Thursday, May 24, 2012

Into Eastern Canada - 1

In Canada long weekends during summer are rare. There is Easter Monday in April,  followed by Victoria Day in May and Canada Day in July. And before the next Something-Day comes up, summer makes way for cold and nippy fall. A better party of my stay here has seen harsh freezing winter (and they say winter his year had been mild!), my favorite recreation during such season being, tucking into bed and hibernating like a polar bear. Rather unusual of me to stay dormant and not go exploring new places. So when a chance to travel east presented itself, I leaped at the chance.

Out of the limitless travel destinations on hand, we narrowed down to Montreal and Quebec city. In picking places we were right on the money, but in deciding to take the aid of travel agents, as we were hard-pressed for time to plan the trip ourselves, we had terribly erred. To begin with, our travel guide knew diddly-squat about the places. What he didn’t know can fill up many libraries. And he crammed so many attractions into our itinerary that we hardly got a chance to take a good look at any of them. Most of our time was spent sitting in the bus and peeping wistfully at attractions as the bus glided by. That I didn’t strike him on the head with an axe was only because there was no axe at hand. The trip did help in learning a thing or two about a few places, though, that I hope will be handy when I revisit them.

Our first stop en route to Montreal was Kingston. The circumference of Kingston could easily pass for a F1 Circuit.  So small is this city that Schumacher would quite comfortably finish a lap around the city in his Mercedes in a few minutes. And this city, for a brief period, served as the capital of the second largest country in the world. That was back in 1841 when United States and Canada weren’t bosom buddies as they are today.  They often went into war, hurling grenades and bombs at each other and ripping apart each other’s limbs (my history is hazy. I know not what they were fighting over). Kingston, owing to its proximity to States and being capital city, was vulnerable to frequent attacks and the capital city was shifted to Montreal(which was shifted again to Toronto, first, and then to Ottawa). The shifting of capital put a brake on the growth of Kingston and it’s national importance gradually spiraled down.

But Kingston did not vanish into oblivion. A series of Martello towers and Fort Henry during that the British built during wartime to guard the Rideau Canal (a world heritage site that connects Kingston to Ottawa) against the Americans attract tourists from all over the nation. Kingston City Hall, a national heritage site, that looks over Lake Ontario is a prominent example of Neoclassical style in Canada. (Outside the city hall, the population of flies comprehensively outnumber that of humans, dogs and other species. One cannot open one’s mouth to speak without having flies tangled up in one’s vocal chord). For a small city with population of little over hundred thousand, Kingston produces a prodigious amount of writers, hockey players and musicians, none more popular than Bryan Adams.

Kingston boasts of a number of tourist attractions, the most popular of them being, the Thousand Islands. Over 1800 islands ranging in size from “just about enough for a tree” to “big enough to maroon all corrupt politicians in India” freckle the St.Lawrence river that straddles Canada-U.S border. Renting a water bike to cruise around the lake would be smart and adventurous, as you could stop by any island of your choice to go for a stroll or gape at pretty girls.  But we had to contend with cruise ship that stops at no place, thanks to the aforementioned dodo aka tour guide who wouldn’t let us go off on our own.

A little ways down the river, we came upon a pair of islands a few feet apart, connected by a short white bridge. A hop, skip and a jump(literally) are all it would take to cross the bridge. You could even give a shot at jumping across if you have nimble feet. A mad scramble among the passengers to click pictures of this bridge ensued, as the captain of the cruise announced that this was “the shortest international bridge in the world”.  The Canada-U.S border line cuts through between the islands (Contrary to my guess, the cruise sailed on, crossing the border line. So technically, I have been to the States even though I have no visa or intention to be there). Another island that will grab your attention is Heart Island (located in New York), on which stands majestically Boldt Castle. An aerial view, if you are rich enough to rent an helicopter, would reveal a heart-shaped island. A millionaire businessman of name Boldt(obviously) bought the island and began to build a castle, which he proposed to gift his wife. Four years into the construction, a tragedy struck. His wife passed away of illness, and the construction was ceased abruptly. Singer Castle is another notable castle in the Thousand Islands, though no as popular as Boldt (nothing sells like romance). During winter, the lake freezes over, though not entirely, and serves as a rink for skating, hockey and other winter recreations.

I intended to write about Montreal when I began this post, but I went off on a tangent, mentioning Montreal only in passing. And that means you will have to bear the brunt of another boring post.  So don’t go out to the street and start dancing yet. There is more to come. :P