Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Montreal to Niagara Falls

Day 11
As much as we looked forward to seeing our nephew Nathan, we were not looking forward to the craziness of driving in Montreal. We meandered a bit on the back roads, had lunch beside the St. Laurence and then launched onto the freeway. Lanes became narrower, construction was everywhere and the lack of signs in English was frustrating. As we entered the city, Sarah became more and more exasperated with the GPS on the iPhone and I eventually pulled over to realize that it was set on Transit Mode and was trying to find us bus routes into the city. That corrected, we soon found Nathan's street - one-way traffic streaming past row houses built right up to the sidewalk. We were a little early, so we parked in a Home Hardware parking lot and waited for Nathan to get back from his work at a video game-making place.

It was nice to see him ride up on his bike, a familiar face in this crazy busy town. By that time, he told us, it was now okay to park on his street, except for two days a month when I guess they clean it. Not being one of those days, we parked and went to his ground-level suite, which was dominated by a baby grand piano he had picked up and repaired for $250. He also has an organ he is working on and a clavichord. We combined resources for dinner and then enjoyed conversation and listening to him play Beethoven and Brahms. He also sings in a local church choir, in which half are believers and others are paid professionals and students. Nathan seems to fit in here, though he grew up on the west coast, but he is not convinced he will stay here to complete his Ph.D. in computer sciences. Wonderful to see him and catch up.

Day 12
We left late enough to miss the worst of the morning traffic that roared past the house all night, thankfully muffled by the brick construction. We found it somewhat easier to navigate without rain falling and a GPS not set to "transit" and were soon on open freeway bound for Ottawa.

We have friends who live a half hour south of Ottawa, Phil and Gwen, who used to serve at Camp Qwanoes with us. They live in a quiet town in a wonderful brick home, built in 1897 and a pretty constant work in progress. It was nice to slow down after the freeway and enjoy lunch and conversation with Gwen, and Phil's 91-year-old mom who is a delightful old soul in more ways than one. We would stay there that night and catch up with Phil too, but first we had a dinner date with a K6 student, Jesse, in Ottawa.

Our drive into the city was quite amazing, especially in comparison to Montreal. Sarah wanted to drive by the Parliament buildings and the Rideau Canal, which neither of us had seen since we were teenagers. I wasn't sure how to do that, and was still a bit nervous from our last big-city experience. When I saw a exit that said, "Scenic Tourist Route to Ottawa," I spontaneously took it, in spite of Sarah's misgivings. She resigned herself to my let's-see-what-happens mood, and except for one slowdown the route took us serenely into the city, right along the canal and past the parliament buildings. We didn't stop, as it would have been too much for Sarah's knees, but traffic was slow enough to get off a few photos with the iPhone, probably a federal offense.

Ottawa is a beautiful city for the most part, and does our country proud. Jesse lives on a quiet and tree-lined street, and she had just arrived home when we got there. She is studying journalism at Carleton, and we hope someday to see her "reporting on location from Armpit, SK." We opted for dinner out, and the simplest was the famous "Hintenburgers" at the end of the street. True, it's tiny and the floor has a distinct northern tilt, but the burgers were marvelously tasty and the conversation with Jesse very encouraging.

We of course didn't want to leave, and consequently got a little lost finding our way back to Phil and Gwen's in the dark, and then kept them up far too late with catching up on their story. But we love these two and are happy to witness their quiet and satisfied life in this small town.

Day 13
Tough choice: More freeway or the quieter route? An invitation from a cousin of Sarah's back to Ottawa for lunch decided it, and we would take the Number 7 instead of the busy 401. Sarah's cousin is deaf, and it was interesting to hear of the issues her community deals with, especially in her church for the deaf. Salmon sandwiches and back on the road again.

The Number 7 is all rolling hills and thick forest and farms and lakes and small towns. It was a pleasant drive but long, and we didn't roll into Orangeville until about 7:30. Phil (K6) and his dad were there to meet us and Ryan (also K7) dropped in soon after from helping a friend move. Between this wonderful family, two dogs (yellow and black labs) and two cats, we were made to feel at home. Justin dropped in too, and proposed a trip to Muskoka Woods Sports Resort the next day, which sounded great to us, pooped as we were.

Day 14
Justin picked us up, and we were happy to learn that we would also pick up Bo (K7) and Jordan (K5). Jordan lives on a farm near Beeton, and it is the first time in a long time that he has lived there into the fall. I have noticed that there are several here in that situation - Bo, Jordan, Justin, Phil - and it is interesting to hear how that is going for them. Tough when you are used to doing your own thing without reference to mom and dad, and harder to be the person you have become while you were away.

As we drove north, the countryside became more rocks and lakes and few towns and many cottages. I was surprised as we pulled into Muskoka Woods that it was not the usual narrow lane through trees, but wide open space and buildings and a glimpse of lake through maples. A beautiful spot. Everything is on large scale here: multiple skate parks (outdoor and indoor), Olympic-style tramps, gorgeous waterfront. The guys tried their hand at the driving range, motivated by a gaggle of wild turkeys roaming the field, which were perfectly safe from their flying golf balls. I offered to stand out there myself! Justin took us to the new leadership centre, a carefully-crafted building with a suspension bridge entrance, astounding design and stunning view of the water. Everything in it has been designed to encourage the metaphor of leadership. It was easy to see why Justin and others we have known love this place. We finished our time with the guys taking a dip in the lake, which of course involved handstands and photo ops.

We wanted to do dinner together on the way back, and the first place we stopped had a great view of the water. We should have taken cue from the question of whether we had reservations, and the first glance at the menu told us that this was no burger joint. We sipped our water, hummed and hawed, and then apologized our way out. An hour later we stopped at Kelseys in Barrie, and enjoyed big burgers for the price of not much more than one meal at the place with the view. This being my 53rd birthday, they had the waitresses sing for me and I blew out the candle on a ice cream cookie thing that I managed to find a corner for. I told them that this had been a great way to spend a birthday, both for the road trip and especially for the company.

Day 15
Orangeville Baptist Church is evidently the place to be on a Sunday morning. We have had so many students from this place - Ally, Viktor, Justin, Jessica, Phil, Ryan, Jeremy, Erik. We surprised Ally and Jeremy's parents by our being there, and they invited us to dinner. So it was lunch and a relaxing afternoon with Justin and his parents, then an energized dinner with the Derksen's. It was great to see Tim, Ally's husband, though both Ally and Jeremy are away at school. Jon (K5) came up from Toronto, where he is interning at an inner-city church, and Jordan came by too, and it was a great evening. We can't get enough of hearing the stories and thoughts and dreams of these students! Very encouraging, often moving, always worth this trip in itself.

Day 16
We realized, as we got home late and left for the day after everyone had left for work, that we were not being the best of guests at the Karklins! They are very gracious, though, and we appreciate the bits of time we have had with them.

Today's destination was Niagara Falls, with visits with four students on the way. Justin lent us his car for the day, as he was leaving for a spiritual retreat at a monastery in New York. We were grateful, as it was hard to imagine driving the truck through even the outskirts of Toronto on our way to Hamilton. I don't know why speed limits are even posted. Even at 10 over, we were clearly the slowest vehicle on the road. It should have been a simple route, according to Google Maps, but a couple wrong turns meant the exploration of some of the more industrial parts of Toronto and Hamilton. But we reached Kylie's house (K6) before she did, so it was all good. We ate our lunch with Kylie and her mom and friend in the house that she shares with four other girls. She is studying nursing at McMaster University, which she finds a motivating and challenging environment with its open learning style. She is quite involved with Navigators there. We are encouraged with how many Kaleo students are in leadership with a Christian group at their secular school, making a difference there.

We next scooted off to St. Catharines to find Caroline (K7), who is attending Brock U in medical sciences but who is more interested in the administrative side of things in that field. Texting enabled us to locate her at a park downtown, as she was just biking home from her job at a golf course and had a meeting with her Campus Crusade group coming up. So it was a short visit but so good. We could see in her face the maturity and grace that others saw in her when they asked her to take a leadership role in the group, which surprised her as they usually ask third and fourth year students. We sat on a bench in the park, enjoying the sun and the breeze as we relived memories, gossiped (politely) about Kaleo and heard her story. It was hard to let her go.

By now we were realizing that we didn't have much time for the Falls, but they were so close! Traffic was building too. The last time I was in the Niagara Falls area was 35 years ago, and it has certainly changed. Wow, has it changed! I certainly don't remember streets that look like Las Vegas. The Falls themselves are buried behind a huge tourist sieve to strain out their money. Without losing any of ours, we eventually stumbled upon the road along the Falls, and even at this time of year and at this hour there were throngs of people. Parking was a problem, and rather than pay "$18 per entry," I dropped Sarah off as close as I could and went on a hunt for the cheap parking spot. Take note: On Portage Road just above the power plant by the falls is a small parking lot that doesn't cost anything. There is a fence that says not to cross it, but if you walk a hundred meters back toward the city, there is an easy pathway down to the $18 parking lot. That's my kind of deal. I found Sarah, who had not seen the Falls before, and we enjoyed a half hour of oohing and aahing with the tourists. Niagara Falls are truly spectacular and worth seeing. But I could do without the trappings. Sarah's mom has a very old photo of the Falls, with buggies going by and without the bells and whistles, and I think I would like that better.

We were going to get to Redeemer College later than expected, but it worked out fine. There was Anna (the first K8 we have seen) walking across the grass, and it was so good to see her - a miracle, really, considering all that God has done to bring her to this place. We picked up a bite to eat, and Jessica (K7) skipped out of her accounting class for a minute to say hello, and we assured her we would stay until she got back. So good to see these girls doing so well, and their hopes in spite of the challenges. It was great to tell our stories and pray for one another, and once again the time went too quickly and it was so hard to leave. But wonderful to leave them in God's powerful hands.

The trip "home" to Orangeville was much easier than the trip there, following the same road most of the way, and hoping the iPhone wouldn't die and leave us GPS-less before we got there, as the plug in Justin's car wasn't working. Great day, but we decided the next one would be a day off for us, hiding out at Justin's for the day like he was hiding out in New York.

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