Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Border Patrol

It seemed silly to be so close to the US border and not drop in for a visit, so we drove the 30 something kms to Stanstead and walked over into Vermont. Stanstead is a town divided, a bit like Echuca-Moama or Albury-Wodonga but covering two countries rather than two states.

We parked the car on the Canadian side because we were carrying fruit and didn’t want to rummage through the car to bin it and proceeded on foot to the ‘frontiere’. Our guide at Niagara had mentioned several times that Canada and the US have the longest unprotected border in the world. This checkpoint didn’t feel unprotected. The officers at immigration were certainly friendly enough but the questioning was rigorous and their guns were real.

Who are we?- Just some inquisitive Aussie tourists.

Why did we travel to Canada?- To visit a friend ( What friend, where does she live, how do we know her?)

What do we do for a living?- Both teachers (Both? What subjects, what year levels, what schools?)

Do we always travel as a family?- Is this a trick question because I’ve seen ‘The Americans’ on Netflix and the KGB spies always masquerade as families?- Yes

Have we been in any Middle Eastern countries in the last 5 years?- No.( No? You mean except for time you spent in the UAE ?) Ooops, forgot about the missed plane in Dubai but seriously, we hardly left the airport.

How long do we intend to stay in the US?- About 30 minutes ( Are you sure? Will you be back, what’s the point?) Umm, just seems like an interesting thing to do… sir.

And what do we intend to do while we’re here?- Umm, drink coffee ( Well sure, y'all can do that, Just take a seat while we attend to the biometrics) Thank you officer.

We're in!
After we were ‘processed’ – filled in arrival cards, fingerprinted, photo ID’ed, paid our $6 fee and issued with temporary green cards, we walked across the road to a diner, where the change of country became immediately apparent. A soda bar with 750ml containers for 69c, hot dogs with queso and cold beer and wine all available at 10am (in Quebec you can only buy wine at one authorised liquor outlet).

Happy Days
We spent a few of the greenbacks we’d saved since 2012, drank some coffee, ate some hot dogs and read the NY Times before heading back to the Quebecois side. Re-entry to Canada was a very simple (and predictably friendlier) procedure. As a bonus, our passports were stamped on both sides.

It’s crazy to think how different life can be on either side of an imaginary line. Different languages, different laws, different currency, different politics. For other teachers of children’s literature, the whole exercise reminded me of the Fattypuffs and Thinifers. In between the border points is a little bridge, several houses and a shared library. The people who live/work in this no man’s land must live a Jekyll and Hyde existence.
One foot in each country
From Stanstead we headed toward Quebec City. The fastest route is via the ‘20’ but we tried an alternate, more scenic road. Our GPS was slightly confused but slowly and surely we wend our way through the countryside of greenest farmland you ever saw, punctuated by pitch roofed farmhouses (all with flower bowls on display) and enormous barns for housing the cows during the Winter. We thought Asbestos might be a nice place to stop for lunch but it wasn’t so we kept going until we needed fuel and a quick pitstop at a Walmart.
Due to our meandering we didn’t reach Quebec City until peak hour, a relatively stressful experience for Geoff but one that he handled expertly.

Our hotel is out of town at Beauport (the city was way out of our budget) and sits beside the Saint Lawrence River, a huge ribbon of water that runs through Quebec. There’s no view from the room but out the back you get a great view across the river to the city and there’s a bike path for Geoff to run on.

 We had our first bad food experience for dinner. We chose a chain restaurant called Mikes because it was beside the hotel. Understandably the menu was in French but poisson et frites sounded safe enough. It turned out to be two lumps of cod encased in rock hard batter, accompanied by some lettuce leaves and a couple of onion rings. Along with Taine’s sub (that Subway would have been ashamed of), a couple of beers, burnt poutine, taxes and the recommended %15 tip, the bill was $80! Seriously ripped off. No more fine dining for us.

Thumbs down for Mikes

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