I have just returned from a month of colours in central Canada and the Eastern USA. I maintained my internal enthusiasm for woodland florescence for over three weeks before beginning to lament the site of yet another batch of colourful leaves. In fact by the end we longed for twigs and snow :).
But it was beautiful.
Leading tours with a distinct nature element is always risky. Bear watching, whale watching and blue skies are simply not guaranteed. Travellers understand this reality academically, but when applied, failure to deliver the brochure image is understandably difficult.
With regard to the fall experience, a late summer or early winter can quickly stifle hopes of enjoying autumn’s foliage and from the outset I was a little concerned….
The east had been unseasonably hot late into September, even as we enjoyed an early snowfall in the Rockies. Upon arrival to Boston, the humid 30 + degree (90+F) quickly gave way to serious wind and really heavy rain.
Just as we set out for a gentle day exploring beautiful Cape Cod, hurricane Joaquin battered the American southeast causing massive flooding in the Carolinas and resulting in virtual sideways rain all the way across the Cape.
Fortunately the weather cleared around Boston (in stark contrast to the traffic), and we enjoyed that historic and aggressively friendly city.
Massachusetts & New England
I feel I need to highlight the friendliness of Boston. It had been several years since I last visited. Perhaps movie images of a tough, almost tribal city had infested my perception, but I found Boston to be warm, clean, kind, slow (expressed in the traffic in and out) and fantastically friendly. When I returned to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel two weeks hence, the staff remembered my name. How so very Cheers!
In good New England fashion I ate delicious bisque and chowder (chowdah’) and engaged in all sorts of good conversations wherever I found myself. There are many reasons to visit Boston and now I firmly believe the people are among the highest.
Leaving Massachusetts, we drove into the ‘Live Free or Die’ state of New Hampshire. That motto has long vexed me and judging by the many historic cemeteries, it would appear many have chosen the later…
New Hampshire is small, slow and equally friendly. The state highlight is indisputably the White Mountains and the famous Kancamangus Highway.
I can be a bit of a mountain snob and the eastern hills do certainly lack the grandeur of the Rockies, Andes or Alps, but the gentle, ancient undulations of the Appalachian cordillera has a kind vastness to its beauty. When the fall colours are vibrant (I was a little early and a little late), the region is dramatic.
This year was a fun time to be in Vermont. Its tiny state capital of Montpelier is well worth a visit – small, but architecturally significant, Vermont’s capital reminds one that Bernie Sanders, the openly socialist senator and current second-place Democratic contender has an impressive and informed base of support in this refined state.
In all likelihood Mr. Sanders will not win the nomination and any search of the news suggests the better-financed powers are gradually assaulting his integrity. Quite shameful, yet expeditious all the same.
Point for point I do not agree with everything the Senator has to say, but in a political system torn apart by fear-mongering and sound bites, it is so refreshing to hear someone speak about real issues that affect real people.
Bernie Sanders gives me hope for the state of the American political conversation.
On my second trip through Stowe, Vermont’s premier ski destination (and home to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream), we awoke to snow and perfect fall colours!
Elsewhere on the American side of the border I spent some quality time in New York City. It would seem superfluous to sum-up the Big Apple in a few lines, so I will reserve that city for at least one full blog unto itself. For the moment, suffice to say I love New York for exactly 4 days! It is, of course, the greatest of the big cities and to that end I love it, but could never live there.
Quebec & Ontario
Further north, this was a very interesting time to be in Montreal. Finn flew east to meet me and while we explored the second largest french speaking city in the world, I was somewhat distracted by the Oct. 19th federal election.
The political conversations in Quebec had taken a distinctly intolerant tone and the province was torn along a spectrum including nationalism, socialism, tribalism, conservatism, secularism, racism and progressivism – all bundled together by a fairly Canada-wide desire for change.
The election night did not disappoint for the political pundits, but I think the results within Quebec do highlight an appetite for intolerance that permeate some of the society outside of the diverse island of Montreal.
I have never fallen in love with Montreal and sadly the city is never the most beautiful upon arrival, but it is very interesting and a really enjoyable place to eat.
As Finn does all his schooling in French it was good for him to speak to people in their native language in a natural setting.
It is not hard to love Quebec City, but I have a nagging feeling it is more meaningful to North Americans than to Europeans. The architecture does really stand out from much of this continent and it is certainly subtly different from much of Europe, but perhaps not dramatically so.
I firmly believe Quebec is an excellent tourist destination and the entire capital region of La Belle Provence is well worth exploring – especially by foot.
Whenever in Quebec I want to carry on further east, down the St. Lawrence in into the Maritime Provinces or up to Newfoundland & Labrador – many cruises do a route between Quebec and Boston with some excellent stops along the way. This may be worth trying at some point!
En route to Quebec, we stopped at Chez Dany – a traditional maple syrup restaurant nears Trois Riveres (half way). I have stopped there for breakfast for many years and it is really one of my favourite places in all of Quebec! Make sure to take highway 40 between Montreal and Quebec.
This particular trip only provided two short hours in Ottawa, Canada’s inviting capital. I really enjoy comedian John Oliver but I totally disagree with his humorous skewering of Ottawa. As the capital it has excellent museums, a fairly lively pedestrian culture, an appealing setting along the Ottawa River and, in winter, the longest skating rink on earth!
Two years ago, Finn and I had four perfect days in Ottawa visiting museums and biking around the city. I try to include this city on every itinerary possible!
Whatever Canada is, it is somehow expressed in its capital. With a new prime minister in house, there will surely be a change of energy around parliament.
I promise a much longer blog about Ottawa in the near future. This city should be a principal destination on any trip through central Canada.
After a scenic drive along the 1000’s Parkway, we carried on to the BIG T.O.
Finn, my small town mountain kid, loved Toronto! In fact he would love New York as well. I was proud to offer him a taste of Canada’s largest city.
We can go on and on about traffic in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), but once in the city, it is excellent. Clean, friendly, fun and lively – this most ethnically diverse city is a model for urban and social success. It rightly sits firmly in the world’s top-10 cities and while, much like New York, it may be too big for me, it is world class.
In addition to lively streets and fortunate weather, the Blue Jays managed to make the baseball playoffs so the city was alive with excitement.
Of course any mention of tourism in central Canada cannot ignore the iconic Niagara Falls. Autumn is indisputably the best time to visit and while the falls themselves are the highlight, the Niagara Parkway and the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake are just as enticing.
The air was so clear we could see the spray from the falls from the top of the CN Tower. When driving around the ‘Golden Horseshoe’ to Niagara we could look back and see the towers of central Toronto. Fall skies are much nicer than the humid and foggy heat of summer!
Between the American North East and the Toronto – Montreal corridor, I spent much of October 2015 in the major population centres of both the United States and Canada. It is said that on a clear day atop the Empire State Building, one may see as many as 25 million people.
Despite huge populations, North America’s vastness allows for these cities to quickly give way to wilderness and productive farmland. When everything comes together, the sites of New England and Canada in autumn are enticing. The great cities are proud and open. All the small communities are friendly with many being destinations unto themselves. The waterways and great lakes of North America are extremely important beyond the very flat lowlands along the St. Lawrence, the eroded landscape is just busy enough to break the monotony of large distances.
If you are interested in travelling to or through any of these regions, please contact us.