Ride with us as we buy and drive a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette for 12,000km across America and into Canada over 7 weeks. Then we ship it back to New Zealand!
2023 USA Road Trip: Day 28 | Detroit, Michigan to Toronto, Ontario
States entered after today: 20
Distance driven today: 278 miles/ 448 km
Total distance driven: 5,515 miles/ 8,875 km
We’re heading to Canada today, and not being sure of the price of gas I decided to fill the Corvette up in Detroit. Many pumps in the USA are finally on a card system, so you don’t have to go inside to pay (in advance) if you don’t want to. That’s great, but I’ve noticed around half the pumps with this feature ask you to put your zip code in but won’t accept a New Zealand 4-digit postcode (USA is 5 digits). It’s a bit of a bummer and feels like a bug in their system. Still, I’m happy at the low cost of US$4.15 a gallon, which equates to NZ$1.58/litre.
We hit the interstate towards Lake Huron, where we are going to cross the border. I’ve mentioned in other travel blogs that the USA has some interstates with minimum speeds signposted. Today we saw a minimum of 55 mph on a 70 mph interstate, which is excellent. Of course, even though we are doing 70 everyone is passing us, even huge trucks. No one does the speed limit here and even through roadworks with a posted limit of 55 mph, all cars are still doing 70 and some 85 mph or so. I don’t mind driving fast at all, but in the USA it all feels a bit too loose.
Crossing the bridge into Canada was easy, and it was less than 2 minutes with the Canadian customs guy. I get the feeling that Canada knows that Americans like to drive way over the limit, as one of the first signs we see says that if you are caught doing 150km/h or more, you get fined up to $10,000, get your license suspended on the spot and have your car seized on the spot.
You’d think that would slow those yanks down, and we notice that they do drive to the limit – for about ten miles. Then it’s foot down, tailgating and hard out. We also pass a sign that says “No tailgating” so the Canadians are on to that as well.
All our speed limit signs and directions are now in km/h and km, so that means making use of the Corvette’s ability to switch between imperial and metric just by pushing a button on the dash. But because America, weirdly the button is labeled “E/M” for English/Metric. Yep, in the USA all measurements are in English but anywhere else? That’s simply Metric. In your face, the Metric System! Our C4 Corvette had the same labelling so I’ll have to check a C8 Corvette when I next get in one to see if they have ‘fixed’ that or not.
We call into London for a bit of lunch and try to find parking. The first one we come to costs CA$5 for 20 minutes of parking. We move on to find something a bit cheaper and find it’s $5 for 15 minutes down the road. It feels like someone is cashing in here, but we find a decent car park building at $8 for as long as you want.
For lunch, we headed to You Made It Cafe. The food is excellent; fresh and green and already a huge improvement over fried everything in the USA. This place is all about training youth to learn new skills like producing food for and running a cafe. All the photos on the walls show senior members of staff showing younger people how to make different foods. It’s excellent to see and we are happy to support it.
With that, it was back on the road for a few hours for the drive to Toronto. Dead-straight roads, a 100km/h speed limit (yeah right!) and easy driving – until we got close to Toronto. Then an accident started off a huge traffic jam and we had a number of quick exit changes to deal with. In this respect, Canada is a whole lot like America!
Let’s hope our Toronto visit tomorrow proves differently.
2023 USA Road Trip: Day 29 | Toronto, Ontario
We’re spending the day in Toronto, and have a walking tour booked. We love walking tours; you get to hear so many stories and learn the history of a town and its people from a local – it’s like a ghost tour but in the daytime.
We met our tour guide at Berczy Park, a park made for people and their pets. In fact, the fountain is made up of 27 dogs and 1 cat, with water being squirted out of the dog’s mouths. Not actually made with dogs and a cat, but it features them and it’s awesome.
We started our long walking tour at 10 am, and when I said long, it was three hours. I must admit by the end, our legs were pretty stuffed. It was worth it though as Ally, our tour guide, rattled off stories, dates and names like she was reading a book. How a person (who was born in Armenia, not Canada) can remember so much detail is beyond my brainpower.
At one point, we headed down underground for a bit of a tour of Toronto’s hidden tunnels, with 28km of underground pathways joining around 75 different buildings. It’s used mainly in the winter months when it’s far too cold outside to even be outside, but it’s also a nice way to get away from the traffic and the drivers of Toronto who seem to love to toot their horns for no reason. It’s like Canada’s New York City.
Ally tells us that this is actually the biggest underground area of anywhere in Canada, and we believe her, as we walk on and on and on. She stops and shows us a floor plan of where we walked from and it’s the barest percentage of the available walkways.
At one point, we go under what used to be a bank to look at an old vault. The door is enormous and weighs 40 tons. It was pulled there in 1913 by 18 horses and hauling it destroyed the road as they dragged it. Incredibly, it may weigh 40 tons but even in the early 1900s they managed to design it so it could be opened with a single finger.
We walk on and on underground, walking past safe deposit boxes, through alleyways and all sorts of areas you’d assume would be off-limits to the public. It seems the Canadians are not only friendly, but very trusting as well.
We pop out into the street and move on to one of the most photographed spots in Toronto:
It is a nice, wide-open spot and the water in the pond becomes an ice-skating rink in winter. There are some grates alongside the pond with hot air coming out of them, venting the subways. Ally tells us that in winter, the homeless people sleep over these to stop freezing to death. The authorities have tried giving them accommodation, but some just want to sleep outside – even when it is literally freezing.
One of our last stops was in another park area with an eternal flame. It was here that Ally gave us the story of Canadian, Terry Fox. I had not heard of him or his story, but it blew me away. In a nutshell, Terry was a hard-out basketball fan and had a dream of being a famous basketballer when he grew up. He trained his heart out to achieve his dream, but in 1977 when he was 18 years old, he got cancer above his knee and the only solution was to amputate his entire leg. There went his dreams of being a famous basketball player.
His dreams of playing professional basketball gone, he instead focused on raising money for cancer research and to do this, he ran a standard (42km) marathon wearing a prosthetic leg. But he didn’t stop at one marathon, he ran one every day for 143 days, running across Canada, with one prosthetic leg.
Sadly, after running 5,373km, the cancer returned and Terry died. There is so much more to this story, but there is no doubt it is an incredible story of resilience and determination, and the eternal flame in the park we were at was a symbol of that story. Apparently, nearly all Canadians know the story of Terry Fox, and I am glad to know his story.
2023 USA Road Trip: Day 30 | Toronto, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec
States entered after today: 20
Distance driven today: 328 miles/ 528 km
Total distance driven: 5,845 miles/ 9,407 km
It’s a milestone today, as we clock over 9,000 km on our trip so far – in 30 days. Starting off from our hotel, once we get onto the 401 East highway, it’s 500 km in a straight line and that’s an almost literal straight line. There’s a 100 km/h limit but all drivers drive way over that speed.
On the road, we eventually pull into the town of Kingston for lunch at a Dennys. My wife is laughing as I try to order some toast with my lunch:
Waitress: What sort of bread would you like?
Me: Wheat, thanks.
Waitress: No problem, white it is.
Me: No, wheat.
Waitress: Sure, white.
Me: No, that’s wheat.
Me: No wheat. W-H-E-A-T.
Waitress: Ah, wholemeal!
It starts raining an hour out of Hawkesbury, where our hotel is. Why Hawkesbury, when it’s an hour and a half from Montreal? Because I booked the wrong hotel. Regardless, the rain brings out the worst in Canadian drivers. Their tailgating doesn’t stop – if anything they are driving even closer to each other, and they boogie along at speeds way over the limit. No one is driving with their headlights on, so they are all invisible in the heavy rain. Indicators when merging or changing lanes? No one is doing that. I’m sitting back, waiting for a crash but miraculously, no one does.
As we get closer to Hawkesbury, all the signs on the motorway are now in French only. Damn you English people, just learn French and be done with it. Thank God for GPS.
At the hotel, all the newspapers at reception are in French, but at least their signs are bi-lingual. I struggle to check in as the girl behind the desk speaks broken English, but we get there eventually!
2023 USA Road Trip: Day 31 | Montreal, Quebec
It absolutely poured down with rain on the way into Montreal, and this time we did see one major crash as a result of someone following too closely.
Getting into Old Montreal, it’s still raining and there are tourists with umbrellas everywhere. Quickly, we strike that European feel in the city: cobblestone streets. The Corvette doesn’t like these at all, so it’s slow going until we get to a car park.
Breaking out our own umbrellas, we start walking and are amazed by the city, even though it’s difficult to see very far in the rain. While Toronto has kept some of its old buildings and simply built new skyscrapers next to them, Old Montreal is full of mostly very old buildings. It’s a stunning sight and you can really picture yourself in the city back in the 1800s.
Our first stop is the main tourist attraction, the Notre Dame Basilica. Each year, a million visitors pass through this iconic building. It’s so famous that Canada’s favourite female singer, Celine Dion, got married there.
The church was officially opened in 1683 but the entire building wasn’t completed until the mid-1800s. That includes one of its famous bells, named Jean-Baptiste. The bell alone weighs 10,900Kg. It is a stunning building and while we weren’t keen to stand in the huge line to go inside, by all accounts it is just as stunning on the inside.
After lunch, it was time for a walk along Rue St. Paul, one of Old Montreal’s most famous tourist streets. Often called “the most Parisienne of streets”, some of it is closed to traffic and this is where you will find all the tourists and along with tourists, so many shops selling Montreal gifts and souvenirs. Laid in cobblestone, the street dates back to 1672.
All the buildings on Rue St. Paul are original and it’s a treat to simply walk along it, even in soaked shoes. There are multiple options for food here, although every single one looks packed.
By the mid-afternoon, our shoes were wet through and it was time to head back to the hotel. We’d had enough. We’d got a taster of Old Montreal and loved it. We’ll be back, hopefully on a sunnier day.
2023 USA Road Trip: Day 32 | Montreal, Quebec to Claremont, New Hampshire
States entered after today: 22
Distance driven today: 400 miles/ 644 km
Total distance driven: 6,426 miles/ 10,052 km
After a too short visit, we’re leaving Canada today and heading back to the USA. Deciding it’s a good time to gas up while the prices in the US are still high, I fill the car at a gas station near the hotel for CA$1.76/litre, or NZ$2.19/litre. That’s getting a little too close for home, so hopefully, it is cheaper on the east coast of the USA.
It doesn’t take too long for us to arrive at the border, which is tiny. There’s just one US Customs guy in a booth and that’s pretty much it. After our last experience with a really friendly Canadian customs guy, this one was a lot more surly. He asked lots of questions about the car, who owned it, what was going to happen to it. He asked where we lived – and yet he had our New Zealand passports. Confused, I answered “New Zealand” and he then went on to ask if we owned a house in LA. Still confused, I told him we lived in New Zealand and not LA. I think he was trying to trip us up and had assumed since we bought a Corvette that we were living in the US. He eventually let us through.
It was weird crossing the border into Vermont and instantly, all the signs were in English. While it made it easier to travel, I miss Quebec and its French signs already.
We cruise on to Burlington and head into the township to look at the world’s tallest filing cabinet. Why? We don’t know, but it was a bit of a “well it’s there” moment, so we went. And yes, it’s tall at 38 filing cabinets high.
From Burlington we headed to Waterbury, still in Vermont, to go to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. This has been on our must-do list for a while, but we couldn’t get on a factory tour. This weekend is Columbus Weekend in the USA, and that means people are everywhere, accommodation is booked out and attractions like Ben and Jerry’s factory tour are booked way out in advance.
It was interesting to see that when we went to buy our ice creams there was a notice to say they do not ask for tips for staff, as they simply pay their staff a decent amount, so no need for tips. That was a surprise and a nice touch.
Still, we queued up for 20 minutes just to buy some ice creams for lunch. It was worth it though, my flavour of The Tonight Dough (named after Saturday Night Live) was excellent, as was the second flavour in my waffle cone, triple caramel. These were a meal each so definitely no need for lunch.
After lunch, we walked to the Flavour Graveyard. This sounded corny, and it is, but pretty enjoyable all the same and the graveyard was packed with visitors. Each of the old flavours that are no more has its own headstone, and some very witty writer has mocked up epitaphs for each of them.
Post the graveyard, we headed inside to the gift shop to look at the Ben and Jerry’s timeline. Apparently, Ben and Jerry decided to start their own business, so they did a $5 course on how to make ice cream. That’s pretty much it, they went from there and now sell to 33 countries, including New Zealand. Ben and Jerry’s was bought out by Unilever in 2002, something I did not know.
It was back on the road again, trying to get out of the Ben & Jerry’s parking lot on Columbus weekend was a mission. After crossing the state border, we continued on to Montpelier, the capital city of New Hampshire, our 22nd state of this road trip. On the way into Montpelier, the trip meter in the Corvette rolled over, so we had done 10,000km driving since we started our roadie 32 days ago.
We’d never been to Montpelier and had time, so it was good to get out of the car and go for a walk. The capital building is impressive, with its huge gold-coloured dome. It wasn’t open today, which was a shame.
Walking around the town, there are a lot of buildings from the mid-1800s still in use, and many of them in brilliant condition.
As we walked past the cinema, we saw it was being refurbished and had a laugh at the sign they had put up:
Another hour’s driving and we arrived at our hotel in Claremont (still in New Hampshire) for the night. We’ve picked Claremont for no other reason than it was on the route and the timing worked out – and they had rooms on this long weekend. The town looks pretty historic, so we may spend some time tomorrow checking it out.
2023 USA Road Trip: Day 33 | Claremont, New Hampshire to Hartford, Connecticut
States entered after today: 25
Distance driven today: 138 miles/ 223 km
Total distance driven: 6,597 miles/ 10,275 km
To start our day, we head into the historic part of Claremont, New Hampshire. We stroll around the town square, and it looks like so many town squares in American movies that we have seen.
Ambling about the town, it’s obviously old with buildings dating back to the early 1800s. This was a mill town to start with, with the first cotton mill being built in the town in 1839. According to the info we read, some of America’s finest cotton was made in Claremont right through to the mid-1950s.
We hit the road, and randomly pick the town of Northampton for a look; we leave the state of New Hampshire and go back into Vermont, then into Massachusetts, and by the end of today we’ll be in Connecticut. As we are pulling into the historic part of Northampton, there is a Columbus Day Parade just starting and we even manage to nab a parking spot. It was a privilege to witness the parade, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
To top it off, one of the marching bands – with the members dressed in period costumes – started playing Yankee Doodle – and they nailed it perfectly.
It wasn’t a big parade by any means but that was fine by us, we love small-town America so smaller just means more personal.
After the parade goes past we follow it up to Northampton’s town square, checking out all the historic buildings here. There are many, and so many that are common with other old towns we’ve been to: courthouse, church, bank, post office. Those are always the earliest buildings.
We love walking through this town and end up going into too many bookshops (well, one of us does) and grab a coffee in a cafe. There’s a really nice vibe in this town, possibly due to it being a university town; it’s located in the heart of the Five-College area, and home to prestigious Smith College for Women. That means there is a good mix of age groups, rather than just older people as we see so often in other small towns.
Back on the interstate, our next stop is the town of Hartford, Connecticut – our 25th state for the trip. Hartford is the state capital of Connecticut, with a population of around 150,000. But the city is quite spread out, and see we struggle to find its historic heart.
But what we do find is an old graveyard, behind a church. This was a highlight of Hartford, as we wander around graves dating back to the 1600s. That might seem weird, but it’s places like this that are steeped in history that blow us away. The graveyard is dedicated to the Honorable John Haynes, one of the city’s founders. He was born in 1594 and died in 1653; his grave is still there, and you can still easily read his epitaph.
It’s quite a sombre place to visit and seeing gravestones for entire families dying from one disease or another is heartbreaking.
2023 USA Road Trip: Day 34 | Hartford, Connecticut to Provincetown, Massachusetts
States entered after today: 25
Distance driven today: 219 miles/ 352 km
Total distance driven: 6,776 miles/ 10,904 km
Did a slow drive today to Provincetown, at the end of Cape Cod. It’s the furthest town on the peninsula, and definitely the most eastern point of our trip.
The drive there was pretty uneventful, with not much traffic and mostly a 65mph speed limit.
By the time we stopped for coffee, gas, toilet breaks and lunch, it was mid-afternoon when we arrived at Provincetown and even though yesterday was Columbus Day and so a public holiday, the little seaside town was pumping with tourists. We find parking right by the wharf for $4 an hour, whereas others were charging $15 or more as a flat rate – even at 3 p.m.
At last, after almost 5 weeks of travelling, we get to see the ocean again. While the lakes up around Michigan and Canada are quite stunning – and enormous – there is nothing like the ocean.
Walking in Provincetown, the main street is so narrow it’s obviously pretty old, and you can picture horses and buggies moving along it back in the cowboy days. The town was founded in 1727 and still shows signs of its history.
A lot of the shops are now selling souvenirs, so there are Provincetown tee-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps everywhere.
While the official name is Provincetown, all the locals call it ‘PTown’, perhaps now not a good choice of name.
The entire town seems to embrace all genders too, as many shops are selling rainbow-related tee-shirts and fridge magnets, and there are large amounts of same-sex couples walking the streets with us. This feels like one place where we are outnumbered as heterosexuals, but the vibe is all good and everyone is friendly, not that we expected anything less. We find out from a local that it’s Women’s Week and it’s being held in the town.
In the evening, we called into The Mayflower for dinner. Packed with people, so surely a good sign – and it was. Everything was fresh and delicious, and we even managed to squeeze in a dessert to share. With the portion sizes of American meals, it’s not often we have the capacity to even share a dessert.
Immediately across the road from the restaurant is the Post Office Cafe which is apparently the longest-running drag show on Commercial Street, called Illusions. That’s probably not a massive claim to fame, but for $30 each we thought it was worth a watch.
This was our first drag show ever and it didn’t disappoint. While initially, the drag queens seemed to be phoning in their routines, as the 90 minutes went on they got more into it and delivered a polished performance. We weren’t really sure of the protocol, but it turns out you need to have lots of $1 bills handy to hand out to each drag queen as they go past you, while performing. There were some duets as well and some threesomes (performing threesomes, that is).
We enjoyed the show and would certainly see another one if we get the chance. It’s a very different experience, especially when they are effectively miming the songs, but it was a laugh and the whole audience really got into it.
Tomorrow, we head to the island of Martha’s Vineyard – our first visit there ever.