Chapter 6: Maine to Ottawa
Dave and Helen Damouth
September 9 - September 19, 1997
Our last report ended Sept. 9, just after we re-entered Maine fresh from spending most of the summer in Atlantic Canada. The report below was written some time ago, but I just noticed that it apparently never got sent. Some of you have been inquiring whether we have dropped off the edge of the earth.
After re-entering the USA, we spent three days in the Bangor ME area, relaxing, getting new tires put on the trailer, and checking out the local sights. The University of Maine was a disappointment - neither the art museums nor the botanic gardens lived up to their advertising. Then ,we spent five leisurely days driving across northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. We detoured to drive through Franconia Notch, and to stop and hike the trails around The Flume in Franconia Notch State Park. It was a threatening day, with occasional rain, but still beautiful. The upper half of Mt. Washington was hidden by a stationary cloud. Other huge clouds move through, occasionally burying us in fog, but then opening up to give us sudden views of the White Mountains.
We stopped in St. Johnsbury to see the Athenaeum, a public library and art museum. The museum is tiny, but a very worthwhile visit. It was built as a library and art museum and donated to the city by an industrial mogul in the late 1800's, and has been restored to its original form. The main room was designed around Alfred Bierstadt's huge painting, "The Domes of Yosemite". A small balcony in the back of the room was built for Mr. Bierstadt, who used to come and sit there to study his painting (and occasionally to get out his paints and touch it up). The rest of the collection is 19th century, with emphasis on the Hudson River School, as well as 19th century copies of old masters.
We spent three nights at Skyland Park. We found this place in Vermont's camping guide for tourists - it doesn't show up in our other guides. It's small - approximately a dozen full hookup sites shaded by enormous cottonwood trees, and maybe room for another dozen units on unserviced or electricity-only sites. All but two of the full-service sites have semi-permanent trailers with seasonal leases. The hookups were quirky, the electricity was a 20-amp circuit shared with our neighbor, but the owners were pleasant and helpful and the view from our site across the lake was wonderful. We were on the tip of the southern point of South Hero Island in Lake Champlain. To the west, the High Peaks of the Adirondacks defined the horizon. To the east, the Green Mountains were visible.
While here, we spent a day poking around Burlington - seeing a small but nice art museum on the university campus, a farming museum and cheesemaking exhibit at Shelburne Farms, an interesting city waterfront (on Lake Champlain - once an important trade route, with navigable water all the way from New York City via the Hudson River, the Champlain Canal, nearly to Montreal). We have canoed the length of the Champlain Canal, from Whitehall down to Albany. It would we interesting someday to explore (by canoe) the northern extension of Lake Champlain from the border up to Chambly and the Richelieu River, near Montreal. I haven't read much about this section, although I remember it figuring prominently in the Revolutionary War.
The border crossing (from Massena, NY into Ontario) was a new and tedious experience. After hundreds of uneventful border crossings over the past 40 years of living fairly near the border, Canadian Customs finally picked us for a detailed inspection. The inspector was friendly, polite, and made an effort to minimize the disruption - even trying to put things back as they were in drawers and cabinets. But she systematically went through every single storage space in the truck and trailer. We're packed very tightly, so this was a very frustrating and time consuming process, and it took several days of puttering to get everything organized again. An hour of this, with an armed guard standing just outside the trailer door watching, is not pleasant. This also is the first time that we've been asked to pay duty on the remains of our wine cellar, which we've been carrying with us ever since we sold the house (we have mentioned the wine to the customs person each time we crossed the border, either direction). The price was a shock - their calculations seemed obscure, but the duty must be close to 100% of the US retail value for all forms of alcoholic beverages. It may still be cheaper than buying retail in Canada. But the real reason for the wine is that some of it is quite good, and we couldn't bear to leave it behind when we sold the house.
For the past four nights, we've been in Ottawa, hanging out in Nepean-Ottawa Municipal Tent and Trailer Park. A nice place, by the way - sites are well-spaced in a mature forest with hiking. Tiled shower and toilet facilities are located at several places throughout the park. No sewers, but we have water and 30 amp electric. We're about 10 miles from downtown Ottawa - a quick expressway trip. We're paying $18.19 CA or $13.27 US. And they allowed me to use their computer line to retrieve my Email.
We've enjoyed walking the streets of Ottawa. Next to San Francisco, it's our favorite "big" city. As the national capital, it has lots of money lavished on the central area. It has extensive bike paths, unusual for a northern city, and there indeed are lots of bikes - it's not unusual to see a guy in a business suit on a bike, with a leather attache case on the luggage rack. The landscaping and floral gardens are well designed and well maintained. Some of the architecture is spectacular - both old, like the parliament buildings and Chateau Laurier, and new, like the Art Museum and Museum of Civilization. The Art Museum has an entire huge floor dedicated to Canadian art - almost entirely paintings, with a small amount of sculpture. We concluded that Canada has not yet produced great art. The rest of the world was on the other floor. A nice collection of French artists - with several paintings each by Degas, Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, etc. I particularly liked a collection of early 18th century European landscapes, but was disappointed to see almost no representation of American landscape artists - one small lonely Bierstadt. Their American collection was almost entirely contemporary and non-representational - uninteresting to us. There is an Inuit collection in a separate area, which we skipped on this trip
We took in a double feature at the IMAX theatre in the Museum of Civilization. The first film, in IMAX format was "Wings of Courage", about the early days of AirMail service in South America. The photography is as spectacular as usual, but the content isn't up to the standards of some of the earlier productions. The other film was in one of the several formats for a very wide (approaching 180 degrees) sort of hemispherical screen, currently popular in planetariums. This one had very interesting content - a documentary of the MIR space station, with good coverage of the Russian launch facilities and of a Russian parachute-style Soyuz module recovery. The very familiar footage of NASA space shuttle launches was there too, and lots of shots of the MIR station itself, taken by the astronauts, much of it narrated by Dr. Shannon Lucid, some of it filmed while she was on MIR. Unfortunately, this format doesn't even come close to IMAX in resolution , and the whole impression was blurred and fuzzy
Ottawa is situated on the Quebec border (the Museum of Civilization is actually across the border in Hull, Quebec - a pleasant walk over the bridge). The French influence is obvious all through Ottawa and there is quite a bit of French spoken on the street. The tourists are very international, adding to the color. The outdoor market area is a pleasant madhouse, and the neighborhood, for many blocks in all directions, is full of shops and ethnic restaurants of every kind. On the other side of town, on the southwest edge of the high-rise business district, we found another, slightly seedier, area of ethnic shops and restaurants. We did some shopping in an Asian grocery store which catered to several different Southeast Asian ethnic groups. Great fun, and we picked up some dried food for our next canoe trip (shredded, seasoned, dried pork, some unusual mushrooms), and also the makings for a Thai meal. I think we'd shop there regularly if we stayed longer - the variety of foods we'd never seen before was amazing. What do you do with shrimp roe paste?
We also toured the Agriculture Museum and the Experimental Farms. The major exhibit in the former was devoted to the potato - history and current culture. This was fascinating, and very well done. Did you know that the typical commercial processing potato - for french fries, etc., is about the size of a football?
The flower gardens, perennials and annuals right on the Museum grounds, would be worth a visit in the spring and summer, but were not at their best this time of year.
We'll be on the road again tomorrow, Sept 20, heading west to Killarney Provincial Park, where we'll spend a week or so canoeing in the backcountry.