Country Mouse Goes to the City

By on May 30, 2017

By Carol Miller—

I live in a rural farm community by choice, and heretofore I have avoided cities in favor of wilderness adventures. However, when my mother invited my sisters and me to join her on an eight-day excursion through eastern Canada at the end of September, I rightly surmised that it would be a journey unlike any I have done. Just how different was highlighted when my older sister Pamela complimented me, “Carol you are the bravest woman I know.” Flattered I wondered why the compliment, “was it because I climb mountains?” She continued, “I can’t believe you got a totally new haircut the day you left for our big trip.”

It took all my self-control to not succumb to a panic attack when I boarded a stuffy jet with eight seats across in Vancouver, Canada. The full flight had 300 people packed like sardines, except sardines smell better than the man with flatulence issues across the aisle. After the sixth time the man hacked up what sounded like fur balls, my mother took her hearing aids out.

Montreal was a more interesting city than we anticipated. I particularly was entertained by their ad campaign to reduce dog problems downtown. The roof of the bus stop across from our hotel was adorned with a three-foot high artificial poop pile complete with monster flies buzzing around it.

Montreal is located in the province of Quebec which means that much of the population speaks French. Our tour bus guide’s accent made listening closely a must. The French influence was particularly noticeable in the number of stunning cathedrals. At one stop, the sweet notes of a street musician flutist enhanced the sense of reverent awe.

In addition, we learned that Canadians are a practical people. Montreal has a number of underground shopping malls, connected by subways, which allow shoppers to avoid venturing out into the harsh winter weather. Even so, Montreal spends $100 million dollars on snow removal each winter.

Being early fall visitors, we did not hesitate to emerge from the subway and stroll through their extensive Botanical Gardens. Features I particularly enjoyed: the greenhouses displaying different ecosystems including one with all kinds of exotic spice plants, the insectarium with 160,000 insects on exhibit, beautiful evening light displays in the Japanese and Chinese gardens, and a stand selling yummy oriental dumplings.

The following day we boarded a train from Montreal to Quebec City, where 95% of the population speaks French. During a bus tour out into the countryside on the outskirts of Quebec, our tour guide switched between English and French effortlessly. Making sure I was listening at the right time – not so effortless.

Quebec’s walled old-town section where we stayed boasts stiflingly narrow streets lined with quaint cheek by jowl buildings. Quebec is all about food, so we plunged into the experience by spending three hours tasting 30 different samples of delicious gourmet French cuisine. My favorite? A cold creamed squash and ginger soup; perchance because I was still hungry when I ate it.

Returning to our old-world hotel, my eye caught a glittering, bright green, flowing gown. My startled eyes traveled up to clown-like heavy makeup; I stared while my befuddled brain puzzled to make sense of what I was seeing. A deep voice greeted me with a polite “bonjour”. After he passed, my mortified sister hissed, haven’t you ever seen a drag queen before? “Uh, no… I have not.” Before she travels, my older sister, Pamela, carefully researches what to wear and say to fit in with the locals. On this trip she made one major tactical mistake – she brought me along with her.

Our final lunch was in a building built in 1677. The restroom, tucked down in the crooked basement, displayed the ancient walls. That alone was worth the price of the meal.

That evening a stretch limousine whisked us off to the train station where we began an overnight train trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Not being accustomed to traveling by limousine, I wasn’t quite sure how to exit. However, I am pretty sure crawling out on one’s knees isn’t protocol.

Although I found the rocking train to be surprisingly easy to sleep in, our sleeper car rooms were suffocatingly small. My poor, claustrophobic younger sister, Ann, teared up when she stepped into her minuscule compartment. 

We awakened to lovely New Brunswick and some scattered fall colors. I spent nearly the whole day up in the observation deck. Not wanting to miss seeing Eastern Canada, I kept my book closed and instead chatted with fellow passengers. I found conversing with farmers from Alberta and Saskatchewan to be most interesting. They all grew canola and barley for cash crops and raised cattle. Many of their problems parallel those of American farmers. One farmer mentioned that Saskatchewan is so flat that his dog could run off for three days and the dog still wouldn’t be lost. His friend told him he must have a slow dog.

Halifax, a major port on the Atlantic, was an equally interesting city. Our very funny tour guide noted that Killam Hospital for children, is actually a fine hospital – despite the name, and moose milk is, in fact, a rum and eggnog mixture. We paused at a cemetery where many of the Titanic victims are buried. The solemnity of the moment was broken when he pointed out the gravestone which bears the surname used for the lead actor in the movie “Titanic”. Although the grave is actually that of a common seaman, none the less, it is not unusual to find lipstick marked kisses on the seaman’s headstone left by adoring fans.

Our guide thoughtfully delivered us to the boardwalk area where I savored a superb seafood chowder at McKelvie’s restaurant. Across the street was a well-done maritime museum which includes information on Halifax’s role in recovering victims from the Titanic. On a lighter note, a nearby crystal shop leaves its workroom doors open so tourists can watch the fascinating process of men blowing and shaping glowing crystal.

We returned to our hotel for a brief rest before strolling through the Halifax English Garden. On our way back out, at the elevator, I decided to run back to my room and retrieve my purse. To save time, and avoid inconveniencing everybody, I zipped down the stairs to meet my family in the lobby. My efforts at efficiency degenerated into a clown act. I found only my mother and one sister waiting for me, my older sister was still waiting on the fifth floor for my return. Irritated, my little sister rode back up to retrieve Pamela who came down another elevator moments after Ann headed up. 

I knew my sisters had had enough of me by the end of our trip when they expressed their disgust over me having plugged their toilet. Pretty impressive accomplishment since I hadn’t been in their room.

Our lovely trip had a most dramatic ending when two people needed medical attention near the end of our six-hour flight from Boston. Our jet roared into Portland, Oregon with full power and no “wandering around looking for a parking spot.” 

So, after such an entertaining trip am I converted to vacationing in cities? Nope. Yukon Ho!

Carol Lovegren-Miller

About Carol Lovegren-Miller

Carol Lovegren Miller has been married to Kyle for 32 years and has three grown children. She bakes, cans, organizes church events, and substitute teaches in between her adventures and writing." Carol can be reached at [email protected]

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Country Mouse Goes to the City