Through Ontario for our last stops in Canada

While in Quebec City we finalized our intended arrival date in Grand Marais, Michigan, based to a large extant on our anticipated participation in various markets in the region.  This gave us seven full days between Quebec and Grand Marais, arriving on the eighth.  Our route from PEI to Quebec had entailed relatively short, three hour driving runs each travel day.  If we maintained that rate it would take four legs to reach our destination, which meant short stays in pretty much all of them.  So we elected to push a little harder, extend our driving time to five hours for a couple of days, and thus have only three legs to reach Grand Marais, which would translate to a couple of three day stops plus a one nighter.

PKM is not pleased with the extended travel hours.

One of the things I have not really discussed, and part of why we were willing to extend our travel days, is how easy we found the driving in Canada.  Through five provinces we enjoyed good roads (with a few notable exceptions,) but what really made it easy was the low traffic density.  Even passing near major cities like Montreal and Ottawa was a far cry from the challenge of driving near or through major US cities.  And except for a bit of confusion due to unfamiliar traffic signs, driving Loki around in downtown Quebec City was a breeze. 

Our latest Walmart site.  This one was particularly nice, we were able to put out two of the slides without impeding any other parking spots.

Despite this I was happy to take a few extra miles and minutes to go south around Montreal rather than through it as our initial Google Maps route suggested.  It was easy as pie, and shortly afterwards we entered Ontario.  Continuing our monthly budget damage control efforts, we stayed in another Walmart lot a bit short of Ottawa for the night, where Rosemarie discovered her second favorite Canadian store, Bulk Barn.

Imagine the dry goods bulk bins at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but times ten.  An entire large store with row after row of everything imaginable in bulk.  Dog treats?  An entire section.  Something chocolate covered?  They have you covered with a full row.  Quinoa?  Which type and with which seasonings?  We limited our purchases since we would be crossing the border soon and I wasn’t sure of the rules for bulk items not in commercial packaging, but I don’t think Rosemarie will ever forgive me for not making one final run to Bulk Barn before we left Canada.

The next morning we made another five hour run to the north shore of Lake Nipissing and Panorama Camp.  Reviews for several of the parks in this region reported tight to very tight spaces, whereas Panorama Camp had water front, spacious sites on grass, as long as you could deal with 2-Way service, which we prefer for the cheaper price.  This is a true mom and pop campground, owned and run by Chris and Bonnie.  We were fortunate in our timing: we had a three day stay during the work week, which meant nearly an entire row to ourselves.  With a Canadian three day weekend looming they were absolutely full starting the day of our departure. 

If you are looking for a peaceful respite on the shore of a large lake and don’t care about having a town of any size nearby, this is the place for you.  About the only catch is that all but three of the shore front 2-Way sites are 15 amp vice 30, so be sure and ask the electrical load if you reserve here.  A couple miles down the road is Lavigne, which has exactly one small combined grocery/liquor/deli store, and they don’t take credit cards.  25 minutes away is Sturgeon Falls, which is big enough to boast a couple of fast food joints and a Dollarama. 

We did what the place called for: relaxed and continued planning for our impending one month stay in the Upper Peninsula.  And everything went great until the day of our departure.  Oh, did I mention that our automatic stairs, non-functional for most of the last year, suddenly started working again upon our arrival at Panorama Camp?  Well they did, extending and retracting through multiple cycles as we checked in, maneuvered to our spot, and set up. 

Slides in, levels up, services disconnected, stairs stubbornly still extended.

Upon departure, however, they would not retract a single inch, and no manner of jiggering with the switches and ground wires, or trying to “assist” the electric motor with some kicking would solve it.  After my efforts failed, I sought help from the locals, and sure enough one of them had a brother with experience in trailer mechanics.  He found a connection point I didn’t know about, pulled it loose, reconnected it and bam, the stairs retracted.  Apparently this entire year the only thing wrong with them was a dirty connector behind the motor controller.

Next stop: The United States of America.

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Beginning the westward run: though New Brunswick, into Quebec

Following our five day stay on Prince Edward Island we headed west, crossing the 8 mile long Confederation Bridge into New Brunswick.  During our route planning for this leg of the journey we noted that it was a shorter distance to cut through Maine, then back into Canada in Quebec, but a shorter time to take stay in Canada and go over the top of Maine.  Considering the added ordeal of two border crossings for the former option, we opted for the latter.

 

I mentioned at the bottom of our last post that PEI marked the end of the affordable portion of our Canadian travels.  This references the somewhat more expensive costs we experienced near Quebec City, but primarily reflects the big chunk of change we dropped on gas for the 1,360 mile trek to the US border in Sault Ste Marie.  Along the way the importance or researching gas prices reemerged as an key part of the planning process.  Though price per liter seemed relatively consistent in Nova Scotia and PEI, we saw a huge variation between the conveniently located places near Quebec City versus what we could find in certain parts of Ontario.  In short: Gas Buddy allowed us to save 60 cents per gallon on one of our fill ups, and that with no added mileage! 

Rosemarie’s new favorite store, but it’s only in Canada, sadly.

Now, before I get to our first stop, I have a question for you Canadians, particularly those from New Brunswick.  You see, shortly after crossing into that province we spotted a buck naked man on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway.  Yes, there was a car pulled over to the side, so I am assuming an urgent call of nature.  But he was standing maybe 20 feet from the shoulder, in full view, facing the road, not merely with pants pulled down but with no pants or shirt at all, carrying on a conversation with someone in the car.  OK, one either crazy or proud person, got it.

And then it happened again.  A women this time, in the act of relieving herself, but having made no effort at privacy.  Pants down, so far from her car that it offered no cover, and having intentionally avoided going behind nearby bushes.  An older woman was holding a shirt up ostensibly to provide some privacy, but she was at least five feet away and thus doing nothing of value.  The woman wasn’t even squatted down, but was, rather, in a very slight crouch, naked rear pointed towards the road, and if it is not clear, this means pointed up hill with all that gravity and fluid dynamics implies in such a situation.  So the question: is this some Canadian thing?  Public roadside nudity while urinating?  Or did we just get “lucky?”

Anyhoo, our first stop after PEI was Mactaquac Provincial Park.  A nice place on the St John River with large, grassy sites.  It is a popular venue on weekends; we were limited to a two day, Wednesday-Thursday stay, so plan accordingly.  We did little but relax and plan while we were there due to sporadic rain on day two, but it was a nice place in the “state park style” we prefer, and at $24.50 USD a night all in, was well priced.  We even sold a couple of necklaces to some curious kids, one of which even haggled us down, which meant we had to honor the same rate to his friend. 

Big grassy site at Mactaquac Provincial Park.

Recognizing that the monthly budget would soon be blown, we attempted a bit of financial damage control with an overnight stop at a Walmart roughly half way to our next actual destination.  All Stay has a “Walmart Feature” which makes it easy to find not only Walmart Supercenters but other big box chains, such as K-Mart and Cabela’s, that also allow overnight stays on the outskirts of their parking lots.  This particular Walmart Supercenter in Edmunston, New Brunswick was memorable for how many RVers joined us.  At last count there were 18 overnight rigs, and I heard a couple more pull in after dark.  I have never seen so many making use of the free Walmart camping. 

Terrible picture, but it shows less than half the rigs that ended up staying the night.

The next morning it was into Quebec and a two day stay on the outskirts of historic Quebec City.  Our traditional cross-referencing of Passport America, All Stays, and RV Park Reviews, with judicious use of Trip Advisor as well, revealed a couple of interesting things: A great many PA participating parks have much of the peak summer tourist season blacked out for their 50% discount rate, and that most of the parks near Quebec City are significantly more expensive than what we had experienced in Canada to date.

We found the reasonably well reviewed Camping La Relache to meet our needs.  Located across the St Lawrence River and a quick 20 minute drive to the historic district, we secured a 2-way (power and water only) pull through site for about $46 USD a night, all in.   Dont be distracted by how it looks from the road (a bit seedy to be honest) once you pass through the RV long term storage area in the front it becomes much nicer, and arranging things in such a matter really cut down on the road noise.  It was a quite little park with modest facilities that suited our needs.

Our site at Camping La Relache.  

The draw for this region is Quebec City, particularly the Old Town section.  Dating back to the 1600’s, it is a remarkable place with beautiful restored buildings, outdoor cafes, boutique shops, art galleries, and wonderful pedestrian-only alleys.  Plentiful food options, an occasional street musician, and a generally pleasant environment make for a great place to spend at a day or a week. 

It also has one of the nicest farmers markets we have ever seen.  A large C-shaped indoor facility had dozens of fresh produce vendors, plenty of ready to eat delicous looking food options, and an assortment of art and craft booths as well.  We enjoyed what we were told is one of the few foods distinct to Quebec (as opposed to being French derived): Fried Parmesan Cheese, or in this particular case, Fondue parmesan aux trois fromages.  Good lord were they good. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon down town.  Parking was pretty easy and not absurdly priced (about $2 US per hour) and it is a great place for pedestrian tourists.  Which, I must admit, there were a lot of, probably the only down side to the place.  I suspect taht if you are longing for a French vacation but need to keep it a bit more affordable, Quebec City would be a good option. 

Ongoing Canadian Lesson Learned:

  • Research gas prices: don’t be fooled by consistency in one region, we found a huge disparity between the conveniently positioned stations near Quebec City and a few equally accessible stations in New Brunswick and Ontario: 60 cents per gallon savings.
  • Naked people line portions of the Trans-Canadian Highway in New Brunswick.
  • We found it helpful to convert our rig’s Miles Per Gallon to Kilometers Per Liter for planning purposes.

PEI

Given our planned three week stay in Canada and how far across the country we would have to drive to get to Michigan, we decided to forgo Newfoundland and Labrador and hit the much closer Prince Edward Island for our third province.  Our decision to do Nova Scotia first worked out quite well, allowing us to take the ferry to PEI and the Confederation Bridge off it once we turned back west.  Both involve a toll, but only for leaving the island, not going to it, and the bridge toll is significantly less than the ferry for our sized rig.

The only downside?  You can make reservations for a round trip; but one way users have to take a chance on how many ferry runs they might have to wait through.  We chose to spend the night at Harbour Lights Campground in the nearest town to the landing so that we could be ready for the second ferry run without having to get up at the crack of dawn.  It worked out perfectly.  Harbour Lights Check in process is a model of how parks should welcome visitors: they listened to what we wanted, showed us some site options, worked with us to make it as affordable as possible (agreeing to charge us a 2 way site price, $22 US all in, so long as we didn’t hook up the sewer at our assigned 3 way site) and informed us about the area and particulars of the camp.  A far cry from the “money please, your site is over there” process we saw at Inverness.  Anyway, the ferry: We arrived shortly before the the second run, were put in line with a few other RV’s, and were let on once the big rig trucks and most of the cars were boarded.  It was a fun one hour journey across the bay in near perfect weather.

Out Serenity’s front window, loaded on the ferry.

I was unable to get reservations for more than a couple of days at the national park campgrounds unless we were willing to dry camp, but the nearby provincial park, Cabot Beach, had five days available at a powered spot, and the reviews suggested we would enjoy it a lot more than the private resorts.  At $28 US all in a night, it did not disappoint.

Cabot Beach, one of the best we saw.  This is a weekday, so less people n this beautiful stretch of sand, but still surprised at how few were here considering the island is such a summer tourist destination.

We generally find that US state parks have decent to huge sized sites compared to many private campgrounds, even those trying for “resort” status.  They also tend to have a lot more greenery around them.  Cabot Beach had reasonably spacious sites with some bushy trees, and our specific location at the end of a row meant we did not have a neighbor on our right side, allowing us to spread out even more.

One of our neighbors a few sites down had her crafting table set up in front of her site every day selling jewelry, mostly wire wrapped beach glass with some semiprecious gem stones added.  We have often thought about dong the same, but never really tried, always concerned that park management might object.  She assured us no one here minded, and we did sell a few items while there, adjusting our price signs to account for the Canadian exchange rate.

Rose made a lot of jewelry while here from the hoard of beach glass we found at Inverness Beach in Nova Scotia.

We took day trips to a couple of local beaches, but honestly the one at our park, which we barely visited, was probably nicer than most of those we went out of our way to see.  Our various outings covered most of the west end of the island, enough to demonstrate that PEI is mostly rolling farm land surrounded by beaches, with very small towns and villages scattered about.  We were surprised at how many country driveways had something for sale out front, such as potatoes, eggs, or local crafts.

Mustard field, we were told.  

Kensington, the closest mid-sized town to our campground, provided supplies and some nice distraction at the various stores inside the artist market and a solid serving of fish and chips from the just opened Go Fish!  Only two weeks old at the time of our visit, they didn’t even show up on google.  It’s a little walk in shack that only serves fish and chips, and does so at a reasonable price.

On the advice of one of our fellow campers we attempted some beach glass hunting below the old fort (Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst, no really.)   We found perhaps two small pieces, but enjoyed the walk along the shore.  Being so close to Charlottetown we drove there intending to have a late lunch, but nothing really caught our eye and we headed back home and try the Oyster Barn right outside of the park.

It was fantastic.  Both the Quahog Po-Boy and Haddock Taco were delicious, and they have a modest selection of local craft beers available to match.  Located directly on an active fishing harbor, you can eat while watching the boats come in and offload their catch.  We only wish we had the time and money to try their raw oysters; they looked great and came with an assortment of sauces beyond the usual lemon, horseradish, and cocktail option.

And so ends the affordable part of our Canada journey.  After five days in PEI we loaded up and headed for the 8 mile long Confederation Bridge, beginning the long drive through New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario on the way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

And our ongoing Canada Lessons Learned:

  • We found next to no sea glass in our exploration of the west half of PEI.  Maybe the east is better, but our general feeling is that if you have been to Inverness, don’t worry about this place.
  • I am down to this theory on current pricing in Canada based on the current very strong exchange rate (1 Canadian dollar = .77 USD): gas is expensive, booze of any sort is expensive, most goods and services are maybe a bit more expensive but not much, and campgrounds are cheaper.
  • The whole ferry vs Confederation Bridge thing I discussed up post:  Both have tolls, but only to leave PEI, you can only make reservations for a two way run on the ferry, and the bridge is cheaper than the ferry.  So enter by ferry and leave by bridge if you can make that work for your itinerary!

Sea Glass Heaven at Inverness Beach on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Lacking knowledge or significant input from others, part of our route planning into Canada was determined by where the internet suggested we might find some nice sea glass.  This may seem a frivolous way to pick destinations, but we figured it would certainly put is on the shore, which we like, probably on beaches, which we like, and possibly in interesting towns and terrain.  What’s not to like?

While we found little actual sea glass in New River Beach and not much more near Tatamagouche, our overall experience in both of those places was fantastic.  Buoyed by these two highly enjoyable selections using our soon to be copyrighted “where is the sea glass” route planning method, we made the somewhat painful drive to Inverness, on the island of Cape Breton, which makes up a significant portion of Nova Scoria’s territory in the northeast.  Canadians we talked to in Tatamagouche assured us that the place was fantastic regardless of any beach treasure.

I’m not gonna lie: by the time we got situated at Inverness Beach Village Campground, I was in a foul mood and regretting the choice.  First, the drive was ugly: For the last 90 minutes it was a twisty, uneven, pot hole ridden, poorly maintained, single lane in each direction road with frequently limited shoulders.  The cat got sick more than once, the cars piled up behind us with no easy pull offs to let them pass, and the concentration required by the drive eliminated any chance of enjoying the views.

Our site: a plane grass field, rather unlevel, but what a view.

Second: the campground seemed disorganized and half hazardly set up.  The check in process was slow, the front desk staff seemed to lack basic RV knowledge, they provided no information that was not specifically asked, and their facilities map is a crude, hand- drawn and deceptive affair.  It led me down a road that, per said child’s drawing, suggested it would loop back around to our site.  It did not, and I was forced into a multi-point turn around maneuver at a dead end.

Upon finally backing into our site I was reminded that this campground is limited to a 15 amp circuit!  Forgetting this fact between when I did my research and when we arrived is my fault.  But upon pulling out our 15 amp adapter, I found that the plug covers nearly prevented me from getting it inserted and required me to damage my adapter a bit.  Really now.  I get that the place is focused on their cabin revenue, but the RV park should not be just an afterthought.

This is from directly in front of our site.  Unobstructed sunset over the water.

Fortunately, things improved.  A beer helped.  And contrary to our usual arrival day pattern of setting up and relaxing, we decided to hit the beach.  Wow, what an eye opener, what an introduction to Inverness.  Upon scrambling down the resort’s packed dirt trail from the sandstone cliffs to the base, we found a beautiful beach extending for a couple of miles in either direction.  Choosing the road less traveled, we turned right, roughly northeast, and immediately spotted a plethora of white and green beach glass, with a piece easily found nearly every square meter.

First day’s haul.  Mostly green and white (brown is surprisingly rare) and some nice pottery/ceramic as well.

Our planned short visit to the beach before retiring for the evening turned into a multi hour march down the full length of the rightward section.  We slowly realized that we need not grab every piece in our path because the sheer volume of sea glass allowed us to become pickier the longer we explored.  By the time we ended that first day’s exploration, we were turning our nose up at anything white or green and smaller than a nickel.  We would get even more selective as the days wore on.

It was Jellyfish holocaust on the beach in places.  People were still swimming though, and one women suggested she didn’t think this type has long tentacles.

The rightward section of the beach passes in front of two (apparently famous) golf courses running along the low cliffs backing the beach.  This of course means that in addition to sea glass, golf balls are easily found.   And not the cheap ones, either.  These guys aren’t paying a couple a hundred a day in greens fees and a professional caddy to hit scuffed up, yellowed crap balls.  It’s brand new, top end, all the way.  I can’t imagine how many I would lose trying to navigate the fairways running directly alongside the cliffs, particularly since there are few options for getting to the beach from the links.

In between our daily, or in the case of Rosemarie, twice daily, beach excursions, we explored the town of Inverness and nearby regions.  It’s a cute, quaint town with handful of restaurants and shops.  Before arriving in Canada, I had researched and made a list of Canadian specific food and chain restaurants we should try, and Inverness provided us the opportunity to taste our first donair, sort of a Turkish/Greek shaved beef pita sandwich

The donair was forgettable, so here is our grilled cheese with mac and cheese, shallots, and garlic pickle slice.  

It was… disappointing.  Though the sweet onions were great, the meat was dry, and the whole thing was rather forgettable.  Honestly, my expectations were too high, the food is particularly craved by the post night out drinking crowd rather than as early bird dinner people, and I think we chose the wrong venue.  I didn’t see any sign of the traditional beef spit from which the meat is supposed to be shaved.  It was like they just substituted dry “Steak-umms.”  Ah well, another time.

We also hit the local whiskey distillery, Glenora, which produces a distinctly Scottish style.  This should be expected given the enormous Scottish influence in Nova Scotia (i.e, “New Scotland”) based upon their European settler history.  It was good, but I felt the price for a 1/2 ounce taste was extreme, and we left having tried but one option. 

But the beach glass!  Did I mention it?  It was amazing.  Honestly, I think this place has more than Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California, but spread out along several miles of beaches rather than concentrated in a limited set of coves.  Day two we turned left from our beach access point, partly for diversity, partly from the recommendation of a regular to the area we had met on our first evening.

We didn’t find as much, but we did meet Charlie, whom I shall refer to as a local “character.”  He showed us the amazing pieces he had found “that day” (I think they were his best from perhaps the week or month but he carried them to show them off, and they were spectacular) who walked a mile with us, regaling us with stories of his life, his glass beach finds, and local gossip and politics.  He gave us a bit of an education on what we were seeing and what we needed to keep an eye out for.  So thanks, Charlie, you’re a gem.

Day three it was back to the beach, and back to the right, with distrust in the air, skeptical of woman who had sent us to the left, perhaps just trying to keep us from the good spots.  We let that thought go though, because we can’t go on together, with suspicious minds.  Boy did we load up.  A huge pocket full for me, a good sized plastic baggy for Rosemarie, and my other pocket filled with golf balls.  We ended the day with a dip in the Broad Cove River, which empties right at Inverness Beach.

The evening before our departure we noted that the next day’s weather forecast involved rain most of the day.  Awakening the next morning, with Rosemarie loathe to leave the place, and me not feeling like driving in the drizzle, we extended a day, making a foray during reasonable weather down to the beach, but otherwise hunckered down in th RV watching movies and whatnot.  Rose made one more early evening run for beach glass.  After nearly two hours and with the rain picking up, I drove down to the beach access and collected her soaked to the bone self right as she was making her way up the cliff path. 

We needed that extra day.  It put us in the right state of mind for our two part journey to Prince Edward Island starting the next morning.  This far into our Canadian journey, Tatamagouche has stood out as a great little town we would enjoy visiting again, and Inverness Beach as a fantastic coastal location to pursue Rose’s beach glass jewelry hobby and business.  In an ideal world, we would combine those two, merging Tata’s growing culture with Inverness’ location, but if that were to happen I’m sure all you mere tourists would ruin the place. 😉

Continuing our Canadian Lessons Learned:

  • I think we have broken the code with regard to the Eastern Provinces’ Harmonized Sales Tax:  The 15% HST is included in the advertised price at all provincially controlled liquor stores and at provincial parks, but rarely any place else.
  • Holy crap, Scotch is cheaper than Canadian whiskey!  At least, sometimes.  The tax, tariffs, production issues, and minimum charge structure here is a mystery to me, but the end result is a sort of absolute minimum on the price of any kind of standard 80 proof liquor.  This pushes local, bottom shelf Canadian whiskey up to a price equal to, and in some cases more expensive than, acceptable imports.  I fond Famous Grouse in the 1.14 liter option for two bucks less than the cheapest Canadian option.

Tatamagouche! Into Nova Scotia and another seaside campground.

When we decided to include Canada in our 2018 route planning, we left if very vague as to what areas of the country we would like to visit.  As the months went by and decisions needed to be made, we developed two serious options:

    1. The Short Route: cut into Canada from Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont and head west towards Sault Ste Marie to enter Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  This would allow us to visit Quebec and Ontario, possibly New Brunswick, and save us some US mileage since we would not have to dip below the Great Lakes to get to the U.P.
    2. The Long Route: enter Canada in Maine and turn east, crossing through New Brunswick into Nova Scotia, and include either Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland & Labrador before making the now much longer run back west through Quebec and Ontario to the U.P.

Rose and PKM in their usual travel position, though the cat seems even needier than usual.

We chose option 2.  Though it could be in 2020, we don’t really know when we will be back in New England again with the time, weather, and opportunity to hit some of Canada’s eastern provinces, so we are taking advantage of our current position.  Besides, unless you are willing to go all the way up to The Hudson Bay at the top of Quebec and Ontario, it is NB, NS, PEI, and N&L that have access to the awesome coastal areas along The Bay of Fundy, Gulf of Lawrence, and Northern Atlantic Ocean.

We left New River Beach headed east into Nova Scotia.  Our standard research led us to Sunset Watch Campground in the semi touristy but still quaint town of Tatamagouche.  Based on exactly one person saying it for me, the syllabal emphasis is the same as “baba ganoush” and the “gouche is pronounced “gush.”  Apparently most locals just call it “Tata.” 

Sunset Watch is a 10 to 15 minute ride from downtown positioned directly on the bay.  It is a private place, which is fine since we like to keep our campground types varied, shifting between state, county, federal, private, and military options.  After discussing site availability with the staff, we were assigned a full hook up site on the front row for two days, followed by a move back a few rows to a power and water only site.  This was our choice: if the ocean front was not important to us, we could have taken the back row site for all four days and saved ourselves a move. 

Our first site at Sunset Watch.  Can’t imagine how they named the place.

While the sites themselves were nothing special, the view and location was fantastic.  The price was quite reasonable as well, after conversion we paid $32 USD for the first two days and $29 for the last two.  Compared to US ocean side resorts, this is a deal. 

And the second site, a couple of rows back from the front.  

I can’t say enough about Tatagamouche and the nearby areas.  The people, food, bars, shops, shoreline, and drives were just excellent in every respect.  More than one local took the time to proudly explain that Tata was one of the few Nova Scotia rural towns that is experiencing growth rather than population decline.  I didn’t investigate enough to see how much of this was luck and happenstance vice planning and coordination, but either way it has resulted in a place we would be glad to visit again. 

The local economy and moderate tourist action ensures a reasonable variety of experiences for all tastes.  In addition to a nice selection of art and gift shops, they boast a moderate sized farmers market on Saturday with a heavy emphasis on prepared foods and local art and crafts.

Any medium to large farmers market is bound to have a jam and jelly guy, and most have a pickle guy.  Sometimes they are the same guy.  We bought garlic pickles.  

They have a solid local craft brewery, a nearby wine vinyard, and more than a couple of excellent restaurant options.  The gourmet sandwich and burger food truck, Route 6, was top notch with a memorable burger, topped with smoked cheddar, bacon, spinach, tomato jam and dijon mayo, served with sweet potato fries. 

Route 6 Food Truck parked in front of Tatamagouche Brewery.  We thought the very young people working the truck were hired hands, turns out they are the enterprising owners.  Locals making their town even better.  

The Chowder House provided us with the best fish and chips we can recall having ever experienced.  It was our first taste of the delicate white meat of haddock, and Chowder House ensured it was perfectly battered.  The fish was matched by their truly superb fries.  We only wish we had the time to try the lobster and mussels from the small fish market just outside of town, but open as it is for only part of Friday and Saturday, it just wasn’t doable this trip.

We took multiple day trips in both directions along Route 6.  To the northwest we hit the Jost vineyard for a tasting.  I went with the white, Rose the reds.  It was far better than we expected given our West Coast and European bias and the taste poisoning experience of southeastern Muscat based wines. 

Though our sommelier suggested we could just park at the end of the road and take the fresh mowed path to the nearby shore, the heavily faded no trespassing sign encouraged us to push on down the road.  We found Blue Sea Provincial Park in Malagash for a bit of sea glass hunting.  The expansive beach provided a handful of pieces and a pleasant walk. 

To the east we visited Brule Point for a different sort of sea glass hunting.  Located next to a marina at the very end of the point road, the small beach is completely covered in stones and pebbles, and looking for the glass entails digging through that rather than walking with head bowed.  We would never have known that had it not been for a friendly and helpful older couple and their talkative granddaughter that showed us the way.  We found a good share of tiny to small pieces to add to the collection. 

I don’t think many of us from The States associate Canada with beautiful beaches, but man, we are two for two in stops that had them.  Near Tata you had to go looking, and obviously the weather is critical, but the beach at Malagash was stunning. 

We continued another 20 minutes east to Seafoam Lavender Farm near River John.  It was tiny compared to the farms we saw in Sequim, Washington during our trip to the Lavender Fest, but the property was beautiful and staff informative and helpful.  They were a lot less restrictive about allowing us to explore the actual lavender field as well.

Back at the home base we observed the campground’s dramatic shift from a relatively quite weekday resort to a kid filled and party oriented campground on the weekend.  We were forewarned by reviews to expect this, so we were in the right state of mind to tolerate the increased noise level and alcohol induced parties all around.  As Key West veterans, we are in no position to complain. 

Most everyone was quite friendly, and we got in our quota of socializing with the locals, during which we learned one more thing we wished we had known about in advance and made time to experience:  gathering oysters and mussels directly from the campground’s rocky shore at low tide for steaming.  Once again: next trip!

Repurposed washing machine tubs as fire pits on every site at Sunset Watch 

On our last evening, and continuing into the morning of our departure we handed out a good number of Florida Fighting Conch shells to the local kids.  They would stop by in pairs once word got out that interesting and free stuff was available at site 2-19.  Leave it to the obliviousness of children to completely ignore your busy pre-departure activity level and practically demand, as one red headed, possibly 7 year old did, that you stop doing such nonsense and help him inflate his bike tire.  Which I did, bemused, particularly after I finished and he informed me that he had the same type of foot pedal air pump back at his RV.  What can you do but appreciate the absence of helicopter parenting in favor of free range kids given permission to roam the safe confines of a seasonal neighborhood.

Just taking the cat for a walk on the ocean shore, like most of us do.  

Ending this post, like the last one, with “RVing in Canada” lessons we learned during our latest stop:

  • Harmonized Sales Tax:  A fancy term for the combined federal and provincial 15% sales tax levied on practically everything in the five eastern provinces.  Obviously this needs to be taken into account when price shopping.
  • Making things a bit more complicated: the advertised price in some places often already includes that HST, whereas many other establishments advertise the pre-tax price.  We are still working to break the code, but so far the three campgrounds at which we have made reservations included HST in the advertised price.  Sweet!
  • We were told that the price of alcohol is outrageous in Canada.  We have not found it so.  At least, not for liquor, spirits, or wine.  First, at least in Nova Scotia, all take home liquor is sold at provincially controlled stores, resulting in amazingly consistent prices from town to town.  Second, the prices are not that bad.  As an example, I bought a 1.14 liter bottle of Canadian Club whiskey for $41 Canadian (tax included in advertised price!) which works out to $31 USD.  Scale that down to a standard fifth and you are talking $20.40.  You can find better in The States, but that price is not terrible.
  • Beer,  however, is a different story.  I am not sure what structural factors are in play, but every beer, import or domestic, craft or mass produced, exists in a surprisingly narrow price band.  We beer snobs are used to paying $10 or more for a six pack of craft, but we are also used to seeing cases of Bud Light go for $19.99.  This is not what we are seeing in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, where the cheap stuff is not much less than the high end, small batch options.  I’m talking $27 Canadian ($20.50 USD) for a 12 pack of Coors.
  • Canadian RV terminology:  We generally refer to camp sites as “Full Hook Up” when power, water, and sewage are included, “power and water only” for the obvious connection options, and “dry camping” when no services are offered.  In Canada the preferred and advertised terminology is 3 way, 2 way, and unserviced.  So far we are noticing 30 amp is far more common than 50 amp compared to the US.

Canada! Into New Brunswick and our first stop at New River Beach Provincial Park

Upon departing Bar Harbor we headed north to the US-Canada border, reaching it in under an hour.  Though we had not done a lot of research on our planned Canadian venture, we did look deep into the rules of entry, particularly what and how much we could bring across.  We knew the alcohol limits, poultry restrictions, fruit and vegetable requirements, and the list of things verboten.   Nonetheless, we were a bit apprehensive as we queued up at the crossing, having heard or read a good number of horror stories about agents spending hours going through an RV’s every nook and cranny.

Departing Bar Harbor, passing by Jack’s distinctive house and lawn art.

We cruised through with no drama, though the two motorhomes in front of us were pulled over for additional scrutiny, and from our vantage point it appeared that border agents pulled a wagon load of alcohol from each.  I can’t say with any certainty what led our man at the booth to waive us through after a couple of minutes of questioning, but two things stand out that might be the reasons.

When he asked various questions about what we were carrying, I replied with exact information that implied a knowledge of what was permitted and what was not.  For example: “We have 1.14 liters of alcohol each.”  Second, under questioning we asserted that not only do we not have a fire arm with us, but that we do not carry one even when RVing in the US.  Anyway, he could have just thought I was really honest looking. 😉

When in Canada, drink Canadian.  Local craft beer, Canadian Whiskey, out of circulation old Canadian dollars gifted to us by Gloria (they have entirely replaced one dollar bills with coins) and in the little jar, our first Canadian beach glass.

From there it was another two hours to our first Canadian campground: New River Beach Provincial Park.  I had used our usual resources (AllStays, Passport-America, RV Park Reviews) to select an affordable, beautiful, and appropriately positioned place for our first stop.  We nailed it.  We have a strong preference for state parks, and were happy to see that Canada’s Provincial Parks are, at least in this case, as strong analogue.  New River Beach is positioned directly on the coast along the Bay of Fundy.  The campground is across the road from the actual beach, attractively situated in the woods.

We have had extraordinary weather luck this trip, repeatedly arriving in a local just as weeks of miserable rain or cold clear up, but you have to accept a bit of drizzle every now and then.  New River Beach, near low tide, under fog.

Our site was electric only (30 amp) though a number of others had both power and water.  I had futzed the length of our RV in order to make the reservation: technically our site was for RV’s 30′ and under, but I have yet to encounter a park that has not heavily padded their length restrictions.  This place was no exception; though the back in maneuver was mildly challenging, we had no real trouble fitting Serenity in the site with Loki parked in front. 

Our site: plenty of trees like we prefer.  Not quite as private as some US state parks, you can see more than one neighbor from our spot, but still very nice.

And the beach!  Perhaps half a mile (sorry, about one kilometer) of beautiful sandy beach surrounded by rocky breakers and coves.  We were quite surprised at how deep, i.e., the distance from the low tide to high tide mark it was.  A huge, beautiful beach that was heavily attended during the weekend and nearly ours alone a day later.  We visited daily, experiencing it both in gorgeous, blue sky weather and semi foggy wetness.   We also found our first Canadian beach glass, perhaps half a dozen meager pieces, but beggars can’t be choosy.

New River Beach at high tide.  

There is, er, not a lot to do in the very small nearby town of Lepreau.  No worries for us; we weren’t there for city entertainment.  There are, apparently, nearby lighthouses, which we did not explore, but we did find a beautiful set of waterfalls within a 15 minute drive east of the campground.  Lepreau Falls are quite nice, with what I estimate is a 15 meter drop from a moderate sized river.  Had we more time, we definitely would have made the scramble from one of the viewing areas down to the natural pond at the base of the falls for a dip.  Next time!

I want to keep a running list of the “RVing in Canada” lessons we have learned along the way.  To start with:

  • For the border crossing: do your research and comply.  Why risk hours of delay and possible unfortunate scrutiny just so you can save a few bucks on liquor, meat, or veggies?  Honestly, it was a piece of cake for us, but as written above, we did see two motorhomes getting a much more thorough checking.
  • As an addendum: It’s harder to comply with the rules when you are full time simply because you have so much more stuff in your rig than a vacationer.  You are likely to have a lot more food, some of it restricted.  Maybe you have live plants, which could be a real problem.  If you are full time, you need to be that much more careful in checking the rules.
  • The strength of the US vs Canadian Dollar is really helping things for US tourists this decade.  The USD started a major rise in 2013, and since 2015 it has been fluctuating around a 1.3:1 USD to CD ratio.  If you are in Canada, and it costs “a dollar” that really means around 76 cents in US currency.  Awesome.
  • And therefor: Provincial Park Campgrounds look to be cheaper than equivalent US State Parks.  We are staying in this beautiful park across from the beach and ocean for $26 US dollars a night.  Granted, it is electric only, but for a three day stay that’s a great rate given the location.
  • Check your credit cards for a Foreign Transaction Fee, and only use those that don’t have one.  Why pay an extra 3% to the bank just to spend money in our neighbor’s country?  We physically removed all those cards with an FTF from our wallets and purses for the duration of our Canada stay.

Last week in Bar Harbor: Living large at the Moose

As we have said before: When we first came to the Bar Harbor area in 2016 we were astounded at the welcome we received from the local denizens at the Ellsworth Moose Lodge.  It’s not like we were new to the scene: we had been to more than a score lodges around the country, but Ellsworth went above and beyond, and it greatly effected or appreciation for the area.  Fast forward to our 2018 route planning, and we sought to recreate that experiences to the maximum extent possible.

Don’t get me wrong: we love Maine regardless of the Moose welcome.  We loved the Lewiston-Auburn region during our stay at Poland Spring.   We love the central coast area around Freeport, Phippsburg, and Boothbay Harbor.  We love Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.  We look forward, in future years, to exploring more regions, particularly along the coast, that we have yet to experience.  But so far, it is this Central Coastal peninsula that has captured us.

But one example of the many welded creations in Jack’s yard.

And so for our last week of five in Maine, we went all in on Moose love, starting with the monthly “meat raffle” on the First of July.  I am sure other organizations do this, but until June of 2016 we had never seen it before.  Once a month the Moose coordinates with local suppliers to provide a variety of meats: chicken quarters, pork chops, red hot dogs, bacon, beef tips, clams, and lobster.  You can purchase a set number for all 25 drawings, and additional numbers for individual drawings.  In 2016 we won five pounds of pork and chicken.  This year we weren’t quite so lucky, but still walked away with a bunch of chicken thighs and a great set of memories.

We continued the festivities at Jack’s (not me, one of the Moose regulars and a former Lodge Governor) annual Fourth of July extravaganza, a truly fantastic event.  Jack brings in more than a hundred pounds of lobster from Captain Chuckie’s boat, along with untold pounds of steamer and cherry stone clams.  For those preferring their meat land raised, there is a constant stream of kabobs, chicken wings, beef ribs, burgers, and hot dogs coming off the grill, not to mention untold number of side dishes.

Captain Chuckie, provider of the lobster’s for Jack’s 4th of July party

It’s an insane stuffing of Maine oriented food, lasting all day and into the night, finished off with nearly an hour of semi-professional fire works (and by semi-professional I mean amateur pyrotechnic guys equipped with semi-permanent mortar platforms giving it their best shot after numerous beers.)  The event is open to any Moose member, their families, and other invited guests.  It was an especially great day for us since July 4th is also Rose and my anniversary.

We even had a French Canadian refugee from the Fort Myers Moose swing in, having dropped by the Ellsworth Lodge only to be told everyone was at Jack’s.  After we helped her get her big pick up truck out of the ditch (having misjudged the turn into the driveway) she availed herself to lobster and clams.  Hoozah!

We continued our Acadia National Park day trips with one last stop at Sandy Beach for a picnic meal.  And on our last full day we made one last trip to the Moose for a drink or two with our Ellsworth gang and to say our goodbyes.  We have had a great five weeks in Maine, but it’s time to head north.

Next up: Canada!

Rose sampling one of the Maine traditions: Allen’s Coffee Brandy and milk.  Seems to be working for her.  Happy Anniversary, baby!

42 Months Fulltiming: June 2018 Report

The Distance:  A conservative 142 miles as we moved twice along coastal Maine towards our one month stop in Bar Harbor.  This respite from long drives helped defer some of the otherwise steep costs we entailed while in Maine.  Our 2018 travel distance is up to 3,684 miles.  July will see a big increase in the mileage as we explore Canada, though there it will be totally different since we will be travelling in kilometers vice miles.

The Places:   Just three places this month: Blueberry Pond (one of our most relaxing stops in 2016) then less than an hour coastward to Meadowbrook Camping Area for a week (another one from 2016 that was even better this trip,) and finally our stopping point for the rest of June at Mt Desert Narrows Resort, outside Bar Harbor. 

The Budget:  Ah well, as we noted last post, we started June way over budget, struggled for more than two weeks to get back on track, only to give ourselves a break and enjoy the last week of the month enjoying Maine as we had intended.  The end result: 3.6% over budget, almost the exact amount we were under in May.  This result came despite the lack of any gas purchases for Serenity and one moderately successful market. 

Too windy to light Rosemarie’s birthday Reeces Cup on Sand Beach, Arcadia National Park

Bottom line: we went hog wild the very first day of the month, continued to splurge during the rest of that week, and experienced one of our highest nightly campground fees in Bar Harbor.  Yes, even short of the peak season rates, and including the moderate monthly discount (which also eliminated the $4 per day resort fee) our full hook up site with partial bay view came out to just under $47 a day, all in.  Though we really like Mt Desert Narrows, we have resolved that during our next trip to Maine, whenever that may occur (2020, cough cough) we will spread things out a bit, taking advantage of Passport America rates and alternative camping in the region.

The Drama and the Improvements:   Back in February I pulled out the bedroom sofa and built a work bench for Rosemarie out of reclaimed hurricane damaged boat decks and hulls.  The problem is that the desk is in a slide out section of the RV which has a 2″ elevated floor, and her work chair barely fits on the platform.

Rose made this giant flower on her Cricut machine, which rests on her work bench, which I built, so basically: I made this flower.

This month I finally got around to putting in a floor extension with a big section of plywood.  It’s rough and crude looking, but serves the purpose until we get around to installing some sort of floor covering.  We also repaired and improved most of the jewelry display racks in preparation for our Moose Lodge market event.  This was promptly followed by hours of restowage of our internal and external storage compartments since, for the next six weeks, we would have no markets at all.

Kitty and I resting after an arduous hour or two restowing compartments. 
Our monthly reports so far this year:

 

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

And here are our 20172016, and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

Ending our Bar Harbor austerity program: Time to party during the last week of June

One of the things you may have noticed when comparing our first week or so in Maine (Southern Coast) with the following two weeks (Bar Harbor) is how much more financially restrictive we became.  Between Blue Berry Pond, Freeport, Meadowbrook Campground, and Boothbay Harbor I had lobster five times!  In Bar Harbor: not once!  During our first week we went hog wild at L.L. Bean’s factory outlet, we dined fancy at a downtown Freeport cafe, we stocked up on supplies, and did I mention the lobster?  Upon arrival in Bar Harbor we restricted ourselves to picnic day trips to Acadia National Park and a couple of nearby villages, and affordable visits to the Moose Lodge

The problem was, of course, money: we were seriously behind on the monthly budget  after that first week of splurging, aggravated by the daily camping rate at Mt Desert Narrows in Bar Harbor (even with the monthly discount during not quite peak season rates, it was nearly $47, the second highest rate we will pay all year.)   So we didn’t exactly live poor during the middle of the month, but we reeled it in big time, fighting an uphill battle to end the month in the black.  After 16 days of this, even with our successful quasi-market at the Moose Lodge, we realized that though it was feasible to scratch our way back during the last week of the month, we were just missing out on too many things that we had specifically come to Maine to enjoy.

Former Lodge Governor Larry, Lobsterboat Captain Chuckie, another Former Lodge Governor Jack, and Jack.

So we accepted the near inevitable, loosened the purse strings, and enjoyed the heck out of the last seven days of June in Maine.  We were freer with our Moose Lodge visits, we patronized local farmers markets for overpriced mushrooms, and we hit downtown Bar Harbor for a return visit to Atlantic Brewery, the local craft brew pub we had enjoyed in 2016.

Oh yes, and after researching prices and reviews, we returned to Travelling Lobster, another place we had thoroughly enjoyed during our first visit to the region two years ago.  Their price per pound was right, their cooking fee was negligible, and they had an amazing (though pricey!) IPA from Boothbay Brewery.

Rosemarie was not left out in the cold for this meal: Travelling Lobster’s seafood chowder combined with locally produced Old Soaker Blueberry Soda hit the spot.  Even Pad Kee Meow enjoyed the outdoor dining experience. 

Now, sure, our moderate outings pushed us a touch over the budget for the month, but we are still well under for the year, and have no regrets about a handful of reasonably priced but highly enjoyable experiences to close out the month of June.

Starting our one month stay in Bar Harbor

Our final, and favorite, Maine stop in 2016 was Bar Harbor near Acadia National Park.  There we stayed for three days at Mt Desert Narrows Resort at the Passport America 50% off rate, and then a week at the first come, first serve Bar Harbor Campground up the road.  In planning our trip this year we resolved to spend a full 30 days in Bar Harbor, which would allows us to take advantage of the somewhat discounted monthly rate offered by Mt Desert Narrows.  It would still be one of our most expensive campground fees for the year, but bringing the daily total cost down from nearly $70 (for a power and water only site) to less than $47 (for a full hook up spot) made it feasible.

After working with the front desk regarding site options, we went with a full hook up site with a limited view of the harbor.  It is not quite as attractive as what we were assigned in 2016, but has turned out to be very pleasant, particularly since we enjoyed extra space on one or both sides due to the lack of neighbors during much of our stay.

The view out of our front window.

One of the reasons we enjoyed this part of Maine, and thus one of the things that brought us back for such a long stay, was our experience with the nearby Ellsworth Moose Lodge.  In the years since Gloria introduced us to the Venice Moose we have had the opportunity to visit more than a score lodges.  And while many have been fun, none gave us a welcome like Ellsworth.  It really was like being long lost members of the family. 

So the Ellsworth Lodge was at the top of our priority list for places to visit once we settled in at Mt Desert Narrows.  Rose has kept in touch with a couple of the members, and many others remembered us from 2016.  My membership having lapsed sometime last year, and having no real connection to the Venice location, I signed up here in Maine.  Though we may not see this place more than one month every two years, it is still the best lodge for us, and we are happy to be connected to the people here despite the infrequent nature of our visits.  

You can’t beat the drink prices in these membership type places, and when you find one as welcoming as Ellsworth, it makes the $60 annual fee that much more reasonable.

Other than a friendly nearby Moose Lodge, why a full month in Bar Harbor?  Two maine (heh) reasons: We correctly predicted that our pace of travel in April and May with multiple family visits would leave us tired and ready for a long stay.  And second, we really like this location and the variety of things it offers, starting with the large national park.

Pad Kee Meow has been bolting out the door on us with alarming frequency.  Fortunately she usually just wants to roll in the warm sand.

Every few days we would load up a picnic basket and make a day trip in Loki to one section of Acadia or another.  Most people don’t hear Maine and think of beaches, but Acadia has an excellent small option to satisfy all but the most severe critic.  The imaginatively named Sand Beach hosted our first Acadia picnic, on Rosemarie’s birthday, and provided us with some decent beach glass and even a small sand dollar.

Before our RV lifestyle Rosemarie typically enjoyed big celebrations on her birthday.  Since we are rarely around friends and family in June now, we have to think about other ways to make it special.  Happy B-Day, my wonderful wife, and may the journey long continue!

We have been quite fortunate weather wise during these first couple of weeks in Bar Harbor.  Other campers reported that they had only a couple of warm, rain free days during the entire month before our arrival.  Our streak of good weather allowed us frequent pleasant outings to Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Seal Cove.

While downtown Bar Harbor is the most well known, other nearby towns and villages hold a lot of charm, and far fewer tourists.  We found ourselves returning to South West Harbor during our frequent outings, but also enjoyed North East Harbor, Bass Harbor, and Seal Harbor as well.  The nice shops, bars, and cafes are a draw, and both South West and North East Harbors have small, once a week farmers markets as well.

How much you figure these ocean front cottages go for? 

Speaking of markets: we had hopes that Bar Harbor would be profitable for us and thus offset the cost of our campground.  Unfortunately we were completely blocked out of the three markets in the area; either they only allow produce and food, or they don’t allow drop in vendors.  This started to put a real crimp on our lifestyle as we sought to get back on budget after an expensive start to the month.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  

We even approached the managers of Mt Desert Narrows Resort about selling the jewelry in their store.  We put together a single rack heavy on camping, travel, and RV oriented items, complete with “Mt Desert Narrows” stamped display cards.  After giving us a bit of a run around over the the course of three days, they eventually told us no, that they had tried jewelry in the past and it did not sell enough to be worth the trouble.

Given that we sold items to three of the seven people in the campground that saw Rose’s stuff, I think they are missing out, but it was a good experience for us trying to pitch it.  Those sales, by the way, included earrings for two of their employee work campers, and a trade of two pair of earings for a delicious Blueberry Pie from “The Pie Guy,” a gent that drives through the resort every few days selling his baked goods.

Fortunately, our favorite Moose Lodge came through for us.  Without us asking, merely having brought up the subject of Rose’s jewelry with members, the governor (Moose Lodges have governors rather than presidents) invited us to set up and sell at the upcoming North East Moose Association gathering that Ellsworth was hosting.  And so we did, clearing enough to make us happy during one Saturday afternoon, with affordable drinks and good company to boot.

Unlike last post, you might have noticed the absence of any mention of lobster in this one until now.  Despite being surrounded by dozens of lobster pounds, I have resisted the urge.  We have been clawing our way back towards breaking even on the budget this month, so it just hasn’t been on the menu.  I think I am going to have to buy them live and give cooking them a go myself; I’m going a bit nuts seeing them advertised every half mile and yet unable to splurge. 

Pad Kee Meow’s new tube, which she doesn’t seem to keen on sharing.

With two more weeks to go in Bar Harbor, we are still enjoying the place immensely, though we have resolved that in our next trip to Maine, we will likely not stay a full month in one campground, but rather spread out our stay across a few more locations and sites, perhaps revisiting the first come, first serve option up the road, or one of the many other campgrounds in the region.