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Cooling it off in the Canadian Maritimes I

It was August and we were enduring a tortuous heat wave in the deep south. Summer was breathing hard down our necks. The grass was dry and brown, crunching under our feet as we made our way to the sweltering heatbox of our cars, hoping we wouldn't die of heat exhaustion before our tired and overworked air conditioners could make the air breathable. Ice melted in our glasses as soon as we put it in, air conditioners and fans groaned to keep up with the rising temperatures, heat waves drifted up from the hot asphalt making everything seem hazy and thick.

We did the only thing we could do. We headed north.

We had always wanted to see coastal Canada, and with friends begging us to visit (and bragging about their cooler temperatures), we loaded up the Seneca with our good friends John and Teresa and headed to the Canadian Maritime Provinces: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

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With images of cool gray seas and rugged coastal cliffs, rolling green hills and miles of unspoiled sand perfect for clamming or sand castle building, we set our sights on Canada with hopes that she would provide a week of blessed relief from the heat, not to mention sweeping coastal vistas, long sandy beaches, winding scenic drives, and buckets upon buckets of seafood.

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Saturday: Arriving in St. John, New Brunswick

That morning we had lifted off, waving goodbye to the East TN mountains draped in a heat soaked haze below us. The air was so thick you could barely see the horizon. Now, only 6 hours later, I looked outside the plane window and saw a bright green coastline fringed by blue green waves.

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I could already feel the temperature difference as we stepped out of the plane at the small St. John airport. The sky was gray and a light drizzle wrapped around us as I pulled my jacket tight.

"Where is the customs office?" I asked Matt. "I don't see anyone."

"I called them. They are supposed to tell us where to go. They said no one was in the office right now and they'll call me back in a few minutes. They said to just stay with the plane."

Through the fence, we spotted our Canadian friends, Keith and Sydney. We waved "hello," just as a little van pulled up to our plane. A very nice uniformed lady got out and told us she was a Commissionaire for the airport.

"I've just spoken to customs," she said. "They've cleared you for entry. If you want to get your bags, I'll drive you over to your friends' car."

I looked at Matt and whispered, "But we haven't even BEEN through customs..."

He shrugged.

Note to self: If the guys in the Canadian Customs Office have already gone home for the day and don't feel like coming back, clearing customs is pretty darn easy.

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As we made our way to Keith and Sydney's house, I heard my first of many Canadisms. This is what I call a word that we either don't know here in the U.S. or that we don't use the same way.

There I was, wedged in the middle of the front seat between Keith and Syd, a large cocker spaniel on my lap when Sydney points to the side of the road and tells us that's where the "girl guy" camp is.

We spent several confusing minutes as I tried to figure out what kind of camp that was..Was it just another way to refer to co-ed? Was it for cross dressers? Was a Girl-Guy a slang term for hermaphrodite?.....when Syd finally says, "You know, GIRL GUIDES..they are what you become after you're a brownie."

"OH..Girl Scouts...." we all said in unison...slightly disappointed..visions of 3-legged sack races and marshmallow roasts between drag queens exiting our minds as quickly as they had entered.

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The evening was spent at Keith and Sydney's beautifully wooded home, nestled at the water's edge, the St. John River just a stone's throw away. We had cold beer and a cooler full of live lobsters to steam. After several lobsters each, smoked salmon, bacon wrapped scallops, and molten chocolate cakes, we finally had to throw in the white napkin and call a "surrender," heading to bed in the cool, Canadian night.

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Sunday: Boating on the St. John River

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Because Keith and Syd live on the water and have a great boat, and because the sun chose to shine high and bright, we decided it would be a boat day.

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We loaded the coolers, grabbed some chips, and headed to the boat. It was a little chilly for swimming, so we just soaked in the sunshine and enjoyed the views and each other's company.

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For lunch, we stopped at the Evandale Inn for lunch on their outdoor deck. Matt decided to try a cocktail he'd never heard of before: the Caesar. Another Canadism.

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My husband manages to find at least one food obsession on every trip. This will be something that he discovers, usually in the first day or two, and then insists on having EVERY SINGLE DAY. For example, in Italy, he became obsessed with Nutella. In Key West, he became obsessed with the $6 Happy Hour Oysters. In Canada...he became obsessed with the Bloody Caesar.

Little known outside Canada, the Caesar is basically a Bloody Mary made with Clamato Juice. Attempt to order a Bloody Caesar outside of Canada and you'll likely be answered with a blank stare, but while in Canada..well...Hail Caesar! Matt quickly became a fan and had to have one everywhere we went.

We had a great lunch of burgers (and Caesars!) and then slowly made our way back toward home.

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For dinner, Sydney introduced us to our third Canadism..the Donair. I really don't know how to describe it, but I'll do my best. Imagine a gyro, but instead of the meat being sliced thinly off a large piece of roasted lamb or pork, the meat is shaved off what is essentially, for better explanation, a giant meatball. Ground beef, bread crumbs, and spices are shaped into a massive loaf which is then put on a spit. It's sliced off, just like a gyro, and put on a warm pita. Instead of tzatziki sauce, it has a sweet garlic sauce.

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All I can tell you is that it is a gooey, warm pile of garlic flavored deliciousness. Paired with a Grower's Pear Cider, it was another meal to add to my quickly growing list of "Awesome Foods You Can Only Find in Canada."

This was going to be a long list at the rate we were going...

Monday: From St. John, NB to Prince Edward Island

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One advantage to having one's own plane is that it truly makes the world a smaller place. The driving distances between the various locales in the Maritimes would have made it difficult to see all that we wanted to in just one week. However, because we were able to reduce a 5 hour drive to a 1 hour flight, we were able to hop all over the place.

We said "see you later" to Keith and Syd, who would be meeting up with us again later in the week on Nova Scotia, and flew to Charlottetown, PEI.

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We only had one day to see Prince Edward Island, which one could easily spend a week or two on, so we had to make the most of it. We hopped in our rental car and headed to another Canadism..Tim Horton's.

A double-double and a bag of timbits later...we were headed toward Greenwich to find the Dunes National Park for a short hike.

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A boardwalk snaked for miles around massive parabolic dunes and marshy wetlands, ending at the ocean. Parabolic dunes are formed when vegetation begins to grow on the end of a sand dune, holding the end of the dune in place while the rest of the dune moves ahead, pushed by winds from a single direction.

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The landscape was other worldly and simply beautiful. The air was fresh and clean. The sun was warm.

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Oh, and there was a bonus...fresh raspberries were everywhere along the trail.

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Despite handfuls of fresh, sweet berries, the hike made us hungry and we were in the mood for a proper lunch. As luck would have it, Rick's Fish N'Chips was just a short hop down the road.

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Not only did they have the most delicious planks of crispy fried haddock..but Rick's introduced me to another..yes.I'm about to say it..another Canadism.

Poutine.

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(Have you noticed that most of my super special "only in Canada" fascinations involve food? Is that at all surprising?)

Poutine is Canada's answer to chili cheese fries. You take a mountain of golden french fries and cover them with gravy and melted cheese. Seriously delicious. It was like combining Grandma's mashed potatoes and gravy with your favorite burger joint's cheese fries. They were better than a greasy funnel cake and corn dog at the Tennessee Valley Fair.

O Canada.you make my tummy so happy.

After lunch, we headed to central PEI to try to find somewhere for Teresa to shop. Shopping options had been fairly limited so far. I remembered reading something about a boardwalk with good shopping near Rustico, so we headed that way.

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A few miles down the road and I screamed, "STOP!!! GO BACK!!!!!" causing Matt to make a screeching U-Turn, thinking I must have seen the world's first unicorn or a bag of money lying on the side of the road to make such a commotion.

It was the Cheese Lady! She came all the way from Holland and brought her amazing Gouda making skills with her and I had found her.

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Gouda is my #1, all time, very favorite cheese.

We stopped. We tasted. We bought.

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The next hour was spent trying to find the mythical "Boardwalk of North Rustico." Apparently, despite what are usually pretty sharp planning skills, my brain had gotten the "boardwalk" that stretches around the pretty harbor at North Rustico (but which has no shopping) with the "Boardwalk" shopping mall that is the epicenter of all things tacky in Cavendish.

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In my brain, I envisioned a quaint boardwalk, stretching along a harbor, littered with unique artisans and galleries. What we found was essentially a gussied up strip mall on the side of the highway filled with typical tourist junk like cheap ceramic crabs with "I got crabby in PEI" painted on the side. We didn't even stop. Sorry, Teresa.

It was nearing dinner time and several folks had recommended the New Glasgow Lobster Supper to us. We were only about 5 minutes away and anything with "Lobster" in the name is an immediate win with me, so before we knew it, we found ourselves entering a big square building and buying a supper ticket.

The New Glasgow Lobster Supper is not fancy. It is not cheap. It is not particularly charming. But they have some yummy lobster. Row upon row of long tables lined with chairs filled a rather uninteresting giant room. It's a lot like eating supper in the church basement.

If you went to a church that serves lobster.

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You are seated at a table and within minutes, servers start bringing you loads of food. Bowls of chowder, hot bread, salad, buckets of steamed mussels, blueberry pie with ice cream, strawberry shortcake...and lobster. Oh, the lobster.

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All of it was all-you-can-eat except the lobster. We most definitely ate all we could.

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We headed back to Charlottetown to find our hotel. The Hotel on Pownal was a centrally located, reasonably priced choice, so imagine our delight when we discovered it was also a very new, very classy, very comfortable place. Once we saw quaint Charlottetown, with rows of artsy shops and outdoor patio cafes, we regretted the time we wasted chasing down the Boardwalk that did not exist. Luckily, many shops were still open, so we browsed for a while and had cocktails at Peakes Quay, with live music and a beautiful view of the water.

We went to sleep wishing we had more time on PEI, but having completely enjoyed the time we had.

Tuesday: From Prince Edward Island to Cape Breton

After enjoying the delicious (FREE!) breakfast at the Hotel on Pownal, we were off to Cape Breton. This was probably our most ambitious day.

We were flying from PEI to Cape Breton, then driving an hour from the Sydney Aiport to the Cabot Trail, driving the entire 185 mile winding Cabot Trail, stopping mid-way to do a 5 mile hike, then returning to Sydney for the night...and we had approximately 12 hours to do it.

Ambitious? Crazy was more like it.

The name of this province is Latin for "New Scotland," and I could see why as we flew over. Cape Breton is a large island with rugged mountains, sweeping coastlines, and rolling green hillsides reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. It was simply breathtaking.

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As we left the airport and drove through Sydney, we wisely decided to stop in at our B&B to see if we could check in, even though it was only about 10:00 a.m. We knew it would be very late when we returned and weren't sure we'd still have reserved rooms at that point!

The Colby House was WONDERFUL. With only 3 guest rooms, it was cozy, beautiful, and the inn keepers were sweet enough to go ahead and show us to our rooms and let us drop off our things. My only regret was that I didn't get to spend more time at this beautiful inn.

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We drove to Englishtown, which took about an hour. By this time, we were all getting a little hungry, but we had no idea if there was anything to eat nearby. We were headed for the Englishtown Ferry that would take us over to the Cabot Trail when I saw this:

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This might have been the cutest little café EVER. We pulled in and grabbed lobster rolls.soft buns filled with cold, delicious lobster salad..and warm cups of chowder.

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The ferry provided a much needed short cut and by noon, we were on the Cabot Trail. At the advice of our innkeeper, we were driving the 185 mile loop counter-clockwise. I looked at the others and said, "If I don't see a moose today..someone is getting hurt."

You have to understand that on countless backcountry hiking trips to Montana and Canada, it has been my most earnest desire to see a moose. Yet.on each and every trip...no moose. I planned hikes around the likelihood of seeing a moose. No moose. I had seen grizzlies, black bears, marmots, big horn sheet, mountain goats, wolverines. No moose.

I was so hoping to see a moose.

As we climbed toward the high point of Cape Smokey, the gray skies gave way to thick fog. Despite that, the views were beautiful.steel gray seas crashing onto red rock cliffs, thick clouds swirling in the misty above them.

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We'd been driving for a short time when I saw it. A hulking shape loomed up ahead.

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It was a moose! No, it was two!

A moose might just be the most awkward looking animal on the planet. No matter, I was ecstatic that I was finally seeing one up close and personal. Not just one..two!

About 15 minutes later, we noticed a "road jam." We learned on our many trips to Glacier National Park that, when driving through a park that has a lot of wildlife, road jams typically mean one thing: wildlife on the side of the road. Sure enough, a mother moose and her two babies were grazing in a field by the side of the road.

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Five moose! Mooses? Meese? Whatever. We'd seen five of them!

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We spent the next couple of hours driving north, stopping at viewpoints and artisan shops along the way, the fog circling around us and hiding things in the mist. At Neal's Harbor, we found the Chowder House. It was cold, blustery, and gray and it was hard to believe it was summer. Hot chowder sounded perfect. We pulled our coats around us and braved the wind to get a warm bowl of chowder.

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It was some of the best chowder I have ever had: creamy and full of thick, chunky pieces of seafood, served with a fluffy warm biscuit.

The next thing we knew, we saw a sign for "Oysters and Campground." Weird, combo, but Matt loves him some oysters, so we found ourselves driving down a series of winding little back roads to Hideaway Camp and Oysters. Mostly a campground, it has a quaint little store with a fresh seafood counter, nestled in the middle of the woods, a million miles from anywhere.

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You gotta' love Canada.

As we rounded the north tip of the Cabot Trail, the fog and gray skies gave way to clear blue sky and rolling green mountains. The temperature increased steadily as we wound our way along the coast toward the Skyline Trail

If you don't like the weather in the Maritimes, just wait a minute. It will change.

Needing a break from the car, we did the 5 mile loop hike to the viewpoint at the Skyline Trail. By this time, the weather was beautiful, but it was already 5:00 p.m. I was starting to worry about getting stuck out there pretty late.

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No worries.the trail was easy and took no time at all. At the end, the viewpoint was simply breathtaking, with wooden boardwalks built to protect the vegetation and seeming to extend forever into nothing but air high above the sea. The sun was setting over the water and we took a minute to do nothing but enjoy the views.

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Only a minute, though. Why? As it opens to a beautiful panorama where you can see the mountains, the ocean, and the Cabot Trail winding it's way along the coast, the viewpoint also opens up to ferocious winds. The wind was so strong, I could barely stand.

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On the way back to the car, we encountered a HUGE bull moose munching away in the brush. Despite waiting quietly and patiently FOREVER..he never moved out of the thick trees, but he's in there. Really he is.

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Moose #6!

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As we drove away from the trail we saw another road jam. This time it was a small black bear making his way across a hillside.

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By this time, it was getting late. And dark. It was about 8:00 p.m. and we still had at least 2 hours of driving to get back to Sydney. Worried that we wouldn't find many restaurants that stayed open past 9:00, we blindly chose a little restaurant we happened upon on the side of the road just past Cheticamp. I am not a fan of entering restaurants that I know nothing about. It almost always ends badly. It's how you end up at a place with jelly smeared on the cheap laminated menus and the décor includes a rack of potato chips and cigarettes hanging on the wall.

However, it was late and this was pretty much our last option unless we wanted a convenience store pack of cheese and crackers back in Sydney around midnight.

We stepped inside and were simply enchanted. The interior was warm and cozy, filled with clapping people as a duo of musicians played a keyboard and fiddle in the front of the restaurant. Spontaneously, the two waitresses broke out into Irish dancing at the front and went on for what seemed like forever. The moved so fast, I couldn't even get a picture!

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The All Aboard was a family owned place and it showed in the warmth, the wonderful food, and the happy faces surrounding us. We had some local wine, smoked salmon dip, and I ordered up another lobster. For dessert, there was homemade strawberry shortcake. It felt more like eating at a friend's house than being at a restaurant.

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If you had a friend that serves lobster.

It had been a long and wonderful day, and we made our way back to our Inn, arriving a little after 11:00, where we enjoyed a long and restful sleep in the most comfortable beds imaginable.

Wednesday: From Cape Breton to Halifax, Nova Scotia

We planned to spend the next 3 days in central Nova Scotia, basing ourselves in the quaint village of Lunenburg. Our plan had been to fly into the small Liverpool Airport to avoid the high fees of the Halifax Airport. This was not meant to be, thanks to the thick gray skies of Nova Scotia. We were directed by flight services to land in Halifax.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first: breakfast. Colby House served us a wonderful hot breakfast in their lovely dining room.

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Then, like a flash, we were off again, in search of new adventures.

We landed in Halifax and it was an ugly, gray, ugly, dreary, rainy, ugly day. In no hurry to get anywhere, we stopped in town for lunch at the Old Triangle Ale House.

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I immediately fell in love with the giant throne chair. And the hard cider.

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After some salt cod cakes with chips and deliciously warm and moist home baked bread, we took the long way to Lunenburg, thinking we'd stop at Peggy's Cove on the way.

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From everything I'd read, you couldn't visit Nova Scotia without seeing Peggy's Cove, reported to be the most picturesque fishing village in the province. It was also the site of the 1998 tragedy involving Swissair flight 111 where 229 people lost their lives. It was on the way, so we hoped the rain would spare us and we headed that way.

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Peggy's Cove was admittedly lovely, with her stately lighthouse and her rambling fishing shacks, but just as we arrived and stepped out of the car to look around, the bottom literally dropped out of the sky.

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Rain soaked and weary, we cut our losses and headed to Lunenburg.

The drive over was very picturesque. Everything here was a reminder of the sea, from the craggy rocks that jutted out into the small bays, each bay lined with fishing shacks covered in salt rubbed shingles and hanging with colorful lobster buoys. Nets and traps were piled up beside every structure and brightly colored wooden dories bobbed just out of reach. Even the air blew from the sea, tinged with fish and salt and mist.

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When we arrived in Lunenburg, I immediately knew I had chosen a perfect place. The town was small and walkable, filled with colorful buildings, quaint shops, and cozy cafes. We dropped John and Teresa off at their B&B and headed to our home for the next 3 nights, the Boatbuilder's Cottage.

Oh. My. Goodness. Nothing cuter than this has ever existed.

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I was in heaven. The cottage was set in a garden filled with flowers. Inside, it was warm and cozy, filled with beautiful light, comfy quilts, gleaming wood, and tiny seaside treasures hidden in secret nooks and crannies.

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Dinner that evening was at the Knot Pub, a short walk from the Boatbuilder's Cottage. The Knot Pub might be the only place in the universe even cuter than the Boatbuilder's Cottage.

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The interior was adorable, small and warm with cozy booths hidden away in corners and candlelight flickering in the dim. I half expected to see a hobbit come walking out at any moment carrying a pint of ale.

The food did not disappoint. I tried another Canadism: fried pepperoni. What is wrong with Americans???? Why don't we do this back home? As though pepperoni were not awesome enough on its own, these geniuses had the brilliance to FRY IT.

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I love Canadians.

For dinner, I tried the sausage and sauerkraut. Both were made locally. Served with spicy hot mustard on a soft roll, it was maddeningly delicious.

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Posted by vicki_h 12:05 Archived in Canada Tagged canada maritimes nova_scotia pei prince_edward_island cape_breton

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Comments

I would just love to sit with some cider in that little pub then head back to the cottage......how quaint

by pilates_rosi

Great report. I have been following your blog since key west! Great job very captivating! Beautiful pictures.
As a Canadian it is so lovely to see all the nice canadianisms lol we try to order a ceasar wherever we travel and yes we get same blank stares. I can't understand why the USA hasn't ordered clamato yet :)
Keep up the nice reports very inspiring

by pattiken

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