Ever since I first saw the Montebello, as a tour guide for Grade 8 school groups one summer during first year university, I thought it would be a pretty neat place to come in the winter.
The world's biggest log cabin has hosted us for a day or two in summers past, en route home from PEI, but we'd never been there in winter. This year, inspired by a desire to reduce the amount of "stuff" in my life coupled with a few weeks of temporary homelessness while the kids visit their dad on a break from our year in Argentina, I negotiated a great deal well in advance, and gave Tats and the boys a few nights at the Montebello for Christmas.
Despite the fact that both Alex and I are sick as dogs, and have been hacking up a lung, the resort did not disappoint. Orignally a club for the wealthy, the Chateau Montebello is now a hotel owned by the Fairmont chain (okay, so it's still a club for the wealthy, hehe!) and offers a dizzying array of activities in all seasons: We've already participated in T'ai Ch'i, Sunday Brunch (YUM!), snow carving, dog sledding and tubing. Still on the list are snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and ice hockey.
And the boys want to go dog sledding one more time. :D
The grand lobby, difficult to capture on a phone camera, is warm and inviting, a tall, tastefully decorated Christmas tree reaching up three stories to the enormous wooden beams spanning the third floor ceiling.
During the day, Monte, the hotel dog (a sweet golden retriever who was a little too social to successfully complete his guide dog training!) wanders the lobby, collecting pats and hugs from friendly strangers.
Here is a public gathering space of sorts, where one can sign out various board games to play or just sit in front of the five-sided fireplace in one of the comfy chairs or couches, enjoying a tea, hot chocolate or scotch in the evening... last night, the boys joined us out here, and fell asleep on the couch, snuggled together in a blanket in front of the warm fire. We carried them back to the room many hours later, after satiating our Internet cravings (we'd been offline for most of the previous week!), and transferred them into their comfortable bed there.
I know how lucky we are, and I feel very blessed to be able to count this experience among our few weeks home in Canada over the holidays.
We did it -- we actually made it to Morell on our bikes, to mail a letter!
Brian brought by some snowshoes (we had been ready to buy a pair or two from the Co-op in Morell, but they were already sold out!), which made negotiating the knee-deep snow considerably easier.
We even managed to squeeze in a quick trek to the beach before Christmas Eve dinner... no crawling on hands and knees this time!!
Click the first photo below to begin a self-guided slide show of larger pics w/ captions.
My drums have been calling to me since my arrival Friday afternoon, but the weather conditions have precluded a trip across the field to the music cabin. More specifically, the snow drifts surrounding the cabin seemed impenetrable, even though the area immediately surrounding the cabin was clear.
Alas, after several days of falling snow and ice pellets, the white dunes between me and my drums were not getting any smaller, so last night, I waded through them (waist-deep in some places!) and made my way out to the little yellow cabin.
It was FREEZING inside!!!
Even after 15 minutes of running the baseboard heater, I could still see my breath in front of me, so I left the heater on low overnight, turned out the lights, and went back to the main house.
My plan worked. This morning, the cabin was toasty warm... I pulled the blanket of my kit and arranged it so that I could slip in behind it.
Then, I played for nearly an hour... warm-ups at first, and syncopation and sticking exercises, but then some glorious tunes from the 80s, my favourite "fun and easy drumming" accompaniment playlist blasting Satch, Guns and Roses, and AC/DC at me through the headphones I had left out here last summer in anticipation of this mid-year break reunion.
Yesterday afternoon we made our first attempt at accessing the beach.
The main road was fine, but as soon as we got to the dirt road that leads down to the beach cottages and dune path, we began to understand why our ocean-front neighbour has been parking his car here over the winter months: The giant mound of snow that greeted us reached up nearly to the top of the "Gulf View Rd" street sign, rendering the waterfront road inaccessible to the average car . And, when we crawled over it, the snow on this "road" came up past our knees!
Tats immediately saw that walking on two legs would be futile. She dropped to her knees to more evenly distribute her body weight, and crawled some distance.
I attempted to stay upright and admire the bleak landscape as I walked...
As I continuoulsy sunk into and had to haul my entire body out of the snow, however, I soon saw the error of my ways, and begain to crawl, too!
Multiple times I wondered if we would actually make it. It even began to rain -- thank goodness we had somewhat waterproof gear on!! But finally, the desolate landscape of the winter beach and snow-covered harbour came into view, and we knew we would soon reach our goal.
As we hauled ourselves onto the "beach" and lay looking up at the winter sky, I marvelled at how impressive the Greenwich Dunes looked in the distance. No camera can adequately capture its magnificence in summer, and winter plays the same trick on the human-made lens: a majestic and multi-dimensional horizon that calls to the viewer in person is reduced to a few shades of grey through the camera.
We desperately want to go back... but we definitely need snowshoes for this trek!
We arrived on PEI to a white, winter wonderland: The sand dunes and beaches had been replaced by snow drifts and frozen ice chunks glittering in the sunlight. I couldn’t wait to get to our house and see what winter looks like in St Peter’s Harbour -- one of my favourite seasons out here is early summer, with purple lupin accentuating the lush, green fields that surround our rural home on the island, and I couldn’t imagine this pastoral, ocean-view setting enveloped in a cloak of snow.
After an uncharacteristically urban-like grocery shopping and traffic experience in Charlottetown, we headed off along Hwy 2 for the 26-minutes-in-summer-weather drive to St. Peter’s Harbour.
It was so neat to see the snow drifts, mostly pristine, but with just the tiniest hint of red from stray island dirt that had been blown across the tops of them by the most recent maritime storm!
I also noticed that the house on which construction had begun next door last summer was finished. AND there were lights on inside, and a Christmas tree could be seen from the upstairs window. It appeared our new neighbours were to be year-rounders. We made a mental note to go knock on the door and get to know them ASAP!
But first, we had to haul all our winter luggage and a week’s worth of groceries from the car to the house. Thankfully, another neighbour had dug us out, shovelling the end of the driveway as well as a little path to the front door.
First, a Toast
The first thing we did upon arrival was unpack the groceries and the giant flask of Argentinean beer we had brought with us for our dear friend who was good enough to pick us up at the airport and take us grocery shopping before ferrying us out to St Peter’s Harbour. Then we threw together some food and sat down to a mid-afternoon meal and beverages.
No sooner had we finished eating then there was a knock on the door.
Turns out our new neighbours are even nosier than I am, hehe: Not only did he know all about our arrival on island, but -- thanks to the brief bio on my homeschooling blog and inspired by an account of an Argentinean Asada therein -- he even knew I was a vegetarian, and had accordingly picked up a veggie pizza from the local pizzeria in Morell!!
And now, here he was, standing in our front hall, inviting us over to eat!
My girlfriend and our PEI friend chuckled as they realised I had met my match.
We put on our winter gear and headed off down the road to properly meet our new neighbours and admire their gorgeous house. We so enjoyed one another’s company that we stayed until it was time to eat again (and boy, did I ever enjoy that yummy veggie pizza!! Thanks, Sid, if you are reading this!)
By comparison to Toronto (and now, especially Buenos Aires!), the island is a pretty peaceful place, especially our neck of the woods out here on the north shore, far from the chaos of Cavendish. But with even the few summer tourists gone, the peacefulness of the Island moves to a whole new level. No late night campfires, no noise from the beach, no cars passing by… with the freshly fallen snow muffling even the slightest sounds of the odd human or animal who might make a peep in this isolated time and location, the serenity of St Peter’s Harbour in winter is unparalleled!
When I awoke the next morning, I was eager to examine my favourite outlooks in this different season. But when I got up, I heard the distant squeaking of our other neighbours’ young children, and when I peeked outside, I saw three little people playing in the snow next door.
After a week in Ontario with a delightful toddler and his two 10-month-old twin sisters, which had been preceded by three months straight of my own kids, I was missing the children, so I put on various layers and headed outside to say hello and play in the snow.
It was nice to catch up a little with our other neighbours, and to see them for the first time in winter (usually when I see this particular neighbour, he is sitting atop a lawn mower). I also learned that last year’s December snowfall had been 8 cm, and including this latest dumping, this year’s snowfall had already given Islanders over 70!
Red Roads and White Beaches
Heading back to the house, I stopped to marvel at the red roads peeking up through the snow. I followed the road with my eye to where it led to the beach I walk along so often each summer.
Determined to visit the beach at least once during this winter sojourn, I went inside, peeled off several layers of outerwear, and headed upstairs to wake Tatiana so that we could explore the beach together.
The lure of a cozy bed and a quiet house proved too much of a temptation, however, and I ended up falling asleep for several more hours.
The winter beach excursion will have to wait!
This week has been a whirlwind of packing and re-packing, running errands, catching up with friends, flying airplanes, hanging out with the VERY cute twin babies whose parents we're staying with for a few days... but the highlight of the week, for me, was definitely squeezing in the annual tradition of playing with Vinx for some of the classes at school. I am grateful for the teachers who invited us in, for the students who were so receptive to the music, and for Vinx, someone with whom to make said music!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!) Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
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