I think one of the best parts of travelling was stopping to eat at the small road side parks. The parks were always by a river or small lake. Since Jim and I were driving we stuck to cold cuts and pop. Our guests dined in Russian vacation style with cold cuts and vodka. A notable feature of the roadside parks was the well-maintained privies. When you're on the road for a while you get to be a connoisseur of privies. Our guests never commented on the fact they all had toilet paper. When travelling through Russia, you carry your own.
Up until leaving Sault Ste Marie the scenery was much like Russia, outside of the main cities all we saw was pavement, rocks, trees, rivers and some small lakes. We had decided to return on Highway 17 along the lake shore so they could see the spectacular scenery. The weather did us in. It was rainy and foggy all the way to Thunder Bay. Except for stopping at Wawa and seeing the biggest goose in creation, we were just putting on the miles to get home. The range on VE3YQT the Thunder Bay repeater was extremely good and we started accessing the repeater before Rossport. We did cause some confusion, not many were used to hearing VE3/UA0SR/mobile. As we got closer to town more people came on the repeater to say hello. One of them was Ron, FP5EK. Apparently he got delayed and instead of being two days ahead of us he was only a few hours before us. He was getting clued in on the final directions to my house. Laura and Ron after travelling over a week with three youngsters were anxious to get at the washer and dryer to catch up on laundry. Ron's final word to us, from the two metre radio in my kitchen, was that he would see us when we got home. He was going to hit the shower.
After two days on the road we had arrived. It is a good thing our Russian visitors are used to long distances. Serge travelled 3 1/2 days by train to get to Moscow. Flying on a direct flight to Moscow takes 5 1/2 to six hours. Good news, my sister Val, who lives next door had prepared vegetables along with a roast and gravy so we could have supper when we arrived. Between Jim and myself we managed accommodations for the first couple of days. Jim had four people and I had seven. Ron and Laura and the youngsters took over the main bedroom, Serge and Alexander took over the small bedroom and I moved to the daybed in the front room. I could have set up in the radio room but that would have stopped Serge from playing radio until the wee hours. One night he worked DX on 20 metres until 4:00 a.m. I don't know who had it better, but with a cot and two mattresses on the floor Ron and Laura were the most crowded. On the third day Alexander moved in with Terry, VE3TKA so Serge ended up with a bedroom all his own until the night before we had to set out to Mirabel.
We did all the usual tourist things, Old Fort William, Kakabeka Falls etc as well as a special boat tour of Silver Islet conducted by Captain Tom VE3YTB/N3JMA. Shopping was one of the main events for our visitors. While Thunder Bay does not have malls as big as in Ottawa or Toronto there is a pretty good selection of stores. The quality of the goods was what impressed our visitors. With the changes going on in Russia there are a wide variety of goods available but the quality is poor. Most of the goods come from China. In the evenings we were wined and dined at various amateur and non amateur residences. VE3GTX and Carol, VE3TKA and Pat, VE3RVA and Gail, VE3BBS and Linda along with my sister Barbara and her husband Chris were our generous hosts. There was no shortage of food and beverages. I would say our visitors had a chance to sample a broad cross section of both.
John VE3GTX has a specialty called plastic hot dogs. Young Nathan was eating his barbecued hot dog and making various comments about its quality, (it tasted like plastic). Laura at first said "don't be silly, eat your hot dog." Upon investigation we found the reason they tasted like burnt plastic. The wieners came in a sealed package of a dozen. In addition to this, which we did not notice, each one was individually wrapped, (only in Canada you say). We wondered why they browned so fast. No harm done, Nathan was a bit upset the next morning, but was okay later in the day. I could say everything was wrapped up satisfactorily, but I won't.
On the Friday, the day after our arrival in Thunder Bay our visitors participated in the Kids of Steel Marathon and Saturday morning, the Boulevard Lake Triathlon. Serge UA0SR and Vasili UA0SN handled the communications at a couple of check points. This was their first time being involved in a public service event. Saturday afternoon the Lakehead Amateur Radio Club sponsored a barbecue at my house. Fifty to sixty people turned out, a real good showing. The weather was great, sunshine and warm. Camcorders and cameras had a busy afternoon and early evening. Laurie VE3BCD had his remote controlled helicopter with him and gave a demonstration flight in the evening. You could see he stuck to pop during the day as the chopper flew straight and level.
Every Saturday morning amateurs from Thunder Bay and the surrounding area gather for breakfast at the Blue Parrot. Normal turnout is from twelve to thirty people. The Triathlon on Saturday morning meant breakfast at the Blue Parrot was out. We switched it to Sunday morning and the turnout was a record. Sunday afternoon we travelled to Trout Lake to stay at the Boy Scout Camp, which is very close to Skip's VE3BBS lake shore home. Ron's Mom and Dad, Ken VE3EHT and his wife Angela were travelling through Thunder Bay going west and they joined us for the evening at Skip and Linda's home. Since Jim, I and our Russian guests were to over night at the scout camp, there was a bedroom open at my house. Ron, Laura and the youngsters along with his parents returned to my house to spend the night. This gave them the chance to visit and see his parents off in the morning.
Monday morning Skip fired up his mother-in-law's steam bath, she lives next door to him. Natalia and Lyuda took advantage of this and then went for a swim after the steam bath. Alexander UA0SF who is very interested in anything mechanical, steam heated or steam driven had to have a look at the steam bath. After looking it over, Skip said, lets go back to the house and walked out the door. He had gone along the path a short way when he noticed he was talking to himself. Sasha (Alexander) was not in sight. When he walked back to the steam bath he heard the sound of water being poured. The mystery was solved, Alexander was having a steam bath. Steam baths are popular in Russia, but they run them much hotter that we do.
Friday evening, the day before we had to leave for Mirabel, Natalia and Lyuda prepared a Russian dinner. Quite a few Thunder Bay amateurs came to say goodbye. The fortunate ones got there early enough to join us for dinner. The fun and games were ending and it was time to get on the road to Mirabel so our visitors could catch their flight home. Saturday morning, July 29, we loaded up the van. I don't know if they arrived with more luggage than they were leaving with. They had brought books, gifts and souvenirs, which were presented to their various hosts. I know these will be treasured by all who received them. As well in their spacious suitcases was an excellent selection of a vodka produced in Irkutsk. While some of this selection ended up in liquor cabinets, others were given suitable last rites.
We left Ron, Laura and the youngsters at my place looking to get away about noon. Ron had said the night before they were going to get away early. Good luck! He was up early but the rest of the family was not. We said goodbye and wished them a good trip home. I said, when you get ready to go lock the door and leave the key with my sister. We decided to take the northern route to Montreal. The view would have been better along the lake shore but the hills eat up a lot of gas. The van was not an economical vehicle. We stopped in Long Lac for coffee where Harvey VE3FQH, Gwen VE3GEQ and Hugette VE3BZH joined us. Hugette had just returned from Yugoslavia. She is much braver than I am, it is not my idea of a vacation spot. Unfortunately we did not have much time to hear of her adventures. Then it was on to Cochrane where we spent the night. Supper that evening was pizza ordered in, not exactly a luxurious repast but it was adequate.
Sunday morning after an early breakfast it was on to Ottawa where we arrived about supper time. We were talking to Archie VE3NJY and Ralph VE3BBM on 2 metres on arrival. It was decided by the group we would do the same as in Cochrane, with two couples sharing one room and four fellows sharing the other. A bit crowded but it kept the expenses down and allowed the group to spend the last evening together. Archie and Ralph dropped down to the Comfort Inn to say hello and visit. Ralph brought down some liquid refreshment that was 12 years old that he had been saving for about 10 years. Lets just say it was very smooth. As one of our guests found out it may have been smooth, but the hangover it produced in the morning was not. That smooth stuff sneaks up on you.
Jim was intent of spending the last morning in Ottawa sight seeing in Canada's capitol city. Our visitors had other ideas. The St. Laurent Mall was just a stone's throw from our motel. Rather than look at old and historical buildings, Russia has many more than us, our friends decided they would rather go through the Mall. Since we had to go to Sears in the mall to pick up some mail orders it worked out very well. Our friends were scheduled to leave Mirabel at 1700 Hrs and we cleared Ottawa about 10:30 a.m. We figured we had lots of time. It was then on to Valleyfeild where we stopped by the river to have lunch. There went the last of the vodka. Lunch ran a bit longer than we figured. One of the interesting comments made at lunch was from Alexander. He said that in Russia foreigners are looked up to and treated with respect, he said he felt like a foreigner. It was his way of saying how he felt he was treated in Canada.
Now all we had to do was find Mirabel. The first trip to Mirabel Jim and I ended on a small road that stopped in some farmers field. The main roads were undergoing construction and signs for the airport were not in place. I thought to myself we better not get lost this time. The clock was ticking and flight time was getting closer. I kept glancing at my watch and when I saw 3:00 p.m. and we were still not there doubt started setting in. Fortunately 20 minutes later we looked up and there were planes going over top. At 3:30 p.m. with 1 1/2 hours until flight time our guests lined up at the counter to arrange boarding passes. The clock said 4:15 p.m. and it was time to say goodbye. It's tough to say goodbye to friends without the eyes getting moist. While we were going to keep in touch through email and radio it is not like sitting at the same table. I know our friends had mixed emotions. They had been away from home for almost a month, what with travelling and waiting time in Moscow. They were anxious to be reunited with their families, yet they would miss Canada. Natalia said it best in a message to Jim. She said sometimes she would dream she was flying to Canada, but she kept waking up before she got there.
All of our guests were great. Everyone got along extremely well. Around the coffee tables after their departure the experiences were being relived. Amateur radio is a unique meeting ground. It gives that common bond from which you can expand friendships.......30