When we attended Rotary in Montreal, we were invited to visit the Week-ends Du Monde Festival which was just a short bike ride away from the marina. The woman who invited us runs a non-profit to preserve the Chinese culture and traditions and she had arranged the Chinese portion of the Week-ends Du Monde celebration. This included dragon boat races and a cultural exhibit of acclaimed Chinese artists: singers, dancers and instrumentalists, all taking the stage at different times during the day.
The Olympic Basin at Parc Jean-Drapeau
Let me begin with the dragon boat races. In America, we have dragon boats which are long boats, wide enough to seat a dozen or so people in rows of two, who paddle hard one their side of the boat to move it very quickly through the water (yes, our boat has been passed by a dragon boat on Anclote River!). But here, there are dragon boats with real dragon heads and tails, replete with scales painted along the bodies of the boats as well.
A REAL Dragon Boat
And the athletes! We have attended some large triathlons but the crowds of athletes for these races must be well over 7,000 people strong, including a team from the NYPD. We cheer for the boat of seniors who manage an excellent showing against all the younger rowers! We are proud of their efforts.
The seniors take 3rd!
From the Olympic basin in the Parc Jean Drapeau, we make our way to the stages and snack on dishes from the various vendors, having no clue what we are eating but we know that it is all delicious. We enjoy a number of different presentations and are sorry when it is time for us to go.
The next day we cram in visits to the Montreal Botanical Gardens (thank you Mid Brock for the idea) and a trip to the top of the Observation Tower (tallest inclined tower in the world).
The Botanical Gardens are some of the most beautiful we have ever seen and we really wish we had more time but we did cover a lot of the different gardens, favoring the simplicity of those with Asian influence, as always.
Jardins Botanique de Montreal (Japanese Garden)
But there are some others that are really interesting as well!
We return to our marina to spend the last afternoon of our stay in Montreal preparing the boat to be underway again after a week of being docked at Porte du Plaisance de La Ronde. The marina is on Isle Ste. Helene next to a…wait for it… Six Flags amusement park (really!) and is a little inconvenient to get into Montreal until we figure out the public transit system and then it is a piece of cake. The price is also very reasonable as the marina is not in downtown Montreal where most of the others are. Being a little remote made sense since we were leaving the boat for part of the week to visit Quebec City anyway.
In Montreal, every Wednesday and Saturday nights at 10 PM, from the first week in July through the first week of August, different corporations represent their countries in an International Pyrotechnic Competition, which happens on one side of the amusement park right next to our marina. The idea is to compete in presenting the most innovative fireworks technology to the public. I guess they are judged at the end of the season.
Because we are the best viewing spot, it is like the Greenwich Town Party all over again as boat after boat pulls into our little basin. We can’t imagine where they are all going to fit but by sundown they are anchored, moored and rafted together in every spare inch of water space there is. Parties are in full swing and people are dancing on the bows and roofs of their boats as the sun sets. We find out later that there are well over 200 boats crowded in and our marina doesn’t charge any of them unless they dock, even though they have to put on extra staff in zodiacs to direct incoming and outgoing traffic all through the evening. The people who run this marina are very personable and very efficient and I guess they have a heart for sharing their wonderful setting with others.
It gets dark and all of a sudden, one of the rafted boats turns on the simultast and Abba blasts out over the water, heralding the first of the fireworks! You think you have seen one firework show and that means you’ve pretty much seen them all. Not so! This fireworks display above our heads is completely synchronized with the Abba mash-up and is like nothing we have ever seen before. Ash and gunpowder rain down on all of us because we are so close and we can feel the explosions in our chests and in the boat’s framework. This reminds me of the time when I was a child and my dad anchored our boat close under a fireworks display only to have our gun-shy lab pee all over the bunks and then to find his decks pocked and burned from falling embers the next morning. We too find a lot of ash on our decks the next morning but it is easily swept away. It is an amazing show, full of surprises and displays that made the most jaded of us oooh and aaahhhh. Pretty darn cool way to start the week!
We motor out of Montreal the next morning, successfully traversing a lock or two begore hitting the largest one in Canada. The Carillon Lock looks like a giant garage and elevates boats 65 feet up to the Ottawa River. We get into the lock along with 5 other boats beside and behind us and are immediately advised that the seal on one of the doors is under repair and that it will be at least an hour before we will be able to lock through.
We meet some new friends from Canada, Mario and Claire who are rafted to our boat and we practice international attempts at conversing in languages we don’t speak well but we have fun and we know what their grandkids look like and they know what Walker looks like. There is a boat of Loopers behind us and we later take photos of each other and share them via text and email. Technology really does help form friendships here.
Looper boat from Texas, Bella Blue. Lock door closing behind us finally!
We finally complete the lift of 65 feet and are turned loose.
Of course, all of the boats behind us in the lock end up passing us along the way but no matter, we all end up on the wall in Ste Anne de Bellevue at the end of the day.
We are now in the Canada Parks system and our pass allows us a free 48 hours on any wall in the system, even major cities like Ottawa . The next day we are up and out pretty early but eventually the same boats pass us again (not sure where they all ended up). We cover some good mileage and anchor in an isolated and gorgeous bay off Pointe Filions.
We are excited about getting to Ottawa and the beginning of the Rideaux (Ree-doe) Canal. Jerry and I are wide awake at 4 AM and cannot get back to sleep so we putter around for a while but we are under way by 6AM (it gets light by 4:30AM here so sleeping in is not easy) and as it turns out, this is an excellent decision as our timing will be important later that day. We are thoroughly entranced by the beauty of the Ottawa River and hours later catch our breaths at the first sight of the city itself. In Montreal and Quebec, the French influence is apparent, here it is very obviously influenced by the British and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
We get our first up-close look at the Rideaux Canal with its famous stair-step lock system, which takes a boat up 70 feet into the heart of Ottawa through a series of 8 locks. We pull up to the blue line on the wall (this means you are ready to lock through).
Unfortunately, they have just started lifting another boat which means that it will have to go all the way up, if there are any other boats, they will be brought down and then we get to go (this can take 3 hours). With that information we settle in to wait and it is only a couple of minutes before another boat arrives, docks in front of us and then our friends Mario and Claire, who were rafted to us in the Carillon Lock, raft to us again as there is no more dock space and then 5 more boats arrive, most of them 40’ or more. SHEESH! How’s this going to work, we wonder. Soon the lock manager comes down and asks who was first and so we and the next boat are to go into the lock first and then they will allow us to skip a lock (still not exactly sure how they managed this) and load the next few boats in the third lock behind us, since there are no downward-traveling boats.
These locks are hand-cranked open and closed the same way they have been for hundreds of years and the young men and women who have these jobs are cheerful, friendly and in VERY good shape as they direct us, prevent tourists from falling into the water and simultaneously keep the locks moving with maximum efficiency.
Locking through is a lot of work for captains and crew as we must move our boats under power from lock to lock, grab cables fore and aft and get lines around them so that the lines slide up along the cables as the water in the lock rises. The water motion can be quite turbulent at times and so there is a lot of muscle required to keep a boat relatively immobile in the lock. Plus, we are required to shut engines down each time we are in a lock. So poor Jerry is busy navigating the boat into a small concrete shoebox with a 44’ boat ahead of and beside us, grabbing and securing aft lines, swinging down into the cabin to shut engines down, hanging on for dear life to the aft line as the water rises and then igniting engines and starting the whole process over again once the gates open.
I get to stand on the bow, grab a cable, yank our 11 ton boat toward the side of the lock and away from our companion boat, then hold lines and enjoy being a zoo animal as the crowds of folks along the sides of the locks point at us and take our picture (we were warned that this would happen by our Waterway Guide book). All the while the sun is beating down on us and it is HOT but we are happy to be where we are. The Parliament buildings rise on one side of the locks and the prestigious Hotel Fairmont Chateau de Laurier soars on the other side.
The view is spectacular when we have time to take it in. We finally clear the last lock, duck under a beautiful stone bridge and find a spot along the wall in the heart of Ottawa just behind Amazing Grace III from St. Petersburg and another boat from Longboat Key docks a few boats behind us – AMAZING is right, what a small world! We venture out and grab a quick dinner and we are done for the day, collapsing and reading for a while until we can no longer keep our heads up.
This morning we are so stiff that it is embarrassing. Age is not for the faint of heart but motion is lotion and so we get up and take a very quick shower aboard (we now have to be careful of our fresh water usage since we have no way to refill tanks until goodness knows when). We decide to attend the changing of the guard at Parliament and walk the few blocks to stand agog at this incredibly beautiful building. It is somewhat reminiscent of Big Ben and yet is unique unto itself.
We stand at the edge of the East lawn and watch as tourists pester the guard about where the best place to stand is. He points to the front and center portion behind the ropes and off they rush to shove their way into this already crowded section. We are happy where we are and remain standing, watching the goings on that precede the event.
Our wonderful guard is the one in the middle!
We notice some folding chairs that are set up as a kind of VIP section on the parade ground but don’t think much of them until the same guard returns and asks us if we are just two people. When we state that we are, he invites us to sit in the front row of the seats ON THE ACTUAL PARADE GROUND!!! We cannot figure out why he chose us but we gratefully follow him and sit down with some other folks that it seems have been randomly selected to sit in this section.
We sat next to the kid with the backpack in the front row!
The changing of the guard starts and a young woman explains what is taking place over a loud speaker in English and then again in French. It is a very impressive ceremony and because we sit through it, we are very comfortable and have a close up and personal view of all of the proceedings! It was a once in a lifetime experience and I know we will never forget it.
At this point we opt for the Big Red Bus Tour (we have frequently used these as a way of getting the lay of the land in a new city to see where we want to return and where everything is in relation to other things) and learn a lot of history and geography. The US Embassy here was the most expensive of all to build and our ambassador has a stately home that overlooks the Ottawa River and the mountains that are part of the expansive Gatineau Park across the way. We learn about how the Canadian Royal Mounties and their horses are trained and where all the museums and cathedrals are but we are done. Jerry’s back is killing him and we retire to the boat for a few hours of R&R.
A little later we go to an exhibit which will only be in Ottawa until October called Mosaiculture 2018. It is a display of cultural and historical diversity with people, animals and places created entirely from over 5 million plants and I wish I could teleport my mother, sister and some of my friends who love gardens here. This is something I have never seen anywhere in my life and Jerry and I are both amazed at the artistry that goes into creating these amazing beings who look almost lifelike but are made entirely from plants and flowers. I can’t describe this well so I will post all of my pix on FaceBook and this website for those of you who want to see more about this creation. http://mosaiculture.ca/?lang=en
Notice how the flowers are shaded so there is white spray on the tops of the blue waves – amazing!
My favorite mooses/meese?!?
After visiting another Basilica Notre Dame (this time with a personal tour guide – still don’t know where he came from exactly but he was very interesting), which is unique and a work of art, we grab a quick bite to eat and walk back to the boat to rest up for another couple of hours.
Notre Dame de Ottawa
We LOVE this city and really wish we had more time here. I think one really needs at least a week to do it justice but we are doing the best with the limited time we have and are trying to cover as much ground as possible.
The sun is setting when we walk back to Parliament Hill for Les Lumieres du Nord or Northern Lights, which is a free show put on each night at 10 and yes we stayed up late enough to attend. It combines lasers and projections onto the face of the Parliament building that trace Canada’s history and we and hundreds of others camp out on the grass to enjoy a spectacular show. We learn a lot about the bronze sculptures of famous Canadians all over the city.
So today we leave Ottawa, regretting that we don’t have more time to spend but looking forward to what the Rideaux holds for us.