Road Trip to London, Ontario, Canada

15th - 23rd May 2007

As soon as we had the idea of taking a road trip to Canada, we'd contacted our sailing friends Connie and Bob, currently land-bound in London, Ontario.    We were told this was a great time to visit, not only because they'd just moved into a new house, so actually had a place for us to stay but also because the weekend we'd be with them, they were hosting a "sock-burning" party.   Intrigued we set off northwards.   We made an early start, hoping to reach London that same day, a distance of around 600 miles.   

Phil wonders if he is dreaming.

The trip was made much more pleasant by having three drivers to share the load.   By lunchtime we'd passed out of North Carolina, through a stretch of Virginia, West Virginia and entered our first new state, Ohio.    

As lunchtime approached, we were puzzled to see that we were driving on the "Welsh Byway", most curious.    We spotted a sign for Subway and pulled off the highway into a small town, named Rio Grande.   The streets were lined with Welsh flags, this was becoming more and more curious.   As we picked up our lunch, our servers told us that the town had strong links to Wales and that there were many Welsh students in the town.    Now what were the chances in a 600 mile journey of pulling off the highway to stop for lunch in the one town covered in Welsh flags!

Our next new state was Michigan and by around 5 pm we were approaching the border, the bridge which crosses over to Canada.    Good British tourists that we are, we felt compelled to hand in our I94 "Departure Records", which were stapled into our passports on entering the USA.   Every time we'd left the USA previously we had to surrender these forms but on this occasion the problem was that we had to track down the Homeland Security office in which to hand them in.   We didn't want to risk getting on the bridge to Canada without having handed in our paperwork, so opted to leave the highway at the spot where trucks had to clear in and out of the USA and seek out someone in Authority.    Suddenly we found ourselves in a not very desirable area of downtown Detroit, surrounded by hundreds of queuing trucks and we were quite bewildered by the lack of signs to the border control office.    Finally driver Phil spotted a Police Car and sent Christine out to ask for directions.    This was a perilous operation as the Policeman seemed to be involved in some kind of operation involving a scantily clad lady but was happy to stop and give us directions, even if they were totally incorrect directions.

Finally, fearing for our welfare and sanity, we decided to weave our way through the ever increasing line of trucks and find our way back to the highway and onto the bridge.    Eventually as we approached the bridge, the toll booth operator sent us in the right direction to the Homeland Security office.    Our enquiries with the staff there about surrendering our Departure Records was greeted with the response that we should give them to the Canadians.    This seemed strange to us but we'd already wasted over an hour so set off over the bridge.   

The Canadian border control seemed little interested in the occupants of our car, maybe they felt if we'd managed to enter the USA, we were probably OK.   Anyway the guard finally took our Departure Records from us and told us they would be returned to the USA side.

As we entered Canada, heavy rain started, dusk was approaching and after about an hour on the road, in the rear view mirror, we could see a nasty storm approaching.   It was at least another hour to London and we were tired, hungry and didn't want to drive in a storm.   It was time to find a motel.    We passed exit after exit, none of which advertised having hotels in the area until finally we arrived in Chatham, Ontario and stopped at the first motel we found.    The storm hit, so we decided to check in, relieved to be stopping.    We did of course have to venture out to find food, getting soaked in the process.


Next morning after enjoying our complimentary breakfast of powdered scrambled egg, we hit the road again and in about an hour were navigating through the centre of London, using Bob's excellent directions.   We arrived at Bob and Connie's house to find no reply to the doorbell.   The door, however was open, so as Vivian had to hit the road again for the six hour drive north to her Mums' house, we let ourselves in, as instructed and were greeted by a sleepy Lindsay, Bob and Connie's daughter, who we'd obviously dragged out of bed!   Lindsay looked after us well until Bob and Connie got back from launching their boat, Meredith, about an hour later.

Lasagna Masterclass

Sampling Canadian culture!

Bob and Connie told us we were quickly to be immersed in the total Canadian experience.   That evening a local ice-hockey team was competing in the semi-finals of a major competition and we would be watching on TV, with the whole family.   It wasn't like we had a choice in the matter as we were sleeping in the TV room!   In preparation Connie was making lasagna, and Christine enjoyed a cooking masterclass.  Later we were joined by Lindsay and Jake for the game.   We feared that we may be evicted for bringing bad luck to the local team, who had been on a winning streak, when they lost the game.
We had to keep our wits about us until bed time when we had to work out how to assemble the new inflating bed.    A passing raccoon enjoyed our entertaining efforts!

Despite our slow acclimatisation from Florida to Canada via North Carolina, boy was Canada chilly.    We took a road trip with Bob and Connie up to Bayfield on Lake Huron, to check on the newly relaunched Meredith in a marina there.   It was great to see them both aboard again but we hoped that the next time we would see them aboard, it would be in a warmer spot. We were amazed at the lovely blue colour of the lake but it definitely wasn't swimming weather!   We quickly retreated to a pub for lunch!

Chilly Lake Huron

Connie and Bob on Meredith

It was time to make preparations for the party.   The ingredients had all been procured and it was time to earn our keep.    The stack of party food recipes was divided into piles and allocated to different people and we set to work, making a wide selection of party food, all of which turned out to be delicious.  We were just about finished in time to get dressed up before the guests began to arrive.    

Luckily the weather had warmed up a little and it stayed dry for the "sock-burning" ritual.   The burning of socks was a way of welcoming in the summer, when boats could be launched and socks could (theoretically) be discarded until the autumn.    With the weather that we'd experienced during our visit, we softies were reluctant to abandon the sole pairs of socks we'd packed and instead made ceremonial cardboard socks for the ceremony!    A traditional sock burning brazier was skillfully hand crafted by Bob from an old paint can and about half a roll of aluminium foil and an incantation was written, requesting the powers-that-be to bring good sailing winds and calm waters to all those offering their sock-sacrifice (except those whose boat was marooned in the yard in Florida through the summer, who requested no winds at all please). 

The socks cop it!

At least there was one responsible party at the ceremony - Lindsay Safety Officer.

During our stay we enjoyed a national holiday, Victoria Day.   Apparently this celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria and is known locally as the 2-4 holiday, which relates to the amount of bottles contained in a crate of beer.   Another great national partying tradition.
As Bob and Connie had to return to work at his law practice once the holiday was over, they suggested that we should take their car and drive over to Niagara Falls for a spot of "touristing".   How could we refuse their generous offer.   We were up  early to make the most of our trip in their cute Mini and decided to take the motorway, or whatever it is known as locally, to reach The Falls quickly and then meander back along the country back roads, to enjoy the scenery.   Before leaving Canada there was one more Canadian institution we had to try - a visit to Tim Horton's Coffee Shop, of which, it seems, there is one located in just about any direction you look anywhere in Canada.   

Soon after our refreshments we reached the scenic drive along the Canadian side of the river and made our way through beautiful countryside, with scattered vinyards (we hadn't even realised they made wine in Canada) to the main attraction, where we were reunited with thousands of other tourists in the tradition of gouging the tourists for extortionate car parking!   The Falls were impressive and we completed our experience by getting soaked whilst trying to keep out camera dry taking our snapshots.

Phil trying to look like a tough Canadian Lumberjack in Tim Horton's Coffee Shop

I know I'm getting wet but it's much worse down there!


The route back to London took us through some beautiful scenery and we were curious to spot that every single house we passed seemed to have something for sale parked outside, an RV, a truck, car or boat.   It seemed you would be able to find any kind of vehicle you could ever need just by driving down the street.  On spotting a town called Delhi, we just had to stop for that other tourist tradition, the Ice Cream break.   

We made it back to London, which turned out to be pretty lucky as Bob later told us that the transmission on the Mini died the next day - not a reflection of our driving we hope!

Don't get ice cream on the car!

Last night in London.

Soon Vivian arrived back from her Mum's house and we all enjoyed a last night dinner of Bob's wonderful home-made pizza together.

Next morning after our farewells with Bob and Connie it was time to hit the road.   If we made good time, we hoped to reach Little Switzerland in one day.

With the help of a caffeine boost from the "last-chance for a long time Tim Horton's" we soon reached the US border.

At the border we were greeted with great animosity by an excessively hostile Homeland Security Agent.   We were shocked to feel we were treated like criminals and firstly were questioned about the whereabouts of our I-94 cards issued in January.    On telling the border guard we'd handed in our "departure records" to the Canadian border guard, as instructed by an agent in that very office, our cross-examination seemed to get worse.  No, he told us, we were not entitled to a new I-94, allowing us a six month stay in the US, as the previous ones hadn't expired.   We would have to leave the country at the end of July.    We were informed that going to Canada did not qualify as leaving the USA, which came as a shock not only to us but to many millions of Canadians we were sure.    Our accompanying US citizen friend was treated no better.

After this delay we made excellent time with no hold ups as we drove taking a different route through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and back to North Carolina in time for a late dinner.

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