The Grey Panther September 19-21 2018
One of our great joys of Sprinter trekking is taking off in an unplanned direction. After leaving the U.S. and onto the Hwy 401, we decided to go to Stratford, Ontario, a place I’ve always wanted to visit. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival began under a tent in 1953 when Shakespeare’s plays were presented for the first time along the North American Stratford-on-Avon River. Today it is ranked among the three great English-speaking theatres in the world.
We drove into the town on a warm, Fall day, but not too warm as was Michigan we just left. Flowers of all kinds bloomed everywhere.
Old brick buildings, beautifully restored; a busy main street with chatting people walking, shopping and sitting in outdoor cafes. A feeling of happiness everywhere. Perfect late afternoon weather. We parked the Sprinter on a side street and joined the happiness. We wandered to the visitor’s center, located at the edge of the river near the locks,but it was closed. Not a wasted visit though, it is surrounded by all kinds and colours of flowers.
Swans and ducks swim lazily around as if they had nothing better to do than soak in the goodness of the day. A lone fisherman, overflowing his fold-up chair sat with a fishing pole in one hand and cell phone in the other hand. Which is more important— a fish on; or a call?
Jim reluctantly follows me into an ancient building housing a book store with beautifully polished wood floors. The book seller, obviously a book lover, greets us.
“I’m looking for one of Michael Ondaatje books,” I tell him.
“I bet it’s WARLIGHT,” he says. “It’s very popular and he is once again writing in his original style.”
That is indeed the book and I held it eagerly while he took Jim to a book case with nonfiction adventure and World War stories. We bought our books and left. I went in to a few other shops after finding Jim a bench to sit on. Even he can’t resist sitting outside watching people,the blue sky and sunshine.
It was nearing 6pm, closing time for most of the shops. We passed a tea shop with an elderly man carrying in the sidewalk sandwich board. I was content to look through the window but he insisted I come in and his wife greeted me. Not enough time to peruse the many kinds of tea but did find a small tea cozy for the Sprinter teapot.
On the way to the Sprinter, we passed people enjoying their dinner at outside tables. Some dressed elegantly with hats; others wearing shorts and sandals, but everyone chatting and taking in the fall evening. I wistfully watched them knowing we had perishable food in the Sprinter, but also knew that Jim would gladly join the dinner guests if I wanted to. I looked at some of the play bills posted knowing that we wouldn’t be attending a play on this trip. A concert celebrating Leonard Cohen caught my eye.
“I could live here,” I told Jim.
The next morning we found a Tim Horton’s for tea and breakfast while driving through a curiously named place, St Jacobs FarmersMarket. Food, handicraft, livestock, antiques. Ohhhhhh myyyy. I knew Jim wasn’t willing to shop again so soon. It is a huge Mennonite market open 3 days a week. Hotels have even sprung up next to the market to house visitors. Some parking areas were already closed off. I drooled. We headed back to Hwy 401.
We slowed passing Toronto, caught in the infamous traffic, on the eight lane highway and chatted on the phone with my cousin Gail who lives in Toronto. She just returned from a solo European trip, and asked me to join her. Sadly, such decisions at 70 years and with altered body parts are less spontaneous than 40 years ago. She had a great trip but was exhausted after a month of travel to France, England, and Iceland.
As soon as we could we moved to the lesser roads. We are definitely back road lovers.
I wanted an afternoon cup of tea and so we pulled into a Tim Horton’s on Hwy 7. Jim parked next to six Harley Davidson’s and a Honda. He came out before I did and was chuckling when I got into the Sprinter. Spotting his Alaska license plate, a couple of the riders hailed him with, “What’s with that President of yours, everything he says is a lie. I wouldn’t believe anything he says.…”
We love the backroads, the old barns and farmhouses, churches. fields of grain and corn. The maples are starting to turn bright red though it is still early in the season and unseasonably warm. We pass “chip trucks” with their offerings of poutine and other local favorites as we travel closer to Quebec. Poutine is French fries with gravy and cheese curds, enough to make your arteries scream. We have a new mix of songs, mostly 60’s and 70’s oldies and we sing along, or at least I do. The first night we stayed in a Provincial campground, right at the edge of the lake. There were few people in the camp so we left the sliding door open enjoying the lake and sounds around us, including a busy chipmunk. Rain and a thunderstorm, the first I’ve heard in years, began in the night, but we were cozy in bed.
Off again, I asked Jim to take an unplanned trip to Carlton Place where we admired the old buildings on Main Street including the church steeples and imposing courthouses. I requested a stop at a grand old building that processes sheep wool as well as having a retail store with Canadian brands, and a livestock supply store. It was too much for Jim, so I went into the store for a little shopping.
It was pure luck that I spent the time in the store as Jim studied the map and discovered we were headed in the wrong direction.
We decided to bypass Ottawa (thank goodness as there were damaging tornados that night) and then Montreal as we headed into Quebec. I began looking for a place to spend the night. Jim had often talked about a lake where his grandmother and mother spent their summers outside of their home in Montreal but he could never find it. There it was on the map and we changed directions again to explore the area his mother talked so fondly about. We hoped to camp in the National Park but after a long drive, discovered it was closed. Jim was extremely tired from driving in a strong wind all day. We spotted a campground, drove in and found a great camping spot for tents, empty except for us. It had the best sign and lots of mushrooms. We have the best luck!