New England and Canada Cruise, Charlottetown to Québec.
Boston to Sydney can be found here.
Day 5: Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Day Five of the cruise brought us to Charlottetown, the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island, the smallest of Canada’s provinces. One of the major tourist destinations on Prince Edward Island is the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the popular Anne of Green Gables and its many sequels. Our family didn’t have much interest in the tour to her Cavendish farm, as none of us have read the books. Instead, we exited the ship in the morning to take a hippo boat ride, more commonly called a duck boat. These are amphibious vehicles that were used by the military but now a lot of them are in private hands. Our vehicle’s tour guide was a young native named Josh who was a recent college graduate with a degree in history. We first took a tour of the town, and then drove off the landing into the water. It was a bit of a surreal experience.
The first thing that struck us is that P.E.I., as the locals call it, is very clean. The main industries in Charlottetown are fishing, farming, and tourism (especially for Anne fans) so the pollution is very minimal. Josh also told us that P.E.I. had gotten rid of its train years ago due to non-use. There are no tall buildings on P.E.I. due to the make-up of the land. The whole island sits on soft, red rocks that cannot support a lot of weight. The tallest building in Charlottetown is St. Dunstan’s Cathedral, which my sister and I visited after the hippo ride. My favorite part of the tour was Josh’s description of how the residents broke the laws concerning alcohol prohibition. P.E.I. had the longest alcohol prohibition of any Canadian province, from 1901 to 1948. Before pulling into the harbor, liquor smugglers would tie barrels of liquor to salt blocks and throw them overboard. The salt blocks would make them sink, and the ships would pass inspection at port. At night, the smugglers would go out to the spot where they dumped the barrels. By this time, the salt blocks had dissolved and the barrels were floating.
After the tour, we had some time to explore the city on our own. My sister and I went to go take pictures of the sites we saw on the tour, like the old-timey fire department, the provincial capitol building, and St. Dunstan’s. One of the firemen saw us taking photos of the old fire engines, and he came out and gave us some Charlottetown Commemorative pins and chatted with us about the history of the island and the station. The cathedral, although relatively new, reminded me of the much older churches I visited in Europe. The last spot we visited was the iron-clad building that stored all the contraband alcohol. City officials had to turn it into a fortress because people were breaking in to steal booze. Afterwards, we walked down by the water until we had to get back on the ship.
Day 6: Cruising the St. Lawrence River
It’s a long way from Charlottetown to Quebec City, so Day Six was totally at sea, mainly sailing southwest down the St. Lawrence River. (This was also a return to the Eastern Time Zone.) Until now, I haven’t really described what it was like on the Veendam because I had intended to save it for Day Six.
The ship had 14 levels total, most of them being devoted to sleeping cabins. My sisters, nephew, and I had a cabin on the Main Deck, deck 5. Our cabin was in the middle of the ship, so we didn’t have a window, but we also were more stable while the ship traveled. My parents had their own, larger cabin on deck 10. It had its own private balcony, and we liked to sit out in the evening looking at the water. (My dad, especially.) The other decks of interest: Deck 7 had the Rotterdam Restaurant, movie theater, art gallery, and live theater. Deck 8 had the casino, library, shopping, and several bars. Deck 11, the Lido deck, had the buffet, outdoor grill, swimming pool, hot tubs, and spa. Deck 12 was the outside deck where you could go on top and play basketball, tennis, or just relax and sit in the sun or look out at the ocean. Deck 12 also had the Crow’s Nest bar and Club Hal, the entertainment center for kids. My nephew affectionately called it “Club Hell.” He loved it.
Cruise guests could get food pretty much any time. Usually, we ate breakfast on the Lido Deck at the buffet. They had 6 or 7 different types of Eggs Benedict, so I was excited for that. You could get dessert at pretty much any time of the day, and on Thursday night they had a spread outside by the pool (pictured below). Since most of the ship staff are from Indonesia and the Philippines, Wednesday night they served traditional south Asian foods. I think they toned down the spices a bit so more guests would try them. Guests could eat a more upscale dinner at the Rotterdam Restaurant. Two of the nights were formal, but the other nights were casual, within reason. The food was top quality, but I think the Rotterdam was a bit understaffed as service was a little slow.
For entertainment, we caught the live shows every night, held on the live stage. The Veendam had an orchestra, four male singers, two female singers, and two female dancers. This group performed every night except Monday and Wednesday. (On Monday we had a comedian and Wednesday we had a juggler.) The nights featuring the singers each had a different theme. One of the nights they played Las Vegas songs, another night they played Broadway songs. The best night was on Thursday night. They played classical and opera songs, to which they received a standing ovation.
Thursday afternoon, the Veendam held an art auction. I had been to the art gallery a few times and spoke with Cynthia, the curator. The gallery mostly had modern and post-modern paintings as well as sports memorabilia. (The gallery was pushing the work of pop artist Peter Max, abstract artist Yaacov Agam, and pop artist Romero Britto pretty hard.) There were also many pieces from other time periods scattered all over the ship, including old Eastern and Western armor (An example can be found below), pottery, jewelry, paintings, tapestries, and sculpture. I had never been to an auction before and figured it was a good time to go. I didn’t think I’d buy anything, but I saw a nice landscape of boats that I bought for $100 and gave it to my father as a birthday gift. I won a piece of abstract art as well when they called my number.
Day 7: Québec City, Québec
The last stop on our trip was Québec City. We took the morning tour from the Isle of Orleans to Montmorency Falls. Our tour guide was a French Canadian woman in her 60s, and like the other tour guides, she was very personable and knowledgeable. Our first stop on the Isle of Orleans was the home of Jean Mauvide, a surgeon in the French king’s army who became owner of more than half of the land on the Isle of Orleans. While the guide was giving the tour of the manor, what struck me the most is that lower middle class people in the late 20th/early 21st century live more comfortably and with more conveniences than an upper class lord in the 18th century. We owe this to the miracle of mass production, I guess. Below is a photo of his kitchen.
The next stop on the island was a maple syrup farm, where the owner gave us a quick summary of how the tubing and filtration systems worked to produce different types and grades of maple syrups and sugars. One of the employees, who spoke only French, gave everyone on the tour samples of the syrup. He poured it onto a long wooden box filled with sugar, and gave everyone sticks so we could pull it up and eat it like a lollipop. Of course, this was my nephew’s favorite part, and he went in for seconds.
Finally, we visited the waterfall. Montmorency Falls is a waterfall taller than Niagara Falls. Early June is also late spring in Québec City, so the melted snow adds to the volume of the falls. On the way back from to the port, our tour guide brought up the Canadian socialized healthcare system, like the other tour guides before her. (I think the reason we heard so much about healthcare on the tour is because most of the cruise passengers were in their 60s-80s.) She was a big fan of the socialized system, but she admitted that she never had any problems because her son works for the Canadian government. (Most jobs in Québec City are government jobs.) Some people laughed at this, some people groaned. She rightly pointed out that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is not the same as Canadian socialized healthcare, but a payoff to the insurance companies.
After the tour, my dad and my sister joined me for some sight-seeing around old Québec as well as some shopping. Old Québec looks just like the old cities in France, and it’s not hard to understand why. At one of the shops, I bought my girlfriend a silver necklace with a fleur-de-lis pendant as a souvenir since she loves the French culture. My sister bought a bronze hand-made bracelet, also featuring a fleur-de-lis. The town square had art galleries, coffee and candy shops, leather and fur shops, and a church. We saw a couple street musicians as well, and again I was reminded of my time in Europe.
One of the traits Québec City is known for is its sculptures, and we saw quite a few of them in our short time wandering the cobblestone streets. One that stuck out was a bust of King Louis XIV, prominently displayed in one of the open town squares. I took a photo of it, below. (Click the photo to buy a print.) Unfortunately, we had to leave Québec City a bit early due to our travel arrangements home, so we arranged to take a bus from Québec to Montréal. While waiting for a taxi to the bus station, my father and I discussed monetary policy with one of the parking lot attendants at the port. This blue collar Canadian guy knew more about foreign currencies, inflation, and central banking than most white collar Americans probably do. (Of course, I’m basing that assumption on experience, so it should not be taken as fact.)
Epilogue: Montréal, Québec
We took the bus from Québec to Montréal, which was about a three hour ride. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of Montréal because it was dark by the time we arrived. My family left early in the morning to take a train to New York City. I had a flight to Los Angeles, with a layover in Washington, D.C. I loved the Montréal Airport and wish I could book all my flights out of that city. First, since it’s Canada and not the U.S., there is no TSA. The security staff in Canada don’t feel up your genitals, don’t irradiate your skin, and generally treat you like a fellow human being and not like a terrorism suspect. They even let you keep your shoes on! The security guard told me that non-American passengers constantly berate Americans for putting up with such nonsense. I agreed. I had a little bit of time to wait, so I bought lunch at one of the coffee shops. The food was amazing, at least what I had. I had a cup of coffee and a ham and cheese sandwich. This sounds pretty simple, but the coffee was rich and flavorful. The sandwich was on baked artisan bread with choice cuts of ham and real melted cheese. I’m curious as to whether the other shops had food as good. On top of that, the young ladies working at the shops all looked like French Canadian fashion models. I usually dread flying, but Montréal made it enjoyable.
Overall, it was a very beautiful trip to a beautiful country, and I hope my family has as many good memories as I have.
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