Checking Out Port Aransas

Thursday promised to be grey, not the best weather to go out gallivanting, but off I did go, leaving around 8AM. I got fuel and then drove straight to Aransas Pass to catch the free ferry to Port Aransas.

One of the goals of this trip was to see what it would be like in an RV and to scope out the boondocking spots. I’d already made the decision not to move Miranda there, but I wanted to know what I would be missing.

The ferry was very tight. I did see a ginormous fiver come off the ferry ahead of me, but I would not feel comfortable taking my rig on there as there is zero room for error.

Port Aransas is bigger than I thought it would be and full of colourful unique storefronts (see the gallery below). First stop was the Marine Science Institute, where there are a few free displays. They sometimes have free educational lectures and movies, too.

I met a wonderful lady traveling from Minnesota. We gabbed for ages and she was delighted that I’ve been through her state a few times and could easily point out her town on a map. We talked a little about my travels and she asked me if I’d ever been to Alaska, wondering how hard it is to get there. I explained that the Alaska Highway is super easy to drive and that there’s no need to over prepare to go north. She actually took some notes. I hope she gets up there some day!

Next, I came upon one of the many RV boondocking beaches in the area. You need to pay to boondock and you can only stay three nights out of every three weeks.

I drove out to another beach south of town. Both locations were lovely, but the ground was very soft and the tides more likely to come up very high. I really don’t feel like I’m making a mistake not detouring to Port Aransas to boondock, but I’m glad I checked it out.

I’d asked S for a lunch recommendation and she told me to try the pizza at The Gaff, so that’s where I went. Woah, what a place… It’s a shack (and that’s a kind way of putting it) with a pirate theme. It didn’t feel too clean and I’m not convinced the pizza maker washed her hands once between everything she was doing. That said, the experience was worth it and the pizza not bad! I was only able to eat a couple of slices and I took the rest with me. I knew it wouldn’t survive the trip to Harlingen, what with the truck sitting in the sun, but I was able to snack on another couple of slices and found that this is a pizza that’s best served lukewarm. I loved the sauce and cheese, the crust was so-so. The server had just started working there and had everything under control. We had a nice chat and she said that I should come on a Saturday night when they have beltsander races! I would never have tried this place had it not been recommended to me and I’m so glad I did!

It was coming on to 1:00 when I came out from lunch, so it was time to move on. Next stop, Corpus Christi.

Aim Low Insurance in Aransas Pass; the name struck me as funny.

Aim Low Insurance in Aransas Pass; the name struck me as funny.

Driving towards the Port Aransas ferry.

Driving towards the Port Aransas ferry.

The road to the ferry is lined with instructional signs for using the 'ferryboat.' My favourite was 'the ferryboat's capacity is whatever it can safely carry.'

The road to the ferry is lined with instructional signs for using the ‘ferryboat.’ My favourite was ‘the ferryboat’s capacity is whatever it can safely carry.’

Good thing there is a little boat on the instructions, or I would have serious doubts about my GPS!

Good thing there is a little boat on the instructions, or I would have serious doubts about my GPS!

Waiting in line at the ferry. I was signaled to go 'thataway' with two fingers waving, so I deduced (correctly) that I had to go into the outer lane.

Waiting in line at the ferry. I was signaled to go ‘thataway’ with two fingers waving, so I deduced (correctly) that I had to go into the outer lane.

VERY tight squeeze on the ferry.

VERY tight squeeze on the ferry.

Leaving Aransas Pass.

Leaving Aransas Pass.

Port Aransas

Port Aransas

Ferry heading for Aransas Pass

Ferry heading for Aransas Pass

Port Aransas

Port Aransas

Desserted Island Ice Cream

Desserted Island Ice Cream

Marine Science Institute.

Marine Science Institute.

Sculpture outside the Marine Science Institute.

Sculpture outside the Marine Science Institute.

I really enjoyed this display that showed the teeth of sharks that swim in these waters and offered humorous commentary on their diet.

I really enjoyed this display that showed the teeth of sharks that swim in these waters and offered humorous commentary on their diet.

There were a few aquariums with live fish.

There were a few aquariums with live fish.

Cute grumpy fish.

Cute grumpy fish.

Nearly invisible flat fish.

Nearly invisible flat fish.

Yummy red snapper.

Yummy red snapper.

You are so delicious smoked!

You are so delicious smoked!

More hiding fish.

More hiding fish.

"Come on, inner peace. I don't have all day!"

“Come on, inner peace. I don’t have all day!”

I had never heard of 'sea beans' before today. They are seeds that are carried to far away lands by sea currents.

I had never heard of ‘sea beans’ before today. They are seeds that are carried to far away lands by sea currents.

More about sea beans.

More about sea beans.

A variety of sea beans.

A variety of sea beans.

More sea beans.

More sea beans.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

One of the RV boondocking beaches.

View from one of the RV boondocking beaches.

View from one of the RV boondocking beaches.

I missed a turn on the GPS and came upon this. Best store entrance ever.

I missed a turn on the GPS and came upon this. Best store entrance ever.

Second best store entrance ever.

Second best store entrance ever.

Another boondocking beach.

Another boondocking beach.

Another boondocking beach.

Another boondocking beach.

Another boondocking beach.

Another boondocking beach.

Sea turtles are endangered.

Sea turtles are endangered.

Rules for boondocking here, including have a permit and stay only three days.

Rules for boondocking here, including have a permit and stay only three days.

The sand was a little soft in spots.

The sand was a little soft in spots.

The Gaff Pirate Bar

The Gaff Pirate Bar

I wouldn't have ventured in this place if it hadn't been recommended to me.

I wouldn’t have ventured in this place if it hadn’t been recommended to me.

Decent pizza with good conversation.

Decent pizza with good conversation.

Honey Island Swamp Tour

Today’s swamp tour was a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid to say. I knew that January is the worst month for a swamp tour, but with the promised sunny weather for today, I thought that we’d still get to see a few interesting things. Instead, an Arctic front barreled in and the weather turned frigid and very overcast, just above freezing! We saw a lot of prey birds, such as hawks, egrets, and vultures, which was wonderful, but that’s it. I can at least say that I saw a Louisiana swamp in the dead of winter! 🙂

I chose to go on Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour, just outside of Slidell, because it is offered in a more pristine and natural swamp and the focus of the tour is on ecology. A lot of the swamp tours are set in almost zoo-like preserves where the animals are tamed by feeding them marshmallows and/or happen on very large noisy boats that don’t really let you appreciate the natural setting.

The tour group was international and featured no fewer than five French Canadians, including myself, a couple from Cornwall, and another couple from Montreal. Our guide had a surprising amount to say in French, and with an excellent accent!

Our guide dispelled some misconceptions right off the bat. First of all, there are no mosquitoes in the swamp in the summer during the day because the dragonflies keep them at bay. Second, the air in a swamp is very clean, so it does not smell. People seem to go in expecting a putrid bog rather than a fresh flooded forest. Third, a bayou is nothing special and not exclusive to Louisiana. It’s just a native word that means slow moving body of water.

He gabbed about this and that in our tour through the swamp and up and down the Pearl River, showing off his rather impressive ornithological knowledge, but it was obvious that he was stretching his material very thin because the environs weren’t giving him much to work with.

My quest to see wild alligators must go on (I need to find a way to be in the US in the summer!), but I learned quite a bit about them. While they are confirmed maneaters, there have been very few deaths by alligator in the US and absolutely none in Louisiana. People have lost limbs, but that’s only because they antagonized the otherwise timid creatures. That surprised me!

The biggest threat to alligators is the great heron, which gobbles down the young when they are small.

Alligator blood crystallizes when the temps approach freezing, a fatal condition. So they slow down their metabolism and burrow under the mud to stay warm through the winter.

We spent very little time in the swamp because the water levels were so high that the guide could not be sure there were no underwater obstacles. So most of the tour was spent going up and down the Pearl River.

Much as the scenery was lovely, we were all glad to get back to base camp at the end of the two hours so we could thaw out!

Dr. Wagner's Honey Island Swamp Tour building

Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour building

boat launch

boat launch

the water was about 10' above normal flood levels!

the water was about 10′ above normal flood levels!

We got these very fetching blankets to cover our legs (three people per blanket!).

We got these very fetching blankets to cover our legs (three people per blanket!).

The water was moving quickly and was turbid. Any picture with a big expanse of water like this was taken on the Pearl River.

The water was moving quickly and was turbid. Any picture with a big expanse of water like this was taken on the Pearl River.

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Most of these trees are cypress, which is water resistant.

Most of these trees are cypress, which is water resistant.

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The trees were all covered in Spanish moss.

The trees were all covered in Spanish moss.

A bayou is a slow moving current. A swamp is a flooded forest.

A bayou is a slow moving current. A swamp is a flooded forest.

The swamp is verdant in summer, but very drab in winter. These patches of aquatic grass were a welcome sight.

The swamp is verdant in summer, but very drab in winter. These patches of aquatic grass were a welcome sight.

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We saw quite a few of these big male herons.

We saw quite a few of these big male herons.

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Shacks like these are fishing camps, not stereotypical residences!

Shacks like these are fishing camps, not stereotypical residences!

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This is a typical residence bordering a swamp.

This is a typical residence bordering a swamp.

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These red buds belong to maple. The guide made a point to say, "Canadians, we have maples down here, too!"

These red buds belong to maple. The guide made a point to say, “Canadians, we have maples down here, too!”

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See that rope?

See that rope?

And that ladder? People swim in the river all the time! Alligators are apparently quite docile and will live you alone if you leave them alone.

And that ladder? People swim in the river all the time! Alligators are apparently quite docile and will live you alone if you leave them alone.

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This shack was ravaged by a hurricane, probably Isaac. Katrina actually had very little impact here.

This shack was ravaged by a hurricane, probably Isaac. Katrina actually had very little impact here.

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I believe that's a hawk sitting on that branch. We saw lots and lots of birds, but they were tricky to photograph!

I believe that’s a hawk sitting on that branch. We saw lots and lots of birds, but they were tricky to photograph!

Exploring New Orlean’s French Quarter

I left home around 9 this morning to go explore New Orleans’ French Quarter. I decided to take the Algiers Ferry to get there. It’s a good thing that the RV park gave okay directions to get there because there is no signage whatsoever and you would think you were driving through slums a tourist has no business being in (sorry Algiers Point).

The ferry is free for pedestrians, but, SURPRISE!, you have to pay $10 to park for the day.

I made the 9:30 ferry and was across the river in less than 15 minutes.

Arrival on Canal Street is a little brutal as the ferry building is DISGUSTING. OMG. The place reeks of urine and the puddles are obviously not water. And you have to go through quite a bit of it to get to the street. I wasn’t the only tourist trying to find the exit as fast as possible.

On the street, you find yourself in the heart of touristy NOLA, with the Imax and Aquarium on your right, the Harrah’s casino directly ahead, the French Quarter a few blocks ahead to the right, and the Riverwalk behind you to the left. Canal Street is lined with palm trees. The day I become blasĂ© about palm trees is the day I hang up my traveling shoes!

I walked quickly down Canal to Decatur, ignoring the panhandlers, and then headed into the French Quarter.

I didn’t want to do any museums today, but rather just walk the streets and soak in the ambiance. So I began to stroll fairly aimlessly, occasionally referring to my map to make sure I stayed within the confines of the tourist section. Its limits are actually quite obvious.

My favourite part of the area is the architecture. The 18th-century buildings have survived to this day because they are built of cypress, a rot-resistant wood that termites don’t like.

The French Market held my attention for a bit and I spent some time eying the wares, everything from jewelry to really tacky coasters. There were also some food vendors. But the market was just opening up, so I decided to return after lunch and continued my wanderings.

I found a gelataria on a side street where I was able to get some chocolate gelato, a delicious treat that was perfect for the muggy temperatures.

The weather wound up being quite good even though the sky threatened to rip open as it was very dark and grey. I felt extremely under dressed, which was hilarious since the feeling was purely psychological. I’m just so used to wind + grey sky + spitting rain = being frozen solid. In fact, my capris and tee-shirt were perfect and a nice breeze made the humidity tolerable.

Lunch was had at CafĂ© Maspero’s, recommended by Eugene yesterday. I figured that I had to eat a mountain of fried seafood once this winter and this was going to be it! $21 including the tip and tax got me a humongous strawberry daiquiri (I doubt there was alcohol in it) for $3 and a ginormous ‘seafood platter’ for about $14. It had catfish, oysters, shrimp, and calamari. I had never eaten oysters before (!) and I think I might like them. 🙂 For fried seafood, this was very good and I do not regret my lunch location choice!

I walked around some more after lunch, then headed out of the French Quarter to check out the Riverwalk shopping centre. I was sad to learn that all the local vendors, many of whom had shops with interesting products, not just touristy crap, are being forced out to make way for the Riverwalk to become an outlet mall.

Downtown New Orleans seen from Algiers Point (still part of NOLA).

Downtown New Orleans seen from Algiers Point (still part of NOLA).

Downtown New Orleans seen from Algiers Point (still part of NOLA).

Downtown New Orleans seen from Algiers Point (still part of NOLA).

The Algiers Ferry car level.

The Algiers Ferry car level.

The owners of Nugget City were leaving on a cruise this morning. Could this be one of their ships?!

The owners of Nugget City were leaving on a cruise this morning. Could this be one of their ships?!

Downtown New Orleans seen from Algiers Point (still part of NOLA).

Downtown New Orleans seen from Algiers Point (still part of NOLA).

The passenger area of the ferry seen from the lower level.

The passenger area of the ferry seen from the lower level.

The seats were hard, but it's barely 10 minutes across the Mississippi.

The seats were hard, but it’s barely 10 minutes across the Mississippi.

Tugboat pushing a barge.

Tugboat pushing a barge.

These birds are obviously used to the ferry.

These birds are obviously used to the ferry.

This guy was utterly unflappable and had to be shooed away!

This guy was utterly unflappable and had to be shooed away!

Canal Street near Harrah's.

Canal Street near Harrah’s.

Intersection of Canal and Decatur. Canal is so named because there was supposed to be a canal built in its location.

Intersection of Canal and Decatur. Canal is so named because there was supposed to be a canal built in its location.

Courtyard of the Jean Lafitte national park visitor's centre.

Courtyard of the Jean Lafitte national park visitor’s centre.

There's a Bubba Gump place on Chicago's Navy Pier, so can we say tourist trap?

There’s a Bubba Gump place on Chicago’s Navy Pier, so can we say tourist trap?

Typical side street of the French Quarter.

Typical side street of the French Quarter.

Many streets in the French Quarter have signs showing the original name of the street from when the Spaniards owned NOLA.

Many streets in the French Quarter have signs showing the original name of the street from when the Spaniards owned NOLA.

Entrance to the French Market, where you can find all sorts of treasures.

Entrance to the French Market, where you can find all sorts of treasures.

I love all the unexpected bits of French all over the place.

I love all the unexpected bits of French all over the place.

This sort of balcony screams 'New Orleans French Quarter' to me.

This sort of balcony screams ‘New Orleans French Quarter’ to me.

This sort of balcony screams 'New Orleans French Quarter' to me.

This sort of balcony screams ‘New Orleans French Quarter’ to me.

The streets are really close together, so it's nice to get a breath of air when they open up like this.

The streets are really close together, so it’s nice to get a breath of air when they open up like this.

Narrow alley.

Narrow alley.

The Sweet Palate. I was looking for ice cream and scored when I stumbled on this place that sells gelato!

The Sweet Palate. I was looking for ice cream and scored when I stumbled on this place that sells gelato!

A small cup of their divine chocolate gelato. Mmm!

A small cup of their divine chocolate gelato. Mmm!

Impressive!

Impressive!

Bourbon Street! It wasn't raining, but threatening to. The sky was spitting.

Bourbon Street! It wasn’t raining, but threatening to. The sky was spitting.

Bourbon Street was pretty quiet at 10AM, but there was some music to be heard.

Bourbon Street was pretty quiet at 10AM, but there was some music to be heard.

Huge Ass Beers and Huge Ass Burgers.

Huge Ass Beers and Huge Ass Burgers.

Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo.

Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.

Café Lafitte In Exile

Café Lafitte In Exile

Moon Wok Restaurant

Moon Wok Restaurant

One of the many buildings that looks like how the French Quarter felt: very dank. Not humid, but dank, like a mouldy basement. I wonder if it was like this before Katrina.

One of the many buildings that looks like how the French Quarter felt: very dank. Not humid, but dank, like a mouldy basement. I wonder if it was like this before Katrina.

Horse-shaped hitching post.

Horse-shaped hitching post.

More balconies.

More balconies.

An unfortunately named restaurant. Vacherie means something like a backstabbing act or a bad joke.

An unfortunately named restaurant. Vacherie means something like a backstabbing act or a bad joke.

Tropical Isle, home of the hand grenade, the most potent NOLA drink.

Tropical Isle, home of the hand grenade, the most potent NOLA drink.

Legal notice to stop renovations. Tourists know this area as the 'French Quarter' but it is officially the 'Vieux Carré' (old square).

Legal notice to stop renovations. Tourists know this area as the ‘French Quarter’ but it is officially the ‘Vieux CarrĂ©’ (old square).

Perfect parking spot for a Vespa!

Perfect parking spot for a Vespa!

The pharmacy museum.

The pharmacy museum.

The guide recommended Café Maspero's as a good place to get cheap fried seafood platters. I looked at other menus in the area and saw that most restaurants offered variations on the same theme for about the same price (NOLA is VERY affordable, to my surprise). I decided to take the guide's advice as the restaurant had windows open all around and promised a nice breeze.

The guide recommended CafĂ© Maspero’s as a good place to get cheap fried seafood platters. I looked at other menus in the area and saw that most restaurants offered variations on the same theme for about the same price (NOLA is VERY affordable, to my surprise). I decided to take the guide’s advice as the restaurant had windows open all around and promised a nice breeze.

Cover the Café Maspero's menu.

Cover the CafĂ© Maspero’s menu.

I ordered a giant strawberry daiquiri for $3. I don't think there was any alcohol in it. It was very refreshing! The meal came with a salad. Yeah for veggies!

I ordered a giant strawberry daiquiri for $3. I don’t think there was any alcohol in it. It was very refreshing! The meal came with a salad. Yay for veggies!

My giant mound of fried stuff. The fries were dismal, but the seafood was GREAT. The batter was light and crispy and I could actually identify what I was eating: catfish, oysters (my first time trying them!!!), shrimp, and my favourite, calamari, which were melt-in-your-mouth tender. I'm not that found of deep friend seafood, but this passed muster with me!

My giant mound of fried stuff. The fries were dismal, but the seafood was GREAT. The batter was light and crispy and I could actually identify what I was eating: catfish, oysters (my first time trying them!!!), shrimp, and my favourite, calamari, which were melt-in-your-mouth tender. I’m not that found of deep friend seafood, but this passed muster with me!

The meal came with horseradish and tartar sauce, and there were other sauces on the table. It also came with one wedge of lemon, which is what I like on my fried seafood. I asked for, and got, a few more wedges.

The meal came with horseradish and tartar sauce, and there were other sauces on the table. It also came with one wedge of lemon, which is what I like on my fried seafood. I asked for, and got, a few more wedges.

There were two slices of bread hiding under my seafood! To absorb the grease, perhaps?

There were two slices of bread hiding under my seafood! To absorb the grease, perhaps?

I got a lid with my bill!

I got a lid with my bill!

The biggest tourist trap in the area, the Café du Monde, offering café au lait and beignets. After reading up on it, I knew better than to waste an HOUR waiting in line!

The biggest tourist trap in the area, the Café du Monde, offering café au lait and beignets. After reading up on it, I knew better than to waste an HOUR waiting in line!

There were a few gator offerings, but I'd done my research and knew that it's not local food and that NOLA is not the best place to try it. Boudin is blood sausage.

There were a few gator offerings, but I’d done my research and knew that it’s not local food and that NOLA is not the best place to try it. Boudin is blood sausage.

Whit's last fling before the ring!

Whit’s last fling before the ring!

The LaLaurie House is considered to be one of the most haunted houses in NOLA. A 19th-century owner tortured her slaves here.

The LaLaurie House is considered to be one of the most haunted houses in NOLA. A 19th-century owner tortured her slaves here.

Info on the walking tour pamphlet about the LaLaurie house where Delphine LaLaurie was discovered to be treating her slaves badly.

Info on the walking tour pamphlet about the LaLaurie house where Delphine LaLaurie was discovered to be treating her slaves badly.

More balconies.

More balconies.

Recipe for a 'Katrina Martini.' It sounds vile!

Recipe for a ‘Katrina Martini.’ It sounds vile!

This little fellow was sleeping in the window of the French Quarter vet,

This little fellow was sleeping in the window of the French Quarter vet,

Info about the kitty. He sounds like quite the character!

Info about the kitty. He sounds like quite the character!

You can reserve parking to visit the French Quarter vet.

You can reserve parking to visit the French Quarter vet.

Just one of a kazillion magnificent homes in NOLA.

Just one of a kazillion magnificent homes in NOLA.

Grumpy Cat, of the internet meme fame.

Grumpy Cat, of the internet meme fame.

Pirates Alley sign with Mardi Gras decorations above.

Pirates Alley sign with Mardi Gras decorations above.

Pirates Alley.

Pirates Alley.

I would know instantly where this picture was taken even if I had never been to the French Quarter.

I would know instantly where this picture was taken even if I had never been to the French Quarter.

The Supreme Court of New Orleans.

The Supreme Court of New Orleans.

The Supreme Court of New Orleans.

The Supreme Court of New Orleans.

Guess in the comments what this place is!

Guess in the comments what this place is!

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Royal Street used to be Calle Real. Real was also the French word for Royal at the time, hence Montreal -- Mont Royal.

Royal Street used to be Calle Real. Real was also the French word for Royal at the time, hence Montreal — Mont Royal.

Saks 5th Avenue is open by appointment. I doubt I can afford to shop there. :)

Saks 5th Avenue is open by appointment. I doubt I can afford to shop there. 🙂

The groddy Algiers Ferry terminal.

The groddy Algiers Ferry terminal.

The inside is worse. This place is NASTY.

The inside is worse. This place is NASTY.

Entrance to the Riverwalk shopping centre area.

Entrance to the Riverwalk shopping centre area.

Entrance to the Riverwalk shopping centre.

Entrance to the Riverwalk shopping centre.

There's a Café du Monde in the Riverwalk. I really wasn't hungry, but there was no wait and I knew Croft would shoot me if I didn't try their beignets.

There’s a CafĂ© du Monde in the Riverwalk. I really wasn’t hungry, but there was no wait and I knew Croft would shoot me if I didn’t try their beignets.

You get three beignets (puffy deep fried bits of dough covered in powered sugar) for $2 and change. One would have been enough for me! They are also famous for their chicory café au lait.

You get three beignets (puffy deep fried bits of dough covered in powered sugar) for $2 and change. One would have been enough for me! They are also famous for their chicory café au lait.

I ate my beignets while watching the Mississippi, a much more relaxing experience than the frenzied pace of the French Quarter café.

I ate my beignets while watching the Mississippi, a much more relaxing experience than the frenzied pace of the French Quarter café.

They were like doughy pillows. I recommended shaking the bag on occasion to get more sugar over them. Prepare to be COVERED in powdered sugar. Verdict? Meh. :) I'm just not that big on doughnuts (shocking for a Canadian, I know).

They were like doughy pillows. I recommended shaking the bag on occasion to get more sugar over them. Prepare to be COVERED in powdered sugar. Verdict? Meh. 🙂 I’m just not that big on doughnuts (shocking for a Canadian, I know).

WHY?! They spent money on several signs like these. Couldn't they have hired a translator, too?

WHY?! They spent money on several signs like these. Couldn’t they have hired a translator, too?

People marching into the cruise ship.

People marching into the cruise ship.

This sign claims that NOLA has a special budget for removing alligators' from people's yards....

This sign claims that NOLA has a special budget for removing alligators’ from people’s yards….

Fort Lennox, Saint-Paul-ĂŽle-Aux-Noix

My dad took my sister and me many times to Fort Lennox. Last time I was there was surely going on 20 years.

The brochure sums up this place much more eloquently than I ever could (great job, Parks Canada!):

Located on ĂŽle aux Noix, an island on the Richelieu River, Fort Lennox is one of the jewels of the Parks Canada network…. There is no bridge linking this fabulously destined island to the mainland, it can only be reached by boat. The crossing takes five minutes, which is just enough time to travel back a few centuries and tread the very earth that was fought over by the French, American and British.

Once you step across the drawbridge at Fort Lennox, you will discover one of the most authentic British fortifications in North America. The stone buildings and defensive structures are of exceptional beauty. They were built between 1819 and 1829 to protect the colony against an eventual American invasion by way of the Richelieu River.

Your guide will help you discover the amazing history of ĂŽle aux Noix as you walk in the footsteps of the soldiers and officers of Fort Lennox. Once inside the barracks, the guard room, the jail, and the officers’ quarters you will get a fascinating glimpse into the daily military life of days gone by.

To access the Fort, you park in the parking lot in St-Paul-ĂŽle-aux-Noix, pay at the information centre, and then take brief ferry ride to the island. Admission is $7.80 or about half that if you get across on in your own boat (the region is a haven for boaters).

There is a small canteen on site, but I opted to bring my own food. So by the time I did a detour to Napierville to get some, it was 11:00 when I bought my admission ticket. The ferry runs on the half hour, so I had just enough time to take a couple of pictures and then it was time to cross the river.

The pictures below will have more information, so I’ll just give some general insight into the fort and my day there. While the island is a really nice place to spend the day as a family, there really isn’t much to see in the fort in terms of museum exhibits. You can easily go to Fort Lennox for an hour, which is about how long I expected to be there. But if you go on the weekends, there are guided tours and reenactments, which really add to the experience. I wound up staying for almost five hours!

I started by exploring a little on my own then stopping for lunch in the very little shade the island offers. I did the last exhibit and was going to call it a day when I found the media room where I got sucked into some movies about a shameful part of Canadian history that I knew nothing about: the internment of Jewish refugees at Fort Lennox in the 1940s as prisoners of war. They were Germans who had fled to Britain and then been deported to Canada where there was no understanding of the distinction between Nazi sympathizers and Germans who opposed the regime.

It took a few years for the status of the Jews to change from prisoners to refugees and even longer for the Canadian government to allow the men to remain on Canadian soil. You see, Canada didn’t want any Jewish refugees during World War II. This is the same country that interned its Japanese citizens during the same conflict, but I digress.

The video presentation was very good and it was a shock to realise that the men talking were featured in the photographs of the island at the time. These men do not begrudge the initial rough treatment by Canadian authorities because they were provided with excellent schooling and eventually allowed to stay. Sure, Canada didn’t want Jews, but it came around. That sure beat being unwanted in their own country and being sent to a concentration camp. All is relative…

Anyway, by the time I finished the videos, the first guided tour was underway so I joined in at the powder magazine, a vaulted and sealed building set apart from the others where the black powder was stored. We continued past the officers’ quarters, the guard house, and the jail, where the tour ended.

It was then time to join a session about the uniforms worn at the fort in the 1830s. They were red and white with apple green accents to mark that they were the 24th regiment. The interpreter said the coats were red so that the soldiers would be visible and impressive, adding that the rifles of the day didn’t allow one to aim so, no, the red didn’t make the soldiers any more of a target.

After the uniform demonstration, we moved on to the impressive firearm demonstration. When that was done, a tour with a costumed interpreter started, so I thought to join in so as to see the section I’d missed on the first tour. As it turned out, there were so many visitors we were broken off into smaller groups who did the tour in a different order. I wound up starting again at the powder magazine and had to go through everything again to get to the general barracks.

This was no hardship since the costumed tour was entertaining and had extra information. Plus, I took the costumed tour in English since the group was much, much smaller than the French ones, so I got to hear the bulk of the information in both languages.

When the tour ended, I was beyond ready to get out of the sun, so I got an ice cream from the canteen and headed back to the dock to await the next ferry, pleased that the locale had lived up to nostalgic memories.

one of Saint-Paul-ĂŽle-aux-Noix's many marinas

one of Saint-Paul-ĂŽle-aux-Noix’s many marinas

This sign makes me appreciate French's numerous verb tenses a lot more. The French sign is definitely an order to slow down while the English is ambiguous; is it an order or a description?

This sign makes me appreciate French’s numerous verb tenses a lot more. The French sign is definitely an order to slow down while the English is ambiguous; is it an order or a description?

the landing on the island

the landing on the island

the ferry

the ferry

approaching the landing

approaching the landing

getting closer

getting closer

Welcome to Fort Lennox!

Welcome to Fort Lennox!

the impressive entrance to the fort

the impressive entrance to the fort

pond with lots of waterlilies (I much prefer the French word, nénuphars, for the flowers)

pond with lots of waterlilies (I much prefer the French word, nénuphars, for the flowers)

close up of the waterlilies

close up of the waterlilies

on the drawbridge

on the drawbridge

History of the site. The present fort was built between 1819 and 1829.

History of the site. The present fort was built between 1819 and 1829.

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The barracks are above in this building. The ground floor has the canteen.

The barracks are above in this building. The ground floor has the canteen.

Inside the guard house where 20 soldiers would do a 24-hour shift every three days. They would rotate one hour outside, one hour inside during the winter, and every two hours in the summer. They had to be quiet when inside to hear any warning calls, had to stay in almost full uniform, and could only sleep lightly.

Inside the guard house where 20 soldiers would do a 24-hour shift every three days. They would rotate one hour outside, one hour inside during the winter, and every two hours in the summer. They had to be quiet when inside to hear any warning calls, had to stay in almost full uniform, and could only sleep lightly.

The captain of the day had this more luxurious room with a comfy bed.

The captain of the day had this more luxurious room with a comfy bed.

The captain of the day would do his paperwork here.

The captain of the day would do his paperwork here.

a corner of the lovely grounds (pardon the glare; the sun was brutal!)

a corner of the lovely grounds (pardon the glare; the sun was brutal!)

looking towards storage buildings

looking towards storage buildings

another view of the barracks building

another view of the barracks building

entrance to an exhibit inside the Commissariat Store

entrance to an exhibit inside the Commissariat Store

I love spiral staircases and was disappointed I couldn't go up these. :)

I love spiral staircases and was disappointed I couldn’t go up these. 🙂

Around the time of the War of 1812, the British wanted to use the strategically located island to protect Canada from a US invasion, but the defense works were in poor condition. The solution was to build a new fort.

Around the time of the War of 1812, the British wanted to use the strategically located island to protect Canada from a US invasion, but the defense works were in poor condition. The solution was to build a new fort.

Naval officers suggested that ĂŽle aux noix was the most strategic place to build a fort.

Naval officers suggested that ĂŽle aux noix was the most strategic place to build a fort.

But military officers felt that a land invasion was more likely and that St-Jean-sur-Richelieu should be fortified instead.

But military officers felt that a land invasion was more likely and that St-Jean-sur-Richelieu should be fortified instead.

The goal was to defend Montreal from American invaders because of its strategic location at the confluence of the Ottawa, St Lawrence, and Richelieu rivers.

The goal was to defend Montreal from American invaders because of its strategic location at the confluence of the Ottawa, St Lawrence, and Richelieu rivers.

the fort was built to take advantage of the island's natural features

the fort was built to take advantage of the island’s natural features

The fort was designed as a square but looks more like a five-pointed star.

The fort was designed as a square but looks more like a five-pointed star.

defense works include parapets and moats

defense works include parapets and moats

This exhibit had some of the surveying tools used in the day; I took a picture of this folding ruler because I used to have one just like it. :)

This exhibit had some of the surveying tools used in the day; I took a picture of this folding ruler because I used to have one just like it. 🙂

The construction of the fort took about 10 years. It was named after Charles Lennox, duke of Richmond and Lennox, Governor-in-Chief of British North America from 1818 to 1819.

The construction of the fort took about 10 years. It was named after Charles Lennox, duke of Richmond and Lennox, Governor-in-Chief of British North America from 1818 to 1819.

The clayey soil meant that a traditional foundation wouldn't have worked. The foundation essentially floats over the ground.

The clayey soil meant that a traditional foundation wouldn’t have worked. The foundation essentially floats over the ground.

model of the fort

model of the fort

This graphic shows how the fort was built in stages. First, the powder magazine and other defense works, then the guard house, then the officers' quarters, then the general barracks.

This graphic shows how the fort was built in stages. First, the powder magazine and other defense works, then the guard house, then the officers’ quarters, then the general barracks.

After the fort was abandoned for military purposes, it was used as a summer camp, picnicking ground, a POW camp (the sign says refugee camp, but I know better now thanks to the video), and then a historical interpretation site.

After the fort was abandoned for military purposes, it was used as a summer camp, picnicking ground, a POW camp (the sign says refugee camp, but I know better now thanks to the video), and then a historical interpretation site.

Most of the fort's hardware was forged on site. Lots of it was excavated, but some 19th century pieces, like hinges, are still hard at work.

Most of the fort’s hardware was forged on site. Lots of it was excavated, but some 19th century pieces, like hinges, are still hard at work.

some of the hardware, included a padlock and key

some of the hardware, included a padlock and key

aesthetics and availability were considered when choosing materials to build the fort

aesthetics and availability were considered when choosing materials to build the fort

The design wasn't perfect. In 1824, the eastern rampart slide into the ditch!

The design wasn’t perfect. In 1824, the eastern rampart slide into the ditch!

window in the store

window in the store

shooting ground with cannons and cannon balls

shooting ground with cannons and cannon balls

more cannons

more cannons

I like cannons?

I like cannons?

walkway to the south side of the island (the US is about 12KM thataway)

walkway to the south side of the island (the US is about 12KM thataway)

pond on the south side

pond on the south side

south side entrance

south side entrance

Looking at the fort from the south side entrance. To the left are the general barracks. Then, clockwise, the officer barracks, the guard house and jail, the stores.

Looking at the fort from the south side entrance. To the left are the general barracks. Then, clockwise, the officer barracks, the guard house and jail, the stores.

yet another view of the south side barracks

yet another view of the south side barracks

entrance to the canteen, where I got an ice cream for the trip back to the mainland

entrance to the canteen, where I got an ice cream for the trip back to the mainland

These arched walkways are my strongest memory of the visits to the fort as a child

These arched walkways are my strongest memory of the visits to the fort as a child

these beautiful arched walkways make me think of a monastary!

these beautiful arched walkways make me think of a monastary!

another sign about hardware, saying that most was brought in from Great Britain, but a lot was forged on site

another sign about hardware, saying that most was brought in from Great Britain, but a lot was forged on site

more hardware

more hardware

Entering the luxurious officers' quarters. Officers in the British Army would pay for their commission (equivalent to the cost of buying a house today) and would hire soldiers to act as their valets or batmen. The officers had much nicer quarters and could bring personal items to make them homier.

Entering the luxurious officers’ quarters. Officers in the British Army would pay for their commission (equivalent to the cost of buying a house today) and would hire soldiers to act as their valets or batmen. The officers had much nicer quarters and could bring personal items to make them homier.

The valets had to do the work for the officers in addition to their own duties.

The valets had to do the work for the officers in addition to their own duties.

The officers ate much better food that was supplemented with local game and fish.

The officers ate much better food that was supplemented with local game and fish.

A lot of alcohol was served with meals that were prepared in casemates (more on those later).

A lot of alcohol was served with meals that were prepared in casemates (more on those later).

The army furnished the quarters with Canadian-made furniture to reduce costs, but there were still a lot of British imports.

The army furnished the quarters with Canadian-made furniture to reduce costs, but there were still a lot of British imports.

The games room where officer played cards, backgammon, chess, other games, and drank more alcohol.

The games room where officer played cards, backgammon, chess, other games, and drank more alcohol.

Another view of the game room.

Another view of the game room.

These rooms were for officers only!

These rooms were for officers only!

How the British Army was organized in Canada, basing itself in all the major cities.

How the British Army was organized in Canada, basing itself in all the major cities.

I love this style of portable writing desk.

I love this style of portable writing desk.

Montreal was a large territory to defend and so the area is dotted with forts. There is a reference to Chambly, a hint to a future post.

Montreal was a large territory to defend and so the area is dotted with forts. There is a reference to Chambly, a hint to a future post.

Nice fireplace!

Nice fireplace!

skate blade

skate blade

confirmation that the aforementioned piece of metal is a skate blade

confirmation that the aforementioned piece of metal is a skate blade

original die, domino, and game piece made of bone

original die, domino, and game piece made of bone

reproduction of a deck of cards

reproduction of a deck of cards

How to become an officer. Step one: be rich.

How to become an officer. Step one: be rich.

The cost of becoming an officer.

The cost of becoming an officer.

Advancing in ranks was otherwise very slow. The purchase of commissions was abolished in 1871.

Advancing in ranks was otherwise very slow. The purchase of commissions was abolished in 1871.

the officers' quarters were upstairs

the officers’ quarters were upstairs

on the top landing

on the top landing

officers would bring spices and sauces like mustard to make their food more palatable

officers would bring spices and sauces like mustard to make their food more palatable

personal items, like a bone tooth brush and a clothing brush

personal items, like a bone tooth brush and a clothing brush

The army provided basic furnishings. Officers supplied first aid and hygiene kits and items to decorate their quarters, the only place they had privacy.

The army provided basic furnishings. Officers supplied first aid and hygiene kits and items to decorate their quarters, the only place they had privacy.

Still from the movie about the Jews at Fort Lennox talking about Rabbi Erwin Schild.

Still from the movie about the Jews at Fort Lennox talking about Rabbi Erwin Schild.

Another still providing a little bit of context.

Another still providing a little bit of context.

An officer's bedroom.

An officer’s bedroom.

These rooms had closets!

These rooms had closets!

A casemate, which is essentially a pantry. Officers had their own separate from the soldiers and even converted one into a wine cellar.

A casemate, which is essentially a pantry. Officers had their own separate from the soldiers and even converted one into a wine cellar.

inside the powder magazine

inside the powder magazine

These jail cells are more modern than the interpretative areas of the fort, which were set up to show life in the 1830s in the fort. The cells date from the 1870s, when prisoners had a few more rights, including a larger space and a window. Prisoners could only be held here for up to a week and had to stand all day. For more serious crimes, they had to be taken to martial court in Montreal.

These jail cells are more modern than the interpretative areas of the fort, which were set up to show life in the 1830s in the fort. The cells date from the 1870s, when prisoners had a few more rights, including a larger space and a window. Prisoners could only be held here for up to a week and had to stand all day. For more serious crimes, they had to be taken to martial court in Montreal.

close up of the heavy door

close up of the heavy door

detail of the wall

detail of the wall

Note the wooden pegs in the floor. These were brought to my attention in the powder magazine. The soldiers had iron bits attached the heels of their boots. Wooden pegs meant that they would not strike a spark as they walked, especially important in a building used to store black powder!

Note the wooden pegs in the floor. These were brought to my attention in the powder magazine. The soldiers had iron bits attached the heels of their boots. Wooden pegs meant that they would not strike a spark as they walked, especially important in a building used to store black powder!

at the fire arm demonstration; the man in blue played the part of the powder magazine man

at the fire arm demonstration; the man in blue played the part of the powder magazine man

The man looking down gave the demonstration about the uniforms and was the 'husband' of the woman who gave the guided costumed tour.

The man looking down gave the demonstration about the uniforms and was the ‘husband’ of the woman who gave the guided costumed tour.

at attention!

at attention!

aim!

aim!

fire!

fire!

I wasn't quick enough on the trigger; can you see the wisp of smoke?

I wasn’t quick enough on the trigger; can you see the wisp of smoke?

got it the second time!

got it the second time!

We are behind the general barracks looking at a row of casemates for the soldiers; the last few have windows and are 'kitchens'

We are behind the general barracks looking at a row of casemates for the soldiers; the last few have windows and are ‘kitchens’

looking into a casemate

looking into a casemate

these stairs lead up to the barracks

these stairs lead up to the barracks

Inside the barracks, where the soldiers slept two to a bed. If they weren't at capacity, a man could share his bed with his wife while the children slept on the floor. If they were at capacity, then the wife slept on the floor, too. Wives did cleaning, laundry, and helped with food preps, but were not cooks. They were given half of what their husband got for food and the children got a third. The army only provided breakfast and lunch and soldiers were on their own for dinner!

Inside the barracks, where the soldiers slept two to a bed. If they weren’t at capacity, a man could share his bed with his wife while the children slept on the floor. If they were at capacity, then the wife slept on the floor, too. Wives did cleaning, laundry, and helped with food preps, but were not cooks. They were given half of what their husband got for food and the children got a third. The army only provided breakfast and lunch and soldiers were on their own for dinner!

back on the dock looking at the ferry on the mainland

back on the dock looking at the ferry on the mainland

the ferry on its way to pick me up

the ferry on its way to pick me up

I drove back to Chambly long the canal and was stopped for a while at the one-lane bridge. I'll get back to the canal in a future post.

I drove back to Chambly long the canal and was stopped for a while at the one-lane bridge. I’ll get back to the canal in a future post.