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|Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2005
Canadian Crossing and Mediterranean Adventure
The Canadian Atlantic Seabord
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After a slow drive into Southampton we were delighted to board QE2 just after 14.00. With our Cunard Platinum Card, gained as a regular on QE2, we were in the first group on board. Our luggage arrived quickly and then we unpacked the formal clothes before heading down to the Queens Room for the afternoon tea ceremony. We then made a quick trip to the gym to introduce ourselves and book sessions on the machines for the following day. We also stopped off by the Spa as experience told us that there was usually a glass or two of sparkling wine for potential customers of the facilities, including the gym. There we first met Aimie who was to be Pete's trainer as he is still trying to sort out the last of the problems with his arm, whilst Pauline has been showing much more interest in the gym than in the past.
By then it was time for the last of the unpacking and up to the Mauretania restaurant for dinner. We had requested the second sitting to give us more time in the evenings and a more relaxed atmosphere as less people dine late. Unfortunately our request for a table for two had not reached the ship and we had been allocated to a table for 6 people, but Jamie, the Maitre D' who we knew from previous years, managed to find us a table for 2, and it was by the window. The good news was that we would be able to keep the same table for all 5 weeks especially as our waiters proved to be excellent and extremely attentive even by QE2 standards.
St John's is North America's oldest city and Britain's first overseas colony. After 3 days at sea we were glad to be at anchor, unfortunately it was in Conception Bay, many miles north of the town of St John's. As usual, the tours departed first and the tender service for everyone else was due to start at 09.15. But we were anchored a long way off and so tenders took longer, and we departed much later. We had tender ticket number 5, and waited in the Grand Lounge. Eventually we got onto a tender at 10.00. Inevitably it was slow loading, with lots of passengers with walking sticks and a few with wheelchairs. The tenders went into Foxtrap Marina which is a nice little harbour with space for 2 tenders. Otherwise there was nothing, except for a few houses and the advice had been to travel immediately into St John's on the free shuttle buses.
We boarded classic yellow school buses for the 45 minute drive to St John's. Some of these old buses were used for the tours, and that upset people who had expected modern air-conditioned coaches. We arrived at Pier 7 in downtown St John's at 11.00. The local tourist guides were very helpful, and we could plan our short visit. The ship sailed at 15.00 and the last shuttle bus back to Foxtrap was at 13.30. So we had at most 2.5 hours on shore to explore St John's.
To save time we grabbed a taxi from Harbour Drive to go up to the Cabot Tower on Signal Hill. It cost C$8 which was more than we expected, but it saved us half an hour. Building of the Cabot Tower commenced in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's historic voyage of discovery, and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Made of recycled local red sandstone it was opened in 1900 and was a 24-hour signal station and weather observatory. It was in 1901 at Signal Hill Hospital nearby that Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal, although he had to move to Cape Breton island in order to establish the first Wireless Station in 1902. In 1933 the Canadian Marconi company opened its station on the second floor of Cabot Tower, receiving transatlantic messages relayed through Glace Bay. The Tower was used for signalling until 1960. Entry to the 3 storey building is free and there is a small Heritage shop on the bottom floor and an interesting Marconi exhibit on the floor above.
Walking back down to St John's we first passed the cannons at the site of the Queen's Battery. Begun in 1796, only the ruins of the barracks from 1831 remain. Across the Narrows are the remains of Fort Amherst together with the oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland, built in 1810.
Our next stop was the Signal Hill Visitor Centre run by Parks Canada, the first of many places we went to that they look after. It was obviously an interesting place but we were too short of time to go round it. We quickly joined Signal Hill Road, passing Gibbett Hill on our left, and then George's Pond on our right. Further down Signal Hill Road is the 'Rooms Museum', the new provincial museum, art gallery and archives. It is a spectacular glass building. And yes, we were too short of time to go in.
It was now downhill all the way, passing rows of colourful wooden houses. We lingered at a park before turning down from Duckworth Street to Water Street. In Harbourside Park there is a monument to Sir Humphrey Gilbert who staked England's claim to the New World in 1583, and across the street are steps leading up to the War Memorial.
Water Street had lots of shops and cafes. We looked inside Auntie Craes, which was an excellent delicatessen with groceries, cooked meats and cheeses. We even, to our surprise, spotted Guernsey Cheddar. Our next destination was the Murray Premises, a restored 1840s era warehouse on the harbour front which we had heard included a Wine Cellar. We found a selection of local Canadian wines and we bought our first example from what turned out to be one of the best known growers, Jost, but more of the wines later.
We still had half an hour before we had to go back to the ship so we walked back to visit the Anglican Cathedral. Unfortunately it was covered in scaffolding and the main door was closed. With hindsight we should have spent the time and walked around it in case one of the side doors gave access. It is said to be one of the finest churches in North America. Just opposite, across the junction, was the Gower Street United Church. It was time to go back to our shuttle bus at the harbour, so we walked down the steps at the side of the Court House. At Harbour Drive we had one last view back towards Signal Hill before catching the shuttle bus. It was just over 2 hours since we arrived in St John's.
Everyone seemed to get back to Foxtrap at the same time, so we joined the end of a long line waiting for tenders. Cunard had provided cold drinks, and there was a free concert by the local folk group, The Cormiers. We liked their music and bought a CD. Free plates of wild berry shortcake were handed out, and locals and passengers were all having a good time. In spite of the queues it was an excellent party atmosphere and emphasised the friendliness of the locals we were to find throughout Canada.
When we eventually departed we were surrounded by local boats to cheer us on our way.
Sydney is the only city on Cape Breton Island. Today we were again at anchor, and we hoped for a longer visit ashore because we were supposed to arrive at 09.00 and depart at 20.00. Unfortunately, maybe because it was Sunday, the ship was not cleared until an hour later than expected and again the tours left first. Originally we should have been able to get a tender after 10.15, but it was 11.45 when we finally departed on tender number 7. Captain Rynd did walk through the Grand Lounge, apologising for the delay. We have seen him since doing a walk around the public rooms in the morning.
Fortunately the tenders arrived at the new Marine Terminal, with its Visitor Information Centre and Craft Market. Music is an important part of life in this part of Canada, and there is the enormous Big Ceilidh Fiddle at the entrance to the Terminal. Fortunately the terminal is located on the edge of Old Sydney town and our plan was to spend the morning walking around the historic North End of Sydney. Although the historic buildings are usually closed on a Sunday, everything was open for the visit by the QE2.
We began with the Cossit House in Charlotte Street. This is said to be the oldest house in Sydney and was built by the Anglican Minister, Reverend Rana Cossit, in 1787. It is a fine large two storey house. Just down the road we visited the Jost Heritage House, built by a prosperous local merchant at about the same time. It was bought by Thomas Jost in 1836. The tour began in the basement kitchen, which has been restored to its 18th century condition, including a log fire burning on a very hot day. On the ground floor the house was furnished in Victorian style, and then upstairs there was an excellent small maritime museum and an apothecary.
Continuing to follow the Old Sydney walk we passed the Sacred Heart Parish Church and then visited the Lyceum next door. Built in 1904 as a theatre, the ground floor of the Lyceum is now the Cape Breton Centre for Heritage and Science. Upstairs is the Cape Breton School of Craft and Design. During our visit there was an exhibition "Admiral Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar: 200 Years On" much of which we skipped past as most of it was familiar to us. We still had some time before lunch so went to St Patrick's Church Museum on the Esplanade. This gave the chance to see some more of the old houses on the way. Erected in 1828 it is the oldest standing Roman Catholic church on Cape Breton Island and is now a museum housing local artefacts.
Our afternoon tour, a Trek to Baddeck and the Bell Museum, departed at 14.00 so we were able to spend a few moments looking around the craft market and then eating a sandwich. The scenic coach journey to Baddeck takes an hour and we crossed over Seal Island Bridge, and then stopped at Kelly's Mountain Lookout for a spectacular view of St Ann's Bay. Baddeck is an old resort town on the north shore of the saltwater Bras D'Or Lake.
The large modern museum of the Alexander Bell National Historic Site is at the eastern end of the town, and covers many aspects of his inventions and innovations. Bell is, of course, best known for his invention of the telephone but the museum covers many more of his most notable achievements including man carrying kites, the first controlled powered flights in Canada, the hydrofoil boat, sheep-breeding and aides and techniques for teaching the deaf. He made use of the tetrahedron for structures, including his kites, many years before anyone else recognised the value of geodesic structures. He is buried at his summer home, Beinn Bhreaghm, which was just visible across the bay. Before we returned to QE2 we had time to walk along the main street of Baddeck, and saw the sailing yacht Amoeba in the distance.
Today there was a special celebration. QE2 became the longest serving Cunarder ever as she exceeds the 36 years 4 months and 2 days achieved by Scythia (1921 - 1957). QE2 has completed 1,383 voyages with an average speed of 24.75 knots. She is capable of speeds up to 34 knots and her cruising speed is 28.5 knots. She has sailed over 5.3 million nautical miles - that is more than any ship ever. QE2 has also served as Cunard's flagship longer than any other and in November 2004 became the longest serving Cunard express liner, taking that record from the Aquitania which served from May 1914 to December 1949. Special souvenir menus were provided at dinner.
After two ports at anchor with restricted periods landside, everyone was looking forward to spending two full days in Quebec, including an overnight. We would be moored in the centre of the town. One urgent task for us was to find a suitable internet cafe where we could collect email, and download any of Pauline's OU work. But this was for the second day. The first day the weather was beautiful, and we had committed to an organised tour in the afternoon so that meant that we could spend the first morning exploring Old Quebec.
From the dock we worked our way to the Lower Town, visiting the Place Royale and the famous church of Notre Dame des Victoires, the oldest stone church in North America. Hanging from the ceiling is a model wooden ship thought to bring good luck. When Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec it was this part that was first settled, and the church stands on the spot where he set up his small stockade, 80 years prior to the arrival of the church.
We then climbed up to the Place d'Armes in the Upper Town and admired the Hotel Chateau Frontenac. Built in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway company, this is still the landmark of Quebec dominating the city skyline with its eclectic architecture and the sheer size of its towering brick structure full of turrets and towers. There is a funicular for those who find all the steps are too difficult but even then one gets to a warning of another 300 steps to scale the ramparts.
The climbs were rewarded when we walked along the Terrasse Dufferin, with its spectacular views of QE2 and the St Lawrence River, and climbed once more up the steps of the Promenade des Gouverneurs to the Citadelle. There was one cannon on the loop track. The Citadelle is on the edge of the Plains of Abraham, where in 1759 the British finally defeated the French with both generals, Wolfe of Britain and Montcalm of France, dying in the process. The 250 acre National Battlefield Park was established in 1908 to commemorate Quebec's 300th birthday. There is a nature trail which passes by one of the Martello Towers built to protect the city from similar defeats. Here we turned back towards town. This area is a favourite for horse drawn carriages.
We passed through a tunnel under the ramparts, and turned towards the Port St Louis where there is a monument to the meeting of Winston Churchill and Roosevelt in 1944. Nearby is the Museum of the Fortifications of Quebec. The Rue St Louis is a pleasant street with hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants. Our guide book recommended the Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens which is housed in the historic Jacquet House, built in 1676. A quick glimpse of the menu confirmed that it had a good lunch menu at under C$15, together with a carte which included stag, moose and buffalo. The maple syrup pie for dessert was very tempting. We must go back another year.
We rushed back to QE2 to snatch a quick lunch in the Lido restaurant before joining the tour to "St Anne Canyon and Winery Visit". This was quite expensive, US$59 per person, but gave us the chance to see the countryside outside Quebec. En route to St Anne's Canyon we were pleased that we had the chance to see the Bridal Falls as well as spend some time at the famous Montmorency Falls. The recent rains, as a consequence of Hurricane Katrina, had increased the local water levels, and the Falls were spectacular. They are 272 feet, and are proudly 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Although somewhat less impressive in summer, they look stunning in the winter stereo pictures in the visitor centre. They are well worth a visit.
Our route passed the large basilica of Ste Anne de Beaupre. The shrine stands near the St Lawrence River, where sailors in colonial times were caught in a devastating storm and prayed to Sainte Anne and were saved from death. The original humble chapel built on the site in 1658 was rebuilt several times and is now a magnificent basilica, built in 1923. It is one of the most important Catholic sites in North America. Each year more than 1.5 million pilgrims visit the shrine. Next to the basilica is the famous Cyclorama. This is a 360 degree panorama of the day of the Crucifixion, and has been on exhibit since 1895. Unfortunately our tour did not stop but it looks interesting for a future visit.
Our main long stop was at the Sainte Anne Canyon which is 6km beyond Beaupre. Walking down from the coach parking at the Reception Centre, the first suspension bridge is 60 metre above the canyon, not exciting by NZ standards but enough to cause a few twitters amongst the nervous. We continued downhill, past several viewpoints until we reached another suspension bridge. The views of the 74 metre waterfall were spectacular. We then continued on the optional extension down another 192 steps to the third suspension bridge, and a series of mini waterfalls. This was perhaps the most spectacular falls we have seen and was notable for the rainbows and spray propelled up the faces by the sheer strength of the flow. We took too many photos. We were much faster walking back uphill than most on the trip, allowing us plenty of time to purchase an ice cream before boarding the coach to go over to the Ile d'Orleans for our visit to the Winery.
The original excursion had been to visit the Moulin du Petit Pre, which at 300 years old is the oldest flour mill in North America. They also make wine, at Chateau Richer. Then we had been told that we would instead visit the Vignoble Sainte Petronille, on the Ile d'Orleans. We crossed the narrow bridge and turned south to the small village of Sainte Petronille where we were welcomed by the owner, Natalie, who explained that they had been growing special hybrid grape varieties developed in and for the area since 1990. The local climate prevents the use of European vines. Vinification is in stainless steel, and there is quite a small production, some 18,000 bottles per year hand picked over about three weeks. The white grapes are left outside in the cold overnight to clarify before fermentation is started with the addition of a special yeast. Sometimes they can make ice wine, a speciality of the region where the grapes are picked and pressed when there is over 8 degrees of frost. We were able to taste the 2004 white wine from Vandal-Cliche grapes, and also a kir with the local cassis. Then we tasted 2004 rose and red wine from Sainte Croix grapes. We bought some of the white wine, and some little bottles of cassis. Looking ahead the wine turned out to be very acceptable despite the rigours of the climate with a slightly honeyed, or perhaps maple syrup, taste.
Our tour had shown us some of the sites of Quebec so the next morning we started by walking along more of the ramparts, on the east side. We passed many cannons by the Seminary buildings. Then we eventually reached the Post Office and the Tourist Information Centre, opposite the Hotel Chateau Frontenac. They had 2 internet terminals, so we collected all our emails, sent a few replies, and checked for TMAs and draft OU course material. Fortunately there was nothing new. We asked about where to buy more examples of local wines and were directed to the SAQ shops, of which there was one in the Rue St Jean. We walked across the Old Upper Town to the stabling for carriage horses at the Port Kent and then along the ramparts to Port St Jean.
From here it was a short distance to the SAQ, but there was nothing interesting in local wines. However they suggested we try one of the larger SAQ stores, of which there was one back at the Hotel Chateau Frontenac - so it was a full circle. We retraced our steps along the ramparts, passing the Parliament building at Port St Louis, and down to the Place Royale. We wanted to buy a lot of postcards to send to friend and family, so we did that and went back to QE2 for lunch.
In the afternoon we walked along the waterfront boardwalk as far as the Market Hall of the Old Port. It is a farmers market, and we were overwhelmed by the size and range of beautiful fresh vegetables and other local products overshadowing even the market in Funchal Madeira. Our first purchase was a small piece of blue cheese at the Fromagerie. It was Geai Blue, made au lait cru, and from the neighbouring province of New Brunswick. Having bought the cheese we had to find some bread to go with it. And then we saw the wine store. All the wine for sale was from Canada and we took the advice of the proprietor and purchased a 2003 Cuvee Joffrey from Mont St Gregoire, a blend of Geisenheim, Cliche, Cayuga and St-Pepin grapes, and a 2003 Cuvee William from St Eustache which is a blend of Vandal-Cliche, Geisenheim and St-Pepin grapes. The first wine is bottled to look like a burgundy and the second as a hock so it will be interesting to compare them. We also wanted a bottle of sparkling wine, and chose the L'Orpeilleur from Dunham Quebec. They make a range of wines so seemed a good risk for an interesting Champenoise.
Afterwards we found another stall where a lady was tasting wines from the Moulin du Petit Pre, which was where we should have visited the previous afternoon. We wanted to taste the red wine but it was not available for tasting. So we tried the Vin blanc sec, then 2002 Veuve La Caille, and finally the 2004 Veuve La Caille. We liked the last one so bought a bottle, more as a souvenir of the place than because it was really good value.
There were several stalls selling maple products, so we bought some Maple pearls which are like truffles, and a plastic jug of maple syrup. We were able to try the maple butter, which was very rich.
We still had an hour before sailing so we visited the Naval Museum of Quebec whose entry was free. The emphasis was on the role of Canada in the Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945. There were short stories about some of the individual sailors involved, both Canadian and German. And there was a serious model of a submarine as the centrepiece.
Halifax is not only the capital city of Nova Scotia but the birthplace of Sir Samuel Cunard, the founder of the Cunard Line who was born in Halifax on 21 November 1787. Our visit began with a morning tour to visit Peggy's Cove, with a guide who wore a kilt - the area of Halifax is very Scottish as you might guess from the name ' New Scotland'. The drive to Peggy's Cove was just over an hour, and commenced with a quick tour of the main highlights of the city of Halifax. We drove along the waterfront, passing the Brewery Market, the Maritime Museum, and the Historic Properties Complex. Turning inland we saw the Citadel and Old Town Clock in the distance then stopped for a moment in Grand Parade, outside St Paul's Church where Samuel Cunard was baptised. The tour continued along Sackville Street to the corner of the Public Gardens before passing the Nova Scotia Museum and then taking the road out to Peggy's Cove. It was a good introduction to the city and its important buildings and a great help when we returned later on foot.
The road to Peggy's Cove along the South Shore of Nova Scotia is a part of the scenic Lighthouse Route which goes from Yarmouth to Halifax and passes 32 lighthouses and a number of picturesque fishing villages - it would make a fascinating drive if we ever return and we later picked up information sheets. It was said that any water on the left was salty and on the right was fresh water. There were a lot of lakes, and it was very pretty. Unfortunately the windows of the coach were tinted and there was not enough light to take photos while we were travelling. The area is barren with lots of huge granite boulders, deposited by the retreating glaciers many thousands of years ago. It is a really beautiful rugged coastline, where the ocean has spent millions of years smoothing and sculpting the granite.
Peggy's Cove has a population of around 50 people, and the village is dominated by its famous lighthouse, one of the most photographed in Canada. The first lighthouse was built in 1868, and the present lighthouse dates from 1916. Since 1975 the village post office has been on the lower floor and we bought our postcards there but did not have time to write them to be franked on the spot. The large Sou'Wester Gift Shop and Restaurant is next to the lighthouse. On our walk through the village we could not resist taking dozens of photos of the houses and the fishing boats as well as purchasing cards - hopefully they will inspire a painting or two as the cruise continues. The Old Red Schoolhouse is now an art gallery, and St John's Church, built in 1883 was closed, but both were photogenic. We hoped to purchase a lobster to take back for lunch but the shop was closed.
Peggy's Cove is very popular with artists and photographers. The marine artist and sculptor William E deGarthe made it his home and between 1977 and 1983 he carved a lasting monument to Nova Scotian fishermen on the face of a granite cliff outside his house. The sculpture depicts 32 fishermen, their wives and children, St Elmo with wings spread, and the legendary Peggy of Peggy's Cove. We purchased two prints from the watercolourist Neil Depew, who has a small gallery behind the Sou'Wester. Pauline does watercolour painting so it was a real compliment to the work of Neil that she asked for prints of 2 of his pictures as a birthday present. He signed them, and let us take his photograph.
Our journey back to Halifax continued around St Margaret's Bay, passing the memorial to Swissair flight 111 which crashed off the coast on September 2nd 1998. The area is spectacularly beautiful and our only regret is that we could not be there at sunset.
On our journey from Halifax there had been much mention of the Titanic disaster of 15 April 1912, and on our way back from Peggy's Cove we passed two of the three cemeteries where a total of 150 passengers were buried. One of these, Fairview Lawn Cemetery, has over 100 of the victims. It is next door to the Jewish cemetery. Both were near to the Container Port and a long way from where QE2 was moored.
The roads were too narrow to permit the coach to drop us off in town, so we went all the way back to QE2, left our pictures and postcards from the morning in our stateroom, and then set off back along the waterfront boardwalk. Pauline bought a little manila sailor's whisk from Philip MacLeod who had a stand doing fancy rope work. We saw the free city bus, "Fred", which follows a loop downtown, but we preferred to walk. We passed the Brewery Market, the Maritime Museum and wandered through the area know as the 'Historic Properties', a complex of large restored warehouses built between 1800 and 1905.
We were able to visit the buildings which we had seen earlier, beginning with St Paul's Church. It was built in 1750 by a student of Sir Christopher Wren, on the style of St Peter's Church in London. There is a Royal Pew, reserved for Her Majesty the Queen and her appointed representatives. There are two fonts, one of which is said to have been used to baptise Samuel Cunard who was born nearby. The Halifax Explosion of December 6th 1917 is memorialised in the explosion window. Following the explosion the vestry was used as an emergency hospital, and the bodies of hundreds of the victims were laid in tiers around the walls.
Next we walked up to the Citadel. Unfortunately the Old Town Clock was not open but we did get a good view of the town of Halifax. Then it was back down to visit the Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary's. Built in 1820 in Gothic style, on the site of a previous church, there have been a series of renovations culminating in the present structure in 1874. The spire is said to be the highest free-standing granite spire in North America, with the cross at 189 feet above the sidewalk.
We wanted to spend some time in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, so that was our last visit. QE2 was due to sail at 16.30, so we had to be "All Aboard" at 16.00. The ground floor of the museum had a number of vintage small craft, and a glass case with a full set of Tug models used in the children's television series Theodore Tugboat. Upstairs in the Age of Steam Gallery there were models of cargo ships and elegant passenger liners. There were three interesting exhibits : the famous Titanic tragedy of 1912; a comprehensive Cunard exhibit and pictures and film from the horror of the 1917 explosion where two ships collided - one of them, Mont Blanc, being an unmarked French munitions ship which was set on fire by sparks and then exploded.
The 1917 explosion killed thousands and razed much of the town to the ground - the Mont Blanc was carrying nearly 3000 tons of high explosives as well as shells and petroleum and it is still the largest conventional explosion ever. Most of a gun was found 5.5 kilometres away and a 550 kg chunk of anchor was sent over the hills to land near a lake 3.5 kms away. The crew abandoned ship, rowed to the shore opposite and lay in the woods and survived whilst the ship drifted onto Quay 6 and exploded. Meanwhile a railway telegrapher stayed at his key on the wharfs transmitting warnings down the line until he was blown to pieces - shades of Titanic. Examples of Morse keys from both are in the museum along with twisted fragments of the ship.
Entrance to the Museum also gave us entry to CSS Arcadia, a retired hydrographic survey vessel built in England in 1913. The only surviving WWII corvette, HMCS Sackville, is berthed at an adjacent wharf, but we did not have time to visit her. Also at the waterfront we saw the tall ship Silva and a full size tug Theodore Too.
This was our last port in Canada so we wanted to spend our Canadian small change. There was a good opportunity for this because on the waterfront we found Stevens General Store, established in 1914. Here we spent our remaining Canadian dollars on maple syrup lollipops, blueberry preserve and an enormous packet of chips made locally from pasta to add to a bottle of wine on our return.
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