First, I should make it clear that I do not think my blood pressure did go up. Of course I chose to not check it. As I grow older I am also far more mellow than when I was younger, raising children and juggling all the unnecessary stuff that made up my life. Slough off much of that and everything seems just that much easier. It might not be, but it feels like it. Then every once in a while I hit a roadblock. Or, in this case a derailment.
Not to worry, it was a figurative one. After spending far too much time working on an itinerary that will give me time to actually enjoy each place I visit, I booked my train passage for the first leg of my trip. I had every intention of booking this time with travelchinaguide.com a dollar (USD) cheaper than chinahighlights.com and far more information to glean ideas from. However, I found some challenges with their payment request. Little did I know that their competitor also requires a copy of the ‘payer’s passport’. In other words, although it is me paying, me going, but not my PayPal account I would have to ask the person whose account I am using to send along a photo of their passport.
I realize someone is under the impression this is for security measures. I just do not see it. Therefore, after checking out chinahighlights.com -I used them last year – and finding nothing to suggest any difficulties, I booked and paid through them. Except the app used seemed to only Book one trip at a time. Which then seemed to be booked – but not yet paid – and an email was sent with a booking number along with a request for money. I sent a message to cancel it.
Back on track using the website, four trains booked, paid for through PayPal using my debit/visa, no need for anyone to do it on my behalf. Except this time all I received was a PayPal receipt. No booking number, no confirmation, nothing. I started to panic. I thought my money was lost in the ether. Finally, about three hours later, I received a message (I had sent an email) that the money was received and my tickets would be ordered. Except….did I really want to leave Shanghai on May 20th? Oh my goodness! Am I glad some bright individual caught that.
So, happy with the agency I used, still unsure if they need a photo of my passport for proof of purchase – the cancelled app order asked for it , but the main order there was no mention. So long as I have four train tickets to pick up in Sep no problem.
Shanghai to Suzhou; Suzhou to Nanjing; Nanjing to Huangshan (this was a test – I told my daughter Hangzhou); Huangshan to Shanghai. All for 165.67 CAD
If all the paperwork we had to sign was any indication it would seem some clever person had the brainstorm to make a visit to the decommissioned Pen as real as possible. Once our tickets were paid, no discount for youth 14 and up, we then had to print several pages each to sign our lives away. With initials indicating we had read each section. Which I managed to do in the wrong place. They are thorough, came back to me to initial in the marked spots. Tours are blocked by time and people must arrive 20minutes ahead of their block if they do not want to be left behind. There are no refunds for rescheduling. Not a problem when I need to be somewhere – we were so early I asked if we could join an earlier tour. Fortunately the well oiled machinery that makes the tours work run somewhat in an old fashioned order – much is on paper. A quick look, count, and check with a guide and we were in. We were officially in the blue group.
Some reminders before we started: bags subject to search, no AC or heat, no recordings (photos allowed), do not leave your designated group for any reason. We sat passively in a section of what was once a Family Visit area. My first thought was if we all seemed rather shellshocked what must it have been like for new prisoners? Of course we knew we would be leaving and the inmates who had been incarcerated were there because they had been found guilty of a major crime. Kingston Pen had been a maximum security prison.
It was made very clear to not ask about any of the well-known, notorious names, by law no information could be divulged. Of course one idiot did indeed ask about one prisoner. Yes, any Canadian in the group knew about him, but I certainly did not need to be reminded. Our guide managed to not roll her eyes, took a noticeable breath and reiterated that prisoners who had been incarcerated at Kingston Pen could not be discussed – and shut down the conversation.
The original Pen was built between 1833-1834, 154 cells in 5 tiers plus various outbuildings and residences for the administration. Any person working at the Pen had to be within hearing range of the bell that rang every day, if it rang out any time other than to announce the beginning and end of the day that was the signal that all staff were to come running. The cells were miserable, the museum across the street has a model of what they were like – step inside for size – a mere 27″ wide, 8′ deep and 6’7″ high. A man or woman would not be able to stretch from side to side, nor up. Cells remained this size until renovations between 1895-1906. For the first 99 years women were also sent to Kingston Pen although segregated from the men. Even children as young as 8 were imprisoned for petty theft. By the time the Penitentiary closed there were 431 cells and 120 rehab beds and had expanded to include shops, an education program, a palliative care unit, and various programs or services ranging from health care to religious.
Some of the shops, and eventually classes for credit, included carpentry, tailoring, mattress making and barbering. As we passed each sector we were greeted by former corrections staff who had at one time been employed at the Pen. One story about the barbers was that staff and prisoners could use the services provided for $2.00 per year! I still wonder if I misheard that. Cuts, perms and colours were all offered as this was a skill that could be used outside prison. Although wages were horrendously low, shop work up to $8.00 per day, general work 6.90 per day, skills learned could lead to outside work after terms were served. Half the wages were placed into a bank account and half could be used for purchases at the commissary; however, nothing was less expensive than outside the walls – a coke inside was a luxury.
There were three major riots, 1932, 1954, 1971. There were also several escapes and attempted escapes. One story we heard was about John Kennedy, born, lived, worked and died in the Pen. His father had been a messenger and raised his family within the walls of the Penitentiary. In 1948 John Kennedy, also a messenger, was shot by a prisoner, who had smuggled a gun into the car Kennedy was driving. As Kennedy was leaving the prison on an errand he was jumped – an excellent personal account can be found at thewhig.com/remembering uncle johnny – that prisoner was the last to be hanged at the Frontenac County Jail.
I have no idea if there was a Scared Straight program that might have allowed for schools to visit the prison, it sure would have had me walk the straight and narrow. Perhaps it was the very real feeling of being caged or trapped so far removed from the outside. Although not enclosed prior to the 1971 the Hub, where we were provided with a fascinating history and insight of its purpose, was where each cell corridor ran from, commonly known as a ‘range’. This was where guards kept control of all the coming and going of prisoners top to bottom. Looking down one corridor was a row of doors held sharply at even angles – I had a vision of men just gone with barely a whispered protest. Another range of heavy cell doors shutting out all hope. After the riot the Hub was enclosed with glass and an armoury 15′ deep was built (dug?) in the 1990s. Sort of closing the gate after the horse got out.
Some interesting facts: inmates were allowed up to $1500 in their cell. Foreign national inmates were subject to deportation upon release. In 1990 the complex was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, 13 years before it was shut down. To date, being an Historic Site, along with the Women’s Prison, there has not been any decisions made for using the prime space.
As the years advanced and programs were instituted to improve the quality of life for prisoners, particularly as the population was aging, facilities also had a bit of a facelift. The Eagle and the Phoenix mural, done in the Regional Treatment Centre – repurposed from the gym as a offender-patient space – was painted by urban artists in 2003 as a gift to the inmates and staff. It certainly looks much nicer than bare brick walls. I found here, listening to a former nurse, talk about his time at the prison, a staff member with less of the hard edge presented by all the other former corrections staff. There was no question that they would never have been on friendly terms with any prisoner – they were guilty as charged. When the reasonable question about prisoners whose sentences were overturned was asked one member said until that time the inmates were always guilty. It was an interesting tour I was happy to leave.
40.00 Kingston Pen; 15.00 lunch for two; 13000 steps
More Big Ticket Tours: final week
Each trolley and cruise tour I took brought me tantalizingly close to Fort Henry. It was finally time to hop off the trolley and enter through the gates into the past. Another nod to the wonders of the K-Pass, the price was included. However, the $20.00 per person, including a tour in English or French, seems reasonable. For anyone wanting to keep to a budget this is equal to about 8 cups of coffee. Make your own coffee = a day of history.
We were a small group, perhaps ten people including our guide. This meant no crowding, craning necks or being jostled on slippery stairs. Unfortunately, due to poor lighting it was not easy to take indoor photos using my iPhone that would turn out. That certainly made me appreciate the conditions the soldiers and their families lived in. Not that it was that much cozier for the officers.
First built during the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States – mostly over shipping rights – the Fort was built on a strategic location to protect trade and communication routes to Kingston. the Fort we now see was built as a fortification between 1832 – 1837 to protect the newly built Rideau Canal, only to be abandoned by the British in 1870 then by the Canadian military by 1891. Fort Henry became a a living museum in 1938. Someone was very forward thinking! It should be noted that not a single shot was fired against an enemy to the country. Great posting in my opinion.
The higher ranking officers lived in relative comfort with their own rooms, a desk, some personal belongings and meals. The latter were generally shared with fellow officers. The highest ranking officer had a larger room, a bigger and more comfortable bed, a nicer desk (this seemed important – probably for all the important daily events of the day, not that much was going on), a table for hosting guests and more personal items such as fishing gear and a special bed for a dog. Even a tub for bathing that neatly tucked under the bed. See http://www.royalengineers.caLife In the British Army for an account of what life was like for officers and ordinary soldiers.
Of course the differences between officers -usually commissioned (bought their way in) and educated – and soldiers were glaring. Officers lived rather sumptuously in comparison to non-commissioned soldiers, with two separate kitchens and staff, whereas soldiers and their families shared barracks with each other, the wives or single males did cooking other than the daily bread. Bread was baked daily in massive ovens that held 120 loaves of whole wheat bread each to feed the garrison of about 350. To my recollections, no photos, there were two ovens. Whole wheat bread was considered inferior with white flour saved solely for the officers. No air conditioning. No windows. With an average of three children per family and only a curtain for privacy life was not a bed of roses. Women and children counted on the support of the soldier in their family. If I were a soldier I would be glad for the days when on duty!
The tour was very informative and well paced. With so few in the group I think we were lucky as it meant we could peruse the various rooms, most behind glass or rope, without feeling hustled out before another group arrived. I was glad to not have heard one of the ghost stories until later in the day from my daughter, I might have decided to move along a little faster. Seems there is a mischievous child, or young adult, who likes to hang out in the common kitchen, and goes about closing heavy corridor doors and moving items then gaily laughs as she skips away. (Or something along those lines) There was even a time when a guide could not open the doors – I think he started to believe there might be beings beyond us after all. I know my daughter does not disbelieve after working as a tour guide.
As we left the barracks and returned to the sunlight everyone breathed a little easier, it was dark, dank and low ceilinged where the population of the Fort had lived. Of course the Fort has the best view of the lake and surrounding land, from the battlements the vista is fabulous, looking out to Wolfe Island with its giant, rather mystical wind turbines in the distance, and Cedar Island sitting a scant distance from the Fort. One ghost story dates back to Sep 12, 1846 when an oncoming storm found 23 men headed to Fort Henry in a 12 man boat. 17 drowned. The distraught fiancée of one, who visited the landing area daily, was found drowned on the nearby promontory one cold day? To this day people say they have seen the young couple, Robert and Elizabeth, walking hand in hand or picnicking on the island.
Another story, this one told to me by the sentry posted as I was leaving, had some holes in it when mention of men dying of malaria in the trenches was made. However, I decided to seek out the Lady in the Orange Dress, first through my trusted source – my daughter – then online. I did not find anything about a ghost but, as mentioned in the tour, there had been a garrison hospital nearbya and there was a cholera outbreak in 1832, and seasonal malaria was a problem, possibly into 1924 when the hospital burned down. Considering the bites I received while in Kingston I would not be surprised!
The tour was finished just as the guard was going through drills. Lots of fun; and I grateful I managed to find some shade while I watched them go through their paces. I even had time to visit the Springer Market for some fresh produce before heading off to meet my daughter.
The Numbers: 5.00 coffee; 20.00 market; 15,000 steps
Until now all I have mentioned is hopping on and off one of the regular trolleys to get from one of the many tourist attractions. What I have not included is the actual cost. Fortunately the
K-Pass is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours $79 – $119 plus tax, with the higher passes offering a lunch or dinner cruise. A quick calculation, based on the three day pass shows this is indeed a fantastic savings considering the dinner cruise alone is a whopping $78-$98 per person, and that is not on the three level Island Queen. The Trolley Tours, keeping with 72 hours, is $ 51.50 plus that glaring tax not including entry fees to any of the sites they stop at. Although I did not add up all the entry fees included in the K-Pass an estimated savings seems to be about $250.00 if all sites are visited. It is important to note that the Kingston Penitentiary Tour is not included.
All Aboard! Island Queen Brunch
First, this was a brunch cruise, the lunch and dinner cruises aboard the Island Star, and the Island Queen for that matter, have different menus. I will also note here that I had the buffet on the Island Star in May of this year. Which leads me to wondering how they could have been so far off the mark for a simple plated brunch. Put bluntly – food mediocre, views fabulous. Gorgeous day. Unfortunately, I found the cruise far too overpriced for what is offered meal wise. Which for us was a comped meal. The set menu – with one of three choices of croissant – sounded promising.
Miniature Frittata Florentine, pretty basic, easy to make and serve as well as covering dietary needs for many passengers. This should have been a delicious beginning to the meal. However, before even taking a bite I was disappointed with the plating of the food. Simple salad, croissant, frittata looked just okay when everything should have looked pleasing. However, I let that slide. Until I tried the frittata. I know mini size baking can be an issue with balancing ingredients but surely these were made by trained staff – or maybe not. The flavour of the three cheeses was just not there and there was a taste of iron in each bite that I thought might be the spinach unless, in an effort to ensure fluffiness, baking soda was added.
Next, the Applewood Smoked Salmon on a Croissant, a difficult choice for this westcoast islander to make considering I was inland. However, I made that decision on the assumption it must be Atlantic salmon and I do not care for cranberries with turkey nor did I want the vegetarian choice. Presentation is important, as already noted the plating was not great. The croissant top was falling off its sad bed of salmon and red onion with capers (they were the best part) and appeared to have lost its glory as a trumped up sandwich. More between the covers might have made it more palatable. Fortunately there was not much they could do wrong with the fresh lettuce salad and the strawberry/mint dressing was actually quite nice. Dessert was a small apple danish, far too sweet for me. We were plied with coffee once I suggested leaving the pot on the table and my daughter enjoyed her speciality coffee – no idea what was in it.
Ah yes, but how was the actual cruise? That was wonderful, somewhat crowded, it was a Sunday after all. With three levels we had the choice of staying at our window seats in the dining area, heading to the first level to listen to the live music, or head topside for the lake breeze and fresh air. We did all three a couple of times. The crowd on the main level was a tough one for the entertainers. Perhaps it was a mix of it being a late morning/ early afternoon cruise and several families – they were just not interested in the entertainment. Being drawn to dance whenever a tune pulls us my daughter and I were far more energetic in our appreciation than anyone else. Talking to my daughter we both felt the mood was just too stifling to strike the centre of the dance floor. Must be tough for the musicians who were pretty decent and the lead did try to keep up a mix of humour between songs. Topside had the best unobstructed view. Overall we had a wonderful three hour Heart of the Islands cruise and were able to put aside the mediocre meal until later. A few days later my daughter sent a response to an email from the individual who had provided us with the tickets asking how the day was. Do I recommend the cruise, YES! With brunch, not so sure.
The drive back to the country was very strange. Giant grey. Louis loomed ahead, directly over where we were heading, when a sudden downpour burst open on us as we moved towards its direct path – it was like entering a waterfall, dry on one side, soaking on the other. Just walking the few feet from the car to a store we were drenched. I was grateful we had clear blue skies with just whiffs of cloud during the cruise. All Aboard! Wolfe Island Trip
I am an islander through and through therefore, as though my three hour cruise the previous day had not been enough, I headed over to Wolfe Island with my other daughter just for the fun of it. This was after wandering around downtown a bit and discussing what I had not yet done. It was sort of a lightbulb moment when my daughter asked if I had ever taken the free ferry. I was up for free!
The Wolfe Island ferry route is considered part of the provincial highway which means free passage for all vehicles and passengers. Too bad we do not have the same consideration in BC. The ferry runs 365 days of the year. During the summer it goes to the Marysville dock, 20 minute ride. In reality it only seemed a leisurely pace for everyone standing on either side I. The open air, probably due to the lovely day, as it does go at a fairly good clip. Inclement weather probably finds walk on passengers huddled up in the car deck side rooms. The vessel holds 55 vehicles and around 300 passengers. (I kept finding different figures so settled on this) the best part is that the dock on the Kingston side is right downtown, as the Marysville summer dock. Walking on and off was a breeze.
Of course, once on the island there is not a whole lot to do unless you are driving. One major attraction, Big Sandy Bay was closed due to high water. Which was fine as we had plans back in Kingston for later. However, a light lunch seemed like an excellent idea and we headed off to the very nearby Wolfe Island Grill, visible form the ferry. A great place; with nary a patron sitting inside we might have thought it deserted if we had not seen people on the multi-level dock enjoying the view, sun and some very nice boats tied to the pier. This was Island living. Knowing we would be having dinner later we both chose the Wilton Aged Cheddar Cheese Bread. I could stop there, except I had the extras on mine – bacon, caramelized onions and portobello mushroom. I was in heaven. Wilton cheese is an Ontario delicacy. The combination I chose was beyond perfection. Who knew anyone could enjoy a few crusts of delectable bread and cheese so much. I was very nearly tempted to order a fancy drink to prolong the day. I think I stuck to lots of water and probably a coffee.
We visited the local museum, checked out the Wolfe Island Bakery where shared a peanut butter truffle – beyond the heavens deliciousness. Checked outvaclocal craft place hidden at the back of a church, or maybe it was City Hall, and found a very strange painting. A wonderfully relaxing afternoon.
The Numbers: I finally reached the stage of not taking careful note of my expenses. This meant adding up how much I had left to figure out where I was at. Which led to a bit of a dilemma, I did not write down what I started out with! I thought it was $1800.00, then had a vague recollection of having put aside $200.00 for various expenses at home while I was away. As of this entry my remaining funds ($138.00) were lower than how much I would still need. This happens to nearly everyone when they travel. Some of my expenses were for my next trip. It was time to do the math and figure out where to draw the extra funds from.
What I know I spent in the last few days: $85.00 dinner at Mandarin for two including tip$20.00 misc Market purchases; $8.00 coffees; $12.00 items for train trip; $5.00 light snack. 8.00 brkfst; 4.00 snack (Small Batch Cafe carrot cake shared with daughter 3); 36.00 lunch $5.00 coffee Steps: two days, falling behind a bit – only 14,000. Must have been be all the sailing.
Touring Quebec City is not for the faint of heart, nor the unfit. I was travelling with my grandson to Quebec, QC, the old city, so not exactly an unattended grandma. About six hours of an uneventful trip riding the rails. We had snacks with us which meant no need to spend money on expensive, packaged stuff. The Via station is at the bottom of Old Quebec, the hostel nearly at the top of Ste-Ursula Rue, just inside the old town walls. Thank goodness I am in better shape than last time I was here, of course I am also 3 years older. The next day we discovered it was easier to approach the from St. Anne Rue – one of the streets to explore and become dizzy deciding where to eat.
The hostel is quite large – I neglected to ask how many dorms and private rooms. There are no elevators. We nearly needed a map to find our room! Walk up to top floor; go through the doors, turn a corner, down a corridor or two, down some stairs to access the connector, turn a corner, another corridor and a final set of stairs. . After sitting on the train for six hours I think I put in some major steps. I was not sure how to calculate steps when my grandson was carrying my phone for Google Maps to get to our destination so i just used those for my total.
Of course we got caught in the rain, all I had was my tiny umbrella. It was raining buckets with lots of thunder and lightening. Very impressive over the river. I visited the Cathedral Basillica Norte-Dame de Quebec while my grandson stayed outside. He seems disinterested in architecture. Having already been there in 2014, and discovering there is some extensive work being done that means a screen depicting the altar and all that glitters gold is in place rather than the actual view, I only took a few minutes inside. We then headed down to part of the lower old city, ducked into a stairwell going down to another street to figure out where we might be able to find some dinner when my foot was soaked by water suddenly pouring through a drainpipe. I had a rather soggy foot the rest of the evening because I had chosen to wear socks and my walking sandals. A quick decision was made to head back to the Funicular, where we had asked when it closed, for the short ride up to the promenade outside Chateau Frontenac. Of course by the time we were back for the ride the little space for passengers was teeming with other soaked tourists. Everyone seemed in good spirits. For $3.00 you can scale the cliffside in a glass cabin in about two minutes. This is the only funicular of its kind in North America. First built in 1879, using counter weight water process and steam power to move it up and down the cliff, it was converted to electricity in 1907. A fire destroyed the structure in 1945 – must have been dreadful for firefighters to reach it. Rebuilt the following year and refurbished a couple of times the funicular has been operating for over 135 years! Well, I think it is impressive.
By the time we had walked about some more, me trying to dry off, both of us getting quite hungry, I let my grandson choose where we should have dinner. I was not surprised when, after passing by two times and declaring it busy, he chose D’Orcy’s, fancy sport pub – not a lot of my preferred fare but my GS is 14 1/2 and this trip was for us to spend some time together. Fish and chips for my grandson, lamb sandwich for me. Worked out great, I gave my chips to my GS and ate his salad. Teenage boys eat a LOT! I was grateful to sit upstairs away from the giant televisions – they were there but I could not see them. I have to admit the restaurant does have excellent food and I had eaten there before. Sometimes the familiar is all we need.
Our final activity for our first day was a photo shoot at the cannonball tree at the corner of Rue du Corps-de-Garde. I said we must pull all the photos of my GS standing there over the years he has been to show how much he has grown. The cannonball is said to have been embedded in the tree in 1759. There is no reason to doubt this occcured just as it is believable that Montcalm spent his final 24 hours at 47 Rue St-Louis (most likely not the street name at the time) after being shot by the British during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham September 1759. The French soldiers had to take him somewhere.
A few townhouses further along for another photo of where my SIL lived when studying 1st year French. (He joined the navy instead of finishing.)
After all that wandering and then dinner we were both thankful to find the down path to our hostel on the hill. We just needed to get our bearings from previous visits. Old QC is small enough that it does not take long to become familiar with the whole area. We kept passing where I stayed in 2014.
354.72 hostel (3 nights private room, single and double bunks. I slept in the double.) + HI membership; 2.50 coffee on the train; 5.00 funicular; 49.15 + 7.50 tip dinner 11,000 steps (my tracker says climbed 15 floors – must have included all those hills)