Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Travelogue: Windsor - Toronto - Ottawa - Montréal

Our two nights in a Quebec "national" park was nice, but of course, first we had to get there. For us, that's half the fun! We were coming from Toledo and heading towards New York afterwards:

Link to full Google map

Let's touch on a few things:

Yay Canada!

No place we go truly makes us feel like we're on vacation as much as Canada does, so we'll take any opportunity to go there. Lately there haven't been too many opportunities: prior to this trip, 6 hours total north of the border since the end of our Alaska trip (July 2010).

One thing this trip did not do, however, is give me the opportunity to watch Canadian television, since our cabin didn't have TV. For me, watching sports on TSN and the catchy tune of The Weather Network's local forecasts (which I assume has probably been changed 2010) have been particularly memorable parts of past Canadian road trips. I'll make sure we spend at least one night in a hotel on our next Canada trip, whenever that is. (Might be a while, unfortunately.)

(Television side note: Buckeye Cable in Toledo carries the Windsor CBC affiliate, and now in HD! Although the HD might only be temporary, since the CBC HD feed occupies the channel slot usually claimed by the Toledo NBC affiliate, which is currently off of Buckeye Cable due to a carriage dispute that's been going on since before the Winter Olympics, even.)

Ontario highway service centres

Usually in the United States, full service highway travel plazas - the types with gas and food available, as opposed to just normal rest areas - only exist on toll roads, such as the Florida Turnpike or the New Jersey Turnpike. There are a few free expressways in the US with full travel plazas, but they're rare.

Well, Ontario's expressways are free, and Highway 401 has some pretty swanky "service centres":

I think we stopped at three of these along the way. There was never a reason for us to exit off of the freeway, really. The centres seemed really fancy at the time, but really, they're pretty similar to those found along the New York Thruway and New Jersey Turnpike. Except that the Canadian ones have Tim Hortons.

Toronto traffic

I kind of knew before the trip that we'd be hitting the "Greater Toronto Area" (GTA) right near the end of morning rushhour. Fun! Then again, Toronto is the type of city where traffic sucks pretty much all day long.

There was really no convenient way around the GTA; we had to go straight through. I found three options: 1) Stick with 401 the whole way. 2) Take 403 to Hamilton and approach Toronto closer to the lake. (Google Maps traffic patterns suggested this would be a worse idea than sticking with 401.) 3) Take the 407 toll road, a.k.a. the "Express Toll Route".

The Express Toll Route

Now, about this 407 toll road. It's all electronic with no toll booths, and the "bill by plate" option (similar to North Carolina's Triangle Expressway) is, like on most fancy new toll roads, rather expensive. Especially for a one-time use like ours, because they tack on a fee of $3.95 for first-time "bill by plate" users. So, I was kind of hoping we wouldn't have to use the toll road, but...yeah, we did.

The toll calculator on the website puts our total trip bill at something like $16 (Canadian). But will we even have to pay it? The Wikipedia page for 407 says the following: "Only the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and the states of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Maine, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, Delaware, and possibly several adjacent states and provinces provide 407 ETR access to their registry databases due to the privacy laws of these states [citation needed]. This has resulted in motorists from other jurisdictions being able to travel on 407 ETR without receiving a bill."

Now...that Wikipedia snippet may have been written prior to North Carolina changing its own privacy laws so that it could join E-ZPass. But to find out for sure, I went to the 407 web site and entered in my "licence plate". The response: "We are not able to locate a licence plate that matches the information entered." Sweet!

Well, maybe. It's quite possible that the monthly billing cycle or whatever hasn't completed and that the record of my taking the 407 two weeks ago just hasn't gone through yet. Or, maybe we just won't get a bill at all. Well, either I'll get a bill in the mail, or I won't.

Ottawa traffic

Leading up to the trip, I was so focused on Toronto traffic, I completely neglected to research Ottawa traffic. Oops!

There are only a few bridges crossing the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Hull / Gatineau, and we needed to cross one of them. Problem is, all of the bridges are downtown-ish, and none have a direct expressway link on both sides of the river. Which bridge is the best choice at, say, 4 PM? I did basically zero research beforehand on that one, other than "let's take the most direct one". That was probably the wrong choice. Great timing on our part to hit Toronto morning rush and Ottawa afternoon rush, eh?

We'll have to come back to Ottawa some day and see the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill and their other attractions.

(This hurried picture was as close to Parliament Hill as we got. How well do you know your Canadian provincial flags?)

Quebec roads

I would love to just spend a whole week in Quebec, driving around and touring the province and whatnot. We've already spent a week vacation in New Brunswick / Nova Scotia, and a week in Northern Ontario / Manitoba; eventually, we'll do a week in Quebec, a week in Newfoundland, and a week in British Columbia / Alberta. We have a lot of years of traveling left.

On our way back, we hit Montreal around 9:30 or 10 AM - long enough after rushhour, apparently - so I do not have any boring traffic stories to tell.


So, I took four years of French in high school. But I didn't stick with it after that, and let's face it, high school was a long, long time ago. (14 years!) I know a few key phrases and words, but nowhere near enough to be able to understand it or speak it. Nevertheless, I tried to occasionally humor the locals and throw some French into my speech, but I had trouble even with saying the simple things that everyone knows like "merci" and "bonjour". The thing is, when you've spent 30+ years saying "thank you" and "hello" all the time, it's a tough habit to break. Especially when you have virtually no experience in places where English is not the first language. Quebec is the only place I've ever been where that is the case. Perhaps it would have been good for me to visit Quebec while I was taking French in high school, non?

All the more reason to travel to Quebec more often, if you ask me! After all, it is the second-closest Canadian province to home. (The first-closest Canadian province has a lot of traffic issues, it appears.)

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