So Georgia and I decided to take a sentimental journey, back to our roots. We started out on her birthday, the day after Labour Day (See http://115journals.com/2013/08/31/labour-day-weekend-reflections/)
We didn’t make the decision lightly. We divided hip stiffness into the mileage and arrived at a two day trip. We reserved a hotel room at the Waterfront Holiday Inn in Kingston Ontario, which we thought was half way from Toronto to Ayres Cliff, Quebec. We were wrong. It was more like a third of the way there, but when we got to KIngson, we realized that factoring in the fatigue of packing and hefting bags made it a good choice.
When asked if we need help with our bags, my macho sister says no. Being older, I know better. Imagine the most awkward grocery cart you have ever tried to steer, turn it into a luggage cart, top-heavy with a hanging bar, add a tiny elevator and thick pile on the hall carpet.
Still it is a beautiful room that looks out over the ferry docks and one of the six squat, round Martello towers that guarded Upper Canada from the American invaders.
We stayed in a similar room 4 years ago when we last made this trip. The place is not much changed. The question is are we?
We rest. Resting will be a recurring theme in this blog post as it is in our lives. I would say ‘in the lives of septuagenarians in general’, but Blake (see http://115journals.com/2012/05/26/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-1/ and http://115journals.com/2012/05/27/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-2/ ) doesn’t rest much. Resting like Archemedes’ lever makes all things possible.
Then it is time to pop the cork on the Veuve Cliquot. It is a birthday after all.
It seems wise to find a restaurant within walking distance, so we search through the available literature and come up with Olivia, an Italian restaurant two short blocks away. As it turns out there is live jazz from the Dave Barton trio with Amanda Balysy on vocals. Amanda has a retro look, blouse and skirt out of the 50s and songs to match. So the ambience is delightful. The day’s special of wild boar sausage seems too demanding for my digestion and I willfully ignore the black cod and order risotto. As soon as I lay eyes on it, I know I have been wrong. I’m used to risotto at Marcellos in Toronto where they don’t even add cheese. This dish is swimming in cheese and oil. But the optimism of the moment prevails and I take the risk.
As evening falls, the Kingston City Hall across the square becomes ever more beautiful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kingston_City_Hall_Andrew_pmk.JPG). Its limestone glows silver and its lovely dome stands etched against the sky. After dinner, we sit in the park at the water’s edge and enjoy its beauty.
All in all, the day has gone well, we think. Georgia settles down to watch Netflix on my Mac Air Book and I lie down to sleep. To no avail. Yes, I am tired enough to sleep, but my body has other ideas. I am aching all over. The pillows labelled soft are so soft, I feel smothered. The ones labelled hard hurt my head but don’t support my neck. But most of all I blame the risotto. Years ago, in this same town, I spent the night sitting on the bathroom floor reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp.I might have been better to spend this night there as well.
I’ve had considerable experience with insomnia – who hasn’t at this age?- and developed strategies to deal with it. In between bathroom trips, I try them all. First, I roll up a bath towel and put it under my long neck, a softer version of the wooden Japanese head rest. I do my three part deep breathing exercise over and over. I take a sleep aid. I put in my ear buds and hit the white noise App on my iPhone. Even the continuous swish of heavy rain doesn’t send me off. By now, Georgia is soundly asleep, or so it seems for she is very softly snoring. At what seems like 2 a.m, but is actually much earlier, I get up to do tai chi exercises in the dark. That seems to calm my system down. Then just as I begin to slip into sleep, someone hammers on the door next to us and calls out in a aggrieved voice, “Come on Michael, I forgot my key.” Apparently that is just the ticket. I am gone. I don’t even wake up when Georgia spends an hour reading at 3 a.m. Of course, in the morning, she maintains not only that I had kept her awake, but also that I was groaning. Perhaps she is right.
So unrefreshed, we find our way to the complimentary breakfast with a view of the water. I am unenthusiastic about eating but I need to take on fuel. Fortunately, Georgia is able to enjoy the free meal, which we have earned by being members of the Canadian Automobile Association.
There is one more little hiccup. I neglected to bring down our parking stub. There is no attendant. Fortunately, someone from the bar across the street yells out instructions on what button to push to contact the office and my car is finally released. That is one drawback to this particular hotel. We call them parking Nazis.
So we set out on the second lap of our journey and a very long lap it turns out to be. It begins with a Google Map gaff -you have surely experienced at least one of those. Instructions are to head north on Princess St, which is, as luck would have it, one way, going south. We do what we can and find ourselves crossing bridges we’ve never seen before and confronting signs to west bound 401. We reason that east bound 401 has to be in approximately the same place, but the west bound signs proliferate and get larger. Just a little kick of adrenaline from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Once we have achieved the elusive east bound highway, we feel as if it can only get easier.
The newly renovated ONroute service centres are a plus, clean and up-to-date. You can take your own lunch in and eat it at the tables or make one up from Tim Hortons and Subway or Burger King. I carry in my rice crackers and home-made salad dressing, and manage to scrounge up salad and chicken to go with them. We take turns driving, trading off every hour or so. Some time after lunch, we cross the provincial border into Quebec. I recall that there used to be a lovely stone building in the old style, which served as an information centre. A few of those stones seemed to have been recycled into the service centre that has replaced it. I line up at the counter to ask the same question as everyone else. Google had told me to take exit 29 to new highway 30, but the maps show no bridge there. What gives? The bilingual receptionist has the interesting skill of being able to write on a map upside down and she assures me that there is now a bridge, which will cost me $1.50 to cross. If you have ever had to drive into the city Montreal to cross the St. Lawrence River on the Champlain Bridge, you may understand what a cause for rejoicing that is. As we discover the bridge is really two bridges, the first one low to the water and the second soaring up over the widest part of the river to let the ships pass up the St Lawrence Seaway.
So we skirt Montreal in that low level river land, which is fertile but also being eaten up by industry as time passes. Now all signs are exclusively in French. Sud and nord are simple enough and easy to figure out as south and north. Est and ouest are trickier. I keep reciting “est” as a clue to finding the right exit to #15, which will take us toward Sherbrooke. “Traveaux” is pretty clear, including as it does miles of orange cones and on occasion, actual workers and machines. The sign that orders us to respect the security zone or so it seems, puzzles me, until I realize that I am to pull out into the left lane when I see someone stopped on the shoulder. Then there is an urgent LED sign that absolutely eludes me. I can not catch even one word. We fly by oblivious.
Like all Canadian children, I have studied French, in my case until I was in grade 12. Moreover, I have a brother who lives in Belgium and speaks French most of the time. I have spent long holidays there and in France. I just finished watching Spiral on Netflix, a made-in-France police drama, with sub-titles, it must be said. I’m more than willing to give it my all, but really! Nothing but French. The stop signs say “Arret”. Even in Europe, they say “Stop”. When I am flying along at 110 km, I could use a little help.
We can just glimpse Mount Royal over the river on the horizon. Then a solitary mountain rises from the plain, a volcanic cone. The country grows more rural. The road begins to rise and curve and finally, we begin to see the soul-soothing mountains of our childhood, the northern-most Appalachians.
By the time, we round the corner into Ayres Cliff, we have been on the road for six hours. I seem to think I know where the Auberge Ayres Cliff is and I am not wrong, although I hadn’t realized it was right in the middle of town, a quiet tourist town of one main street and side streets leading down to Lake Massawippi. I stayed somewhere near here 16 years ago, but it takes me a full 24 hours to realize it was the same place and when I do, I seriously wonder if senility has crept up on me. It is a hard place to forget. It is said to be 200 years old and while that may not be an exact number, it is certainly very old. (www.aubergeayrescliff)
It has a huge patio at the side, full of expensive wicker seating and those outdoor heaters and little canvas-covered nooks, all on wooden decking. It also has seating on the veranda. We check in at the bar where some of the locals are having lively conversations. I’d like to join them, but we have to go up to see our room. Up is the operative word. We are the only guests, but we have booked two adjoining rooms, which are on the third floor. The second flight of stairs is made up of a large number of steps -each one 14 inches high.
The rooms are furnished with a double bed each, with good mattresses and dressers in a VIctorian style. And a fan. There are no chairs. There certainly is no television set. No mention is made of this but apparently we were warned on the website. I give Georgia the room that has a more or less level floor, it being her birthday, and allot myself the one that slopes so dramatically that it takes all my tai chi balance to walk across it.
And yes, we want to have our bags brought up, a task that falls to the slim bartender/receptionist/ farmer’s daughter and a guy who gets up from dinner with his family to help her.
It is clear that we would not have got much sleep if we had come a few days before, on Labour Day weekend, but summer is over, the temperature has fallen, the tourists have left.
True to their hype, they have an excellent Angus beef fillet mignon. After dinner and the long slog back up the stairs, I get Georgia set up on the internet to watch Netflix: she is well into season 5 of Weeds and well fed with simple food, I fall fast asleep in my Alice in Wonderland room.
to be continued