An American Visits Canada, Pt 1

Driving Across the Border

Having never crossed a land border in my life (I’ve only gone through border control in European airports until now), I was a bit apprehensive about the drive to Canada, but research and others who had been there and back assured me that as long as we had our passports to prove our American citizenship and didn’t have any of the obvious items you should NOT bring across the border, we would be fine!

We drove all the way from South Carolina (USA) to Prince Edward Island (Canada) in 2 VERY long days of driving. (Did I mention the drive was VERY long?!?!) The first day, we made it to Vermont, and the second day we made it to our destination in PEI.

In order to leave our apartment by 5am, we got up at 4:30am the first day of the trip. The 2nd day might have been a bit more leisurely, if it weren’t for the fact that we had to get to a currency exchange place in Calais, Maine before they closed (closing time was at noon since it was a Sunday) so we would have a way to purchase gas, food, etc once we had crossed the border.

We had to get up at 3:30am and get on the road immediately in order to ensure that we would be there before the place closed. We couldn’t slow down for a leisurely breakfast, sight see, etc or we could miss the opportunity. We weren’t about to get this close to visiting Canada for the first time and have an issue without currency exchange! We were quite surprised by what a large state Maine really is as we felt we had been in Maine forever before we reached the currency exchange right near the Canadian border!

Thankfully, we didn’t realize that our GPS had not yet been changed with the latest Daylight Savings Time switch, so we actually got there over an hour before close instead of 20 minutes before, as our GPS had told us the entire drive!

The ladies at the exchange were very helpful and kind, even offering over the phone to stay until we arrived if we had ended up a few minutes behind schedule. I was very impressed by their willingness to help out complete strangers on a Sunday afternoon.

The border itself was actually not the headache we may have anticipated in the back of our minds. The guard was brief, courteous, and after showing our passports and answering a few very basic questions, we were officially driving into Canada for the very first time!

It only took us a split second to realize that the highway speed limit of 110 on the posted signs was in Kilometers, not miles! It’s easy enough to account for that minor difference in measurement though, since the car has a built in (albeit much smaller) dial on the speedometer for Kilometers right below the miles-per-hour.

Since Canada has two official languages – English & French – we immediately saw signs in both languages. We had an idea we might encounter a bit of French even outside of Quebec (which we’re not visiting on this particular trip), but that was confirmed when we were first greeted by the border control official, who said “Hello, Bonjour” as soon as we stopped at the booth (basically like a toll booth).

We were astounded, however to turn on the radio and tune into music that was not only French, but some that was in the style of the American South county music, with French lyrics! Some of these songs had a lead vocalist singing in French with a definite American country twang to it. This was both amusing and very neat. I appreciated the crossover of cultures. It was awesome to hear how someone who appreciates country music but better understands the French language creates a conglomeration of the two. On the same stations that played this, American country songs in English were also played intermittently.

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