By Francine Van, Guest Contributor
What had I been thinking, I mused in the travel queue waiting to board.
The noise level heightened with my anxiety listening to the excited chatter around me. Fourteen days with these strangers jarred my sensibility. The Atlantic Ocean had been calling me for years and, now retired, I was ready for a new adventure. The time was now, but this exploration would perk a different experience than I had expected.
Finally seated and settled, I noticed a spattering of mature ages giving way to excuses for not remembering names. I began an association name game for my future reference. British Bob and his wife sat in front of me and quiet Quinn across the aisle. We forced conversation to connect. Nothing like telling a stranger your personal secrets.
Eagerness was in the air as our bus departed.
The enthusiasm then deflated for a late arrival at our first city stop of Montreal. Bodies cramped we were restless to disembark. After finding dinner and a quick sleep it seemed only hours later we were back on the coach. Our disenchantment reflected in our faces through the shaded glass windows exiting the city that day.
The tour guide promised a more relaxing break in Old Quebec City for a restful lunch and shopping. She promised a meander through the cobblestone streets with the recommendation of good walking shoes. We unfortunately arrived on St. Jean Baptiste Day, a Quebec National holiday. The busy streets had detours through the road-closure mazes, which caused lengthy delays. This time the late arrival went unmentioned by our guide who smiled providing pamphlets with many suggestions for sight-seeing. Yet she cut the time frame allotted. Motivated with maps in hand and running shoe laces tied, we whirled in all directions searching for our mid-day meal. I found a coffee shop with quaint views while waiting in the long lineup. Time up, I rushed back. I saw others had returned with coffee and snacks like me. Conversations between bites indicated restaurant line ups were too long to wait, but grateful to have food our road trip continued. This was not the romantic lunch I had been offered. A gnawing concern crept into my thoughts or was it hunger.
Onward toward St. Simeon to ferry across the St. Lawrence we were informed there would be no stops to ensure our timely arrival. We snoozed through the three-hour journey of trees having been assured there was a restaurant on board. Breathtaking water sights appeared during the crossing, however many of us scurried to locate the back-kitchen-style restaurant. A spicy homemade soup was available, which was not to my liking, but famished I thankfully ate. Evening arrival at our Riviere-du-Loup hotel was on schedule for this holiday, but closure of the nearby restaurant and grocery store was not. Our hotel eatery took reservations but were booking well into the night. I passed and with laxer pants started to realize I just might be on a diet tour. The next morning Mediterranean Mary offered me peanuts she had found at the bar. I accepted. Might be a lunch for later.
The coach pushed through scrub land with minimal time for relaxed breaks. Although not an expert driver of the area, I questioned the remote road choices. Service centres or grocery marts were the chosen stops by this tour operator as we foraged for food. Everyone seemed to be stocking piling the overhead bins and I was not the only one buying Rolaids. A delicious rushed dinner was enjoyed in Miramichi, the first with fish that was not breaded and a vegetable side that was not coleslaw. Although this appeared a favourite in the Maritimes it just might have been our meal stops. At a kitchen party we were entertained with some history, jokes and the spoons. Delightful but no food.
Our tribe began straying in groups. Familiarity was found between individuals like the smokers, the single women with roaming Rex, and the couples. Bonding was happening on the bus.
The next stop in Shediac was for a lobster dinner and cruise but reviewing the itinerary I noticed a difference from the brochure, now noted as a lobster “experience.” An open hauler with picnic tables awaited. A dumbfounding demonstration of how to determine the sex of your lobster occurred while they boiled on the rear deck. The whole creature with the familiar coleslaw side and a stale bun landed on our plastic plates. I detected butter in the bun basket, but my co-traveller mentioned the meagre one allotment per person. I complied not wanting issues with my hungry friends. My diet theme continued when my eyeballs became riveted on this creature from God, now too close for comfort. Not everyone can eat lobster Acadian style.
Eastward bound, comfortable rhythms now enveloped the afternoons of silent dozing with old movies playing on the overhead screens and munching from the stored processed food. Our arrival on the Confederation Bridge into P.E.I. impressed a second glance at the longest eight-mile bridge in the world over ice covered water. The Anne of Green Gable luncheon, “reminiscent of the era”, per the brochure, was a brown bag lunch. A ham sandwich was offered with a raspberry cordial which kept the advertising in check. Was I the only one feeling a little cheated on this advertised foodie tour?
Spectacular scenic views came in Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail a unique experience. I had finally found the pictures in the advertising. I made it. I weighed less, had vertigo from the bus, and digestive problems, but I made it.
Capers are the known slang for individuals from Cape Breton, and if you visit but are not from there, you’re a come-from-away person.
In transit to Halifax I realized Canada has more uninhabited regions than I ever imagined. My novel family nodded our daily greetings when boarding and enjoyed our regular, jovial Jim telling his jokes. One morning he offered a vow renewal ceremony with his spouse of sixty-four years, claiming he was only fifty-six. She did not appreciate his openness on their anniversary, and when asked if she would retake her husband, she replied she would think about it. The moment did not go as planned and he confirmed it had not been an easy road with her. I appreciated the humour to start the day.
En route to picturesque Peggy’s Cove several women came to the back of the bus to show me their swollen ankles. A quiet revolt had been developing in the rear seats; we needed to get off.
I ditched the tour on day ten with two others and booked a one-way flight home. The coach was continuing, but my body would no longer co-operate. I needed to end the diet. With baggy pants I said my good-byes and remember one final comment from roaming Rex, “take me with you.”
I received a smiles questionnaire from my tour operator upon parting, however I could not smile in response, I laughed instead. I had survived.