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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Tom & Katherine of Green Gables

Where to start? It's been a while!

We arrived on Prince Edward Island sometime in the afternoon on Wednesday. The HI youth hostel wasn't open (it must have burned down or something...), so we got a room instead in UPEI, the Island's University. We were pretty exhausted, so we didn't get much else done that day.

Breakfast was included with our rooms, and it's clear that UPEI students live in the lap of luxury. It was all-you-can-eat, and as well as the usual stuff (cereal, toast, coffee), there were eggs, pancakes, maple syrup, sausages, potatoes, ice cream, muffins, fruit, slush puppies, fresh orange juice, cakes... We ate about three meals' worth of food! The morning was spent in Charlottetown, the capital: we visited the islands diminutive parliament building, where the Canadian Confederation was born.

There's no public transport on PEI, so we decided the time had come to rent a car. Many places were fully booked, but eventually we found a good deal at the Rent-a-Wreck in Summerside. Far from being a 'wreck', we ended up with a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser, in burgundy. Fully automatic, of course, plus featuring every mod-con ever invented: heated seats, sun-roof, CD player (we didn't have any CDs!), cruise control, power steering, electronic compass, thermometer... I instantly fell in love with it, and so it took much persuading for me to allow Katherine to drive!

It turns out driving on the 'wrong' side of the road is easy, because like in Britain the driver is always sitting in the centre of the road. Slightly more difficult to get used to was the lack of clutch and gear stick - with no gears to worry about and cruise control, driving is completely trivial, you just turn the steering wheel, and press the brake occassionally!

In a literary nod to Anne, more of which later, Katherine decided to name 'our' car Bertha. Just goes to show that, like Anne's kindred spirit Diana, she has no imagination at all :-).

We had a road map with scenic routes to follow, so we drove west to the coast then headed due north. It goes without saying that the coastline of PEI is gorgeous - hardly any houses around, lots of sandy beaches and forests... After about 200km we got to the most northerly point of the island, the North Cape, which doubles as a wind-energy test centre and a seaweed farm.

North Cape is where two tides meet, creating an odd-looking line where waves crash into each other. Along that line we were surprised to see people riding horses out to sea then back again. On closer inspection, the horses were dragging baskets, which collected seaweed, and then desposited it on the shore, to be loaded into trucks. Apparently some of it is baked into pies - 50% of all Irish Moss seaweed comes from PEI.

We had a bite to eat (no, not seaweed :-), with the barks of seals in the background, and watched the sun go down - very romantic!

After that we drove back down the east side of the Cape, parked on a plateau overlooking the sea, and got a good night's sleep, with a huge full moon shining down on us (the Cruiser has fully reclining seats, of course!).

We woke up the next day early, to watch the sun rise over the horizon, then headed south-east (with Katherine in control) towards Anne-land. We stopped off at Lennox Island en route, home of a group of Amerindians that weren't wiped out by the Brits, the French or the Americans.

The rest of the morning was spent learning about Anne of Green Gables and its author Lucy Maud Montgomery. For those that don't know, it's the tale of a feisty young girl and her adventures on - of course - Prince Edward Island. It's a fun little book (gah! what am I saying?!), although not entirely to my tastes.

We visited the author's birth place and the Lake of Shining Waters, and then Green Gables itself, actually the farmhouse of the neighbours of LMM's family. It's officially a National Park of Canada, and the area surrounding the house has the real-life versions of Lover's Lane and the Haunted Wood. The house itself was done up according to the book - Anne's 'room', for example, had her brown dress with the puffed sleeves, and a broken slate (presumably fresh from clonking that reprobate Gilbert about the head...).

Then we drove north to the beach, stopping at Cavendish supermarket on the way to buy some 'official' A of GG raspberry cordial (there's a long and terribly exciting subplot involving it and Diana in the book). The beach, too, is a National Park, and so is well-maintained. The water was a little colder than we'd been used to of course, but PEI catches the Gulf Stream, so was still surprisingly warm for somewhere so northerly. We were able to shower and wash when we left the beach, and spent another night under the stars (at least, through a sun roof :-).

The next day we went to the cute little fishing village of Victoria on the southern coast, and then drove back towards Summerside. En route we stopped and looked out over the Confederation Bridge - the only land route on and off the island. At 12.9km, it's the longest bridge in the world. Of course, we'd driven in over it, but I'd been too sleepy to really notice! As you can see from the photo, it's entirely spectacular. We finally returned to Summerside, dropped the car off, and hopped on the bus to Qu├ębec City.

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