY…
You may or may not know that there is an app called Growlr, an equivalent to Grindr (or Tinder, for example) for guys who are perhaps older, fuzzier, or have a few pounds on them. To be honest, most people seem to use the app as a way to find Mister Right Now. I use it (and others like it) a lot when I travel, but in a different way: I like to chat up local guys, learn more about the area I am in, and maybe enjoy some friendly conversation. This has led to amazing restaurant recommendations in Puerto Rico, suggestions to sights to see in Denver, and just talking with some nice guys everywhere I have traveled.
In this case, I had gotten into a conversation with a fellow who happened to be near Rivière-du-Loup (and let me tell you, there weren’t that many guys in the app who were nearby!) the night before. He was a fellow widower who happened to be traveling alone with his dog as well. After some chat back and forth, he suggested I stop by for breakfast on my way to Moncton. So I did!
He was staying at a nice little inn on the shore of Lac Pohénégamook (“Po-hay-nay-gah-mook”), which is in Quebec just north of the very northernmost point of Maine. I stopped by and met his dog (a little yappy pup who is slowly learning manners but not quite there), and then he, Charlie, and I went over to a nearby restaurant with a nice patio overlooking the lake for breakfast. We chatted for about an hour and a half, discussing life as widowers, what we were looking for next in life, and just general stuff. There clearly wasn’t any chemistry, but that’s OK – some nice conversation with a friendly face along the way made the detour worth it. Before we left he offered to take a picture of Charlie and me on the shore of the lake.
The drive into New Brunswick from there was uneventful, but the weather changed from the beautiful blue skies to steady rain. Charlie and I tried to check out a local brewery, but their patio wasn’t covered, so we were out of luck. At least we documented our visit, though!
Dinner that night was takeout from the Carraba’s downstairs, which was…lamentable, at best. Probably the worst meal I had the entire trip, unfortunately. With the lousy weather, I decided to call it an early night.
Day 8: Moncton, New Brunswick to Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia
The weather was still pretty lousy when Charlie and I set off from Moncton. The rolling hills were pretty to drive through, at least. We arrived in Truro, Nova Scotia just in time for lunch, so of course I went looking for a local brewery, Salty Dog Brewing Company. I was briefly puzzled by the fact that they were closed, but then remembered that I could get their beer (and lunch!) at their sister gastropub next door, The Nook & Cranny.
As it happened, the weather was starting to improve so Charlie and I took advantage of the break in the weather and grabbed a table at their streetside deck. Our server thought Charlie was just the cutest thing! I enjoyed a delicious Korean Fried Chicken sandwich and some of Salty Dog’s tasty beers.
Back on the road, I continued listening to a rather engrossing audiobook (A bearish florist and a nerdy bookshop owner bond over D&D? What’s not to like?) as we drove up NS 104 to the Canso Causeway and Cape Breton Island!
One thing that I did not take into account when choosing my route up the coast on Route 19 is that despite it being a big tourist attraction, the non-arterial roads on Cape Breton Island could be a bit rough. Nothing terrible, but surprising. In Inverness I stopped at Route 19 Brewing, only to find my earlier observation about isolated-brewery-turns-tourist-attraction borne out. Alas, the weather was still a bit drizzly/misty and their patio wasn’t covered. Instead I grabbed a selection of their canned beers from their retail shop and continued up the coast.
By now it was approaching dinner time. Pleasant Bay is on the northwestern edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and a mountainous 30-minute drive from Cheticamp, the closest town to the south. I opted to get dinner in Cheticamp, but was unable to find anyplace with patio seating. I wound up getting chicken tenders and fries from a local place that proclaimed it to be their specialty. It was…whelming.
At least the Oreo shake was good?
It was time to take on some mountain driving! Cape Breton Highlands National Park is simply stunning. Even though it was still a bit gray and misty, that only added to the beauty.
Once we made it to our AirBnB, home for the next two days, I was able to unpack a bit and relax. The place was a former bed and breakfast Bed and Breakfast that was somewhat in disrepair, but serviceable and functional. It was a studio “cabin” but still nicely cozy.
Once settled, Charlie and I walked down to the Pleasant Bay harbor, which was pretty deserted. There’s a somewhat sketchy-looking “Whale Interpretive Centre” (though the Tripadvisor reviews aren’t bad), and a whale tour boat promising “Guaranteed whales!”
Notably, this was Charlie’s first time meeting the ocean. Just like when when we visited Lake Michigan, Charlie is Very Upset at waves and thinks that they really need to stop doing that. (Sound warning: loud barking) My favorite part is where he finally tries to bite the ocean and finds that it doesn’t really taste very good.
We walked back to our cabin and had a quiet night in after that, with me catching up on reading.
Day 9: Cape Breton Island: Pleasant Bay, Meat Cove, and Cheticamp
I had spoken briefly with the AirBnB owner the night before and asked if there was anyplace to get breakfast nearby. She told me, “The only place to get breakfast in Pleasant Bay is the Mountain View.” So The Mountain View it was! It was still kind of misty and drizzly out but I decided to chance it and get coffee and a breakfast sandwich on their deck. The drizzle started becoming more substantial, though, so I asked to get the breakfast sandwich to go and ate it in the car. At least they gave me a cup of coffee to go! Very nice folks.
We headed north from there, along the Cabot Trail toward some of the northernmost parts of the island. We stopped briefly at Cabots Landing Provincial Park, a wide, grassy area leading up to a small beach.
Continuing ever north, we eventually left the paved roads (though the unpaved roads were in pretty good shape, if a bit corduroy-ed in some places). We reached our destination: Meat Cove. I had hoped to get lunch at their famous Oceanside Chowder Hut, but alas it was closed. Bummer. At least the views were lovely!
On the way back south on the Cabot Trail, I stopped at The Lone Shieling, a re-creation of a Scottish crofter’s hut. With Charlie’s blindness, walks in the woods or on rough trails are just not a great idea, but the trails here were, for the most part, clear and wide. The hut was interesting, but what really took my breath away was the path through the surrounding forest. The forest was comprised of 97% old-growth sugar maple trees, dating back over 350 years. It was simply stunning.
Looking back, It seems odd that this little stopover was the highlight of my visit to Cape Breton Highlands, but it kind of was.
I drove south again into Cheticamp, to find a place for an early dinner. I had my eye on a place that advertised a traditional Acadian menu that even had outdoor seating, but between the time I secured permission from the host and I got Charlie from the car, someone sniped the table from me. Dammit. Instead I put Charlie back into the car and we drove back to Pleasant Bay for dinner at The Rusty Anchor. At least the view from their deck was better than the other place. I ordered the homemade haddock fishcakes, baked beans, chutney, and cornbread. Charlie had to stay just off the deck, but he was happy as a clam.
The fishcakes and beans were good, the cornbread undistinguished. Not a bad meal overall.
After dinner and the short drive back to the Airbnb, I decided to grab a beer and take Charlie down to the harbor to watch the sunset. Let me tell you, that really did not suck.