Saturday, December 27, 2008


On Saturday morning, December 13, we set out from Maine to begin the final cross-country journey of our long adventure, which would eventually land us in Seattle in January. The backroads driving through Maine and New Hampshire was beautiful and just a little sketchy, with some snow still piled on the roads. As we neared Canada, we drove through a couple miles of Vermont, which would have been unremarkable, except for the fact that Brian had been in all of the other 49 states at one time or another in his life, so now, after 30 years of occasional traveling and a bit over a year of constant traveling, he had completed his lifetime traversal of the U.S.! Sarah was close, with just two to go: Michigan and North Dakota.

The border crossing turned out to be a small-time affair, with only one lane. That’s one lane, total – not even one lane in each direction. We weren’t sure what would happen if someone tried to cross in the other direction while we were occupying the lane, but in the 10 minutes or so that we were there, we didn’t find out – no one else arrived to cross the border, in either direction. When we first arrived, we weren’t even sure what to do – there were no border guards in sight, just a little warming hut. Were we even supposed to stop? Should we pull in to the left of the stop sign or to the right? But as we slowly pulled up, a guard emerged from the hut to talk to us. He turned out to be very friendly and had a great French Canadian accent. We chatted for a bit, he scanned our passports, and we were on our way. It was actually a pleasant border crossing experience – a far cry from the major crossings where you wait in line for half an hour, only to be greeted by a gruff crossing guard who’s probably been trained to intimidate your deep dark secrets out of you. (“Oh, OK, you win – I really do have 26 cans of beer in the cooler, not my allotted 24. And fine, you can have the orange that I bought in Canada and was going to smuggle back to the States!”) The Canadian guards always seem friendlier than the American guards, but still, this small-time crossing may have been our nicest ever.

Covered in snow, Quebec was simply gorgeous, although its roads were even less well-plowed than those in the U.S. Eventually, we made it to a major highway and continued on our way, making faster time with lower-stress driving but without anywhere near the same scenery.

We were planning to meet Brian’s cousin in Ottawa at 5 PM, but we arrived a bit earlier than expected, so we decided to check out the Parliament buildings. As we drove through, we found that Canada’s government buildings look nothing like America’s – no white stone or neoclassical architecture.

IMG_1013 by PunIntented
IMG_1014 by PunIntented
IMG_1020 by PunIntented
We found a parking place and walked through the bracing cold to check out the buildings up close. Unfortunately, the Parliament building was closed to visitors for the day, but we stood inside for a few minutes anyway to warm up before making the trek through the cold back to our car.

Brian hadn’t seen his cousin Nicole in years, and he’d never met her husband Marcel or their two-and-a-half-year-old son Niko. Even better, Nicole’s father Ulysses was visiting from Greece for the holidays, and Brian couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his uncle – Brian was probably only a few years old. We arrived at their house just after five to a warm welcome from all, especially Niko, who was clearly not at all shy around new people. Soon, we headed out to Nicole and Marcel’s favorite Greek restaurant for a fantastic dinner of many shared plates of Greek appetizers. Cheese was set on fire, much to Niko’s delight, as we all shouted “Opa!” It was a lovely meal in a cozy restaurant with warm company – a perfect antidote to the day’s disagreeable weather and long drive.

Nicole and Marcel took us out for breakfast the next morning as well. They were on a first-name basis with the wait staff at the restaurant, and when Niko’s favorite waitress showed up for her shift, she was carrying a wrapped present – a Tonka truck for Niko! We ate another good meal with great conversation, and learned that when you’re the guests of a Greek family, you don’t pay for anything. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Ottawa and wished we could have stayed longer, but after thanking Nicole and Marcel profusely for their hospitality, we headed back out on the road, planning to stay somewhere in Michigan for the night before finishing our trip to the Chicago area for Christmas.

The drive was long, but we did manage to take a few breaks. At a bathroom break somewhere in Ontario, we happened upon a Wal-Mart and decided to do some shopping for Canadian Christmas presents – Christie cookies (maple cookies) for Brian’s sister Christie and Caramilk bars for all. Some may think that the American version, Caramello, is the same thing, but Caramilk always tastes better for some reason.

When we arrived at the border, we crossed the Blue Water Bridge, from Sarnia, Ontario, to Port Huron, Michigan, and atop the bridge, we got a great view of Lake Huron. On the American side of the bridge, we wandered through the duty-free store and acquired a bottle of Bailey’s, then waited the requisite half hour or more in line before finally making it to the front of the customs and immigration line. We were a bit fearful when the guard asked Brian to roll down the back window so he could peer inside, and Brian had to warn him that our cargo, piled floor to ceiling behind the front seats, might spill out. The guard asked why we were carrying so much stuff, and Brian explained. Satisfied, the guard let us through. Whew! If he had decided to search our car, we could have been stuck there for days!

It was getting dark, but we still felt pretty good, so we decided to try to charge through to Illinois tonight, rather than staying in a cheap motel and finishing our drive the next day. We recharged with value-menu items at a Wendy’s and called up Brian’s parents to ask if we could arrive around 10:30 PM. They were surprised but said it was no problem. This day was much warmer than the previous one, so the roads were good, and the only hazard to deal with was rain, which got harder as we entered Illinois. But after a long, exhausting drive, we finally made it to Brian’s parents’ house and snuggled up in bed, happy that we wouldn’t have to get up and drive again the next day.

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