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Trip Report Peaceful Landscapes: Travelling With Bike & Queen Mum from Montreal to PEI

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*Logistics: Getting from Montreal-PEI with a Bike (Added Challenge: I Don’t Drive)*

I’d long dreamed of taking a vacation where I would bring my bike along. I had recollections of people telling me that PEI was a gorgeous place, ideal for cycling, with the added bonus that it was a province I’d never been to before. The question was: how to turn this dream into reality?

Plan concocted, the first step was to take VIA Rail’s the Ocean train from Montreal-Moncton, New Brunswick. My friend & I were somewhat anxious in the days leading up to the trip as VIA does allow for bicycles to be brought on board, but in order to go into the box, handlebars must be turned and pedals need to be removed. This, folks, I would not worry exceedingly about; the box was plenty big and having practiced pedal removal and handlebar-turning in advance, after showing our pretty little faces at baggage claim, we had both our bikes in their respective boxes and out of our hands after about 5 minutes. If you wish to do a similar cycling trip however, I WOULD however purchase a large backpack as luggage, as the taxi company that originally promised a van all of a sudden had no vans available; the large backpack allowed us to CYCLE from our homes to the train station and made each stage (Montreal, Moncton, Charlottetown) of the journey easier.

Roughly 18 hours later after delightful conversation with fellow travellers, scenery admiration and a fitful night’s sleep (it was my friend’s first sleeper train experience and I foolishly had a cup of coffee after supper *hits head*), we arrive in Moncton’s TRAIN STATION on time at 12:30pm. In addition to Allen key and pedal wrench, do remember to bring scissors, so you can UNPACK your bike when you arrive at the train station. Boxes handed in to Moncton train station authorities, we quickly put the pedals BACK ON, turned the handlebars to normal position, re-strapped our backpacks and cycled for about 8 minutes to Moncton’s BUS STATION to catch the 2 o’clock bus to Charlottetown. Cyclists be warned that Acadian Bus Lines in Moncton did not have appropriately-sized boxes like VIA Rail provides, so we had to put our bikes in bags instead (which actually worked out without damages), which we placed ourselves underneath the bus.

The highlight of the trip on Acadian Bus Lines was unquestionably crossing the Confederation Bridge over the choppy waters of the Northumberland Strait, which simply blew our minds as an unbelievable feat of architectural engineering (even the thought of changing the lightbulbs on that bridge left me an impression of palm-sweating vertigo)! Arriving in Charlottetown, the bus station appeared to be about 10-15 minutes bike ride from our downtown B&B, so we assembled our bikes thinking we must hurry as a little bit of drizzle was wetting our raincoats. 3 minutes into the bike ride and a downpour erupted; big puddles accumulate splashing up the side of my pants; Longworth Road that we`re supposed to turn on is unmarked, my glasses are more raindrops than clear spots and I’m starting to get exasperated. We take shelter under an overhang, ask a woman directions, and thank goodness, yes, we are on Longworth Road. The rain subsides a bit, we continue… but then shortly after we continue the rain starts coming down HARD again, I nearly lose it, but thankfully we’re close so we arrive at the Duchess of Kent Bed and Breakfast a sopping wet mess. I’m thinking, “Boy we’re making a great first impression!” but luckily for us, our hosts are understanding and welcoming.

*Charlottetown Itself*

Charlottetown, PEI’s capital, is a delightfully compact town with gaily painted wooden homes and handsome stone or wood churches sprinkled throughout. During the non-cycling moments, we were happy to have chosen somewhere so eminently walkable, with restaurants, historical sites, museums, parks, theatre and a grocery store all within an easy 10 minute walk of our downtown B&B.


I tried my first ever oyster here at Claddagh Oyster House (liked the oyster but am not a slave to them YET) but my friend went stark-raving mad in his cravings for more and yet more of that PEI specialty (such as the Malpèque oyster), getting the 10-oyster platter and then subsequently the 5-piece platter…and then thinking why not another 10-piece platter? His desire for oysters seemed to be never entirely satiated, each one made him want another. His $81 dinner bill at the end made him moderately repentant, but I *knew* he was dreaming of oysters throughout our 5 day stay on Prince Edward Island.

Although we found several places in downtown Charlottetown where we enjoyed eating and drinking, we agreed that our favourite restaurant was the Water-Prince Corner Shop, for its unpretentious friendly Maritime ambience combined with mouth-wateringly fresh and tender mussels and delicious seafood chowder. Formosa Tea House (corner: Kent and Prince) I also thought was a good option for innovative, tasty vegetarian fare.

Favourite non-eating activities within Charlottetown:

•VICTORIA PARK, an easy walk from any downtown location, was a favourite place for strolling, with its views of harbour and fields, farms and lighthouses on nearby shores from the red-rock buttressed boardwalk. The battery of cannons here sadly did not protect enough from the greed of privateers from the US who came up Revolutionary War time, robbing Charlottetown’s citizens of their valuables.

• PROVINCE HOUSE. Amazing to think that this columned grand building amidst the small-town colonial peacefulness of Charlottetown was home to an event of tremendous historic import: the initiation of talks that lead to the uniting of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario to make the country of Canada. The beginnings of the nation that will be celebrated in a few days struck me as being remarkably undemocratic and aristocratic: 5 delegates times the 4 joining provinces or a mere twenty men in suits making speeches over dinner parties and making decisions that would affect forever the way ~30 million people think of themselves some 140-odd years later. Fascinating too that in "birthplace of Canada" PEI, Islanders were suspicious of joining the nation of Canada, only doing so six years after 1867 with little enthusiasm among many islanders when Canada agreed to pay off their railroad debt. Separatism bizarrely enough began early… with NOVA SCOTIA (!) wanting out practically from inception in the first few months. But no, the treaty was already settled in London apparently, so Nova Scotians couldn’t leave (?).

•FOUNDER'S HALL. I thought the the multimedia exhibit here ($7) would be an enjoyable way for children to learn about the beginnings of Canada with interactive screens and displays illustrating the events leading to each province and territory entering Canada.

*Cycling adventures on PEI coming up*

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    This is a great trip report, as all of yours are. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

    I know that you are not a native-born Canadian, so I hope that you will excuse my making a slight correction in your account of the Charlottetown Conference.

    The Conference was the first step towards Confederation, which was not the union of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario, but rather the union of NB, NS and the Province of Canada. Canada had been united since 1840 from the former colonies of Lower and Upper Canada, subsequently known within the union as Canada East and Canada West. It was Canada West that was leading the drive for separation which resulted in the creation of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec under Confederation. The other interesting fact is that the conference was originally planned to deal with the union of the Maritime colonies, but when Canada found out about it, they more or less invited themselves and had the agenda expanded to deal with the larger union of British North America. One can see why there might have been a wee bit of resentment from some in Nova Scotia.

    While most people might this this is a bit esoteric, I think it's important that Canadians know how their country came to be. BTW I don't think that it was undemocratic and aristocratic--the delegates were all elected members of their legislatures and representative of the desires of their constituents (although the pro-Confederation Tupper of Nova Scotia did ignore anti-confederation sentiment at home).

    Enough of history--let's hear about cycling in PEI.

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    *Cycling Trips out of Charlottetown*

    On the Monday and the Thursday of this past week, my friend & I cycled along the Confederation Trail, the cycling path that runs from the western tip of the island to the eastern tip of the island. Charlottetown is located on a “tributary” of the Confederation Trail, with 8 km of a nice gravel path separating downtown Charlottetown (which we picked up at the eastern end of Kent Street) from the several hundred km Confederation Trail path.

    On the “tributary”, one runs into pedestrians from time to time, at which point my bicycle bell (which oddly enough has a picture on the Queen Mum on it) came in handy. People tended to be apologetic for blocking the path, even friendly when I’d ring the bell, a far cry from the reaction when I ring the bell on the bike paths in Montreal…

    On Monday, we took the Confederation Trail westward toward Winsloe and Thursday we took the Confederation Trail eastward toward the town of York. Both directions take one into a truly rural setting with rolling green fields, lupins on the sides of the trail, barns, red soil and only the occasional barn or church as a sign of civilization. It was incredibly peaceful experience (no challenging hills) with mostly chipmunks and some beautiful yellow bird with black wings and black tail as company. Unlike cycling on the paths in the Montreal area which is dense and where defensive cycling is required, here we would run into no more than five cyclists on the Confederation Trail on a given day. If you wish to bike along the Confederation Trail, I highly recommend packing your own lunches and of course water. If other stretches of the trail are like that near York and Winsloe, there really are NO restaurants or convenience stores; farmland, barns, cows, horses, rolling meadows, that’s really what one overwhelmingly sees. Trails are impressively well-marked (mileages, warning of approaching driveways & bridges, steep banks,etc…).

    For the Tuesday and Wednesday, we had gorgeous days, so the plan was to “hit the beach” these days. On Tuesday, we crossed the Hillsborough Bridge out of downtown Charlottetown and took our first right, continuing on the road for about 8-10 km until we reached Tea Hill Beach, on a recommended cycling route by Tourism PEI. The bridge is trafficked, but has a wide shoulder, so was not especially worrisome as I feared. While the shoulder on the road to Tea Hill disappears leaving the suburban area of Charlottetown, we cycled sometimes for long stretches on the road without getting passed by a car, so we were not anxious on this road either. Only one hill was moderately challenging. This route was quite scenic in places, with views of the Northumberland Strait from up high.

    Tea Hill was a visual delight, with red clay-coloured sandbars stretching out like a rainbow of clay alternating with water almost half way to the horizon; we had only two or three clam diggers in their high boots as human company. But as we soon discovered, we were far from alone… Initially, we were in bliss, gingerly placing our toes into the waters of the Northumberland Strait, which were bizarrely significantly warmer than the air temperature. However, the peace and contentment quickly turned to (let’s exaggerate and call it) terror, as surrounding our toes were many, many hermit crabs and my friend (let’s somewhat exaggerate and say) screamed like an 8- year-old girl when the crab of the larger variety scuttled quickly along the shallows a little too close to my friend for his comfort.

    On the Wednesday, we grabbed the $25 round trip Charlottetown-Cavendish shuttle, leaving Founder’s Hall in Ch’town at 9:15 am and dropping visitors off at the Tourist Information Centre (returns at 5:15pm) two minutes from the gates of Green Gables. There are lovely trails around the Green Gables home ($8 entry) and the barn, house and even farm machinery were a poignant reminder of how much the world has changed over the last 100 years, but I did not especially think the house and grounds were a “must-see” for visitors to PEI (but I know you will anyway, as that’s where tourists go on PEI).

    The highlight of Cavendish for me instead was renting a bike ($14 for 4 hours) at the Petro Canada kitty-corner to the Tourist Information Center and cycling east of Cavendish in Prince Edward Island National Park. Five minutes from the Petro Canada station and pedalling eastwards, we were treated to stunning views of red sandstone cliffs adjacent the amber beaches next to the rich inky blue waters of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. In one spot, we parked our bikes, spread our towel on the sands and enjoyed a large stretch of beach practically to ourselves. The water was quite frigid here, a marked contrast from the sandbars of the Northumberland Strait, but pleasant and refreshing enough for a quick dip of the feet.

    As you can see, we got in four days of cycling out of five and at least 120 kilometres of cardio. Ultimate conclusion? I must say, I have to chime with others and highly recommend both the Cavendish and Charlottetown areas as cycling destinations given the relative gentleness and beauty of the landscapes (although there are hilly, more challenging parts near Charlottetown if you prefer that), the well-maintained trails and relative lack of traffic on some minor roads.

    *Thoughts on exploring Moncton, New Brunswick for the first time coming up!*

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    I've yet to make it to PEI... and I'm beginning to think a bike tour's the way to go! Glad to hear your bikes were safely treated by VIA :)

    Vivian is Virtual
    VIA Rail's tour guide

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    Daniel as usual just an incredible trip report. I do hope you write a tourist guide to Canada one day. I love reading your reports. By the way, the Green Gables visit is a must for any of us who grew up with the Ann of Green Gables series. I don't want to say how many years ago I sat entranced as my mother read me the series. I in turn read them to my daughter. (our bonding time) So, it is wonderful to see the home that we envisioned.

    So - where will your next adventure take you?

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    Laverendrye- Thanks for the corrections from Ontario & Quebec to province of Canada! It still does seem rather undemocratic to me (of course in 1867, aboriginals and women were not allowed the right to vote, so democracy of the day was in many ways a far cry from its modern form). I'm sure if the elected members of their legislatures and representative of the desires of their constituents of the ruling leadership of the PQ had pushed forward their nation-building agenda similarly in 1995 as the delegates of the Charlottetown Conference did in the 1860s, that the word "undemocratic" would have come to mind ;).

    VivianVIA- Yes, our bikes made it safely also from Moncton to Montreal for the return trip, even though the station had run out of boxes and we had bags instead. I must add that VIA's the Ocean was on-time both eastbound and westbound.

    You should definitely take advantage of the proximity of Moncton's train station to go to PEI!

    cmcfong-- Thanks for giving a read. I hope you enjoy cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge as much as I did!

    (this reply suddenly has gotten possessed by a certain red-headed girl with braids)
    "That's Anne with an "e", traveller69." ;)

    traveller69-- Seriously, though, I was amazed at the crowds of Japanese visitors, which far exceeded any other nationality besides perhaps Canadian from what I could tell. So clearly some others agree with you, thinking it so much of a "must-see" that they're willing to cross the Pacific and the North American continent to get a taste of Lucy Maud Montgomery's world! I wondered why they, more than other nationalities, have such a particular affinity to the story.

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    Shame on me!! The least I can do is spell her name correctly!! Yes, that is interesting that the Japanese are so interested. I see that the TV movie was released in Japan so maybe that's why. I know that I dealt with one of the large Japanese companies for many years. One time I was entertaining them at the Bayshore in Vancouver and we were in the midst of business discussions. Everything stopped immediately and they jumped up because they discovered a scene from MacGyver was being filmed and they caught sight of Richard Dean Anderson. In years to come they always mentioned seeing a movie star in Vancouver.

    I am looking forward to more trip reports.

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    *Some Final Thoughts*

    One thing I forgot to mention is how friendly everyone was on PEI. While over by Peakes Quay in downtown Charlottetown after picking out postcards, we got caught in a sudden downpour. Two women who didn't know each other also got caught and were very chatty from the get-go, asking us where we were from, then suggested things to do during our visit, one even invited us to come visit her family farm! My friend & I commented how we never see this sort of interhuman interaction happening in Montreal. What a contrast with the interaction I WAS treated to my first night back, a woman who regularly begs for change telling a new-arrival talented young violinist to get off her turf, that he was stealing *her business* and that this stretch of Mont-Royal Avenue was HER corner. Gracious.

    For VivianVIA-- I wanted to add that on the return sleeper train from Moncton-Montreal that both of us slept reasonably well. I think it may have been a bit the anxiety of visiting PEI for the first time that kept us a bit wide-eyed on the eastbound journey!

    I've included below the connection to the Moncton trip report in case future visitors wish to combine PEI with Moncton similarly.

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    dear daniel, thanks for a wonderful look at bicycling on PEI. i took the coho to port angeles yesterday and did 40 km out and back between sailings on the olympic discovery trail. have been bicycling out the galloping goose to swim @ thetis lake once or twice a week.

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    Glad to hear that you're getting terrific cycling weather out there on the west coast!

    *Cycling Options Out of Charlottetown For Those Without Their Own Bikes*

    Since most of you can't bring your own bike with you, I wanted to mention a few things I noted for those who wish to cycle based out of Charlottetown. At Founder's Hall by the Harbour in downtown Charlottetown, there were a few bikes for rent. However, some days all of these appeared to be taken... so one could potentially go to Smooth Cycle (on University) or MacQueen's (I believe on Queen) about an 8 minute walk north of the downtown core and rent bikes. On the Wednesday, I had to take by bike in for repair (I think I mis-screwed the pedal into the crank, so the pedal wouldn't hold... had to get both pedal and crank replaced). I felt that Smooth Cycle dealt with the problem competently.

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