A Travellerspoint blog

July 2015

Montreal

July 1st to 21st

We arrived on a Wednesday, settled in and then spent Thursday planning our 3 week visit around the multitude of festivals and Alyssa’s school holidays. On Friday we visited Old Montreal. Old Montreal is a must for all visitors to Montreal with historic architecture, old port animation, cafes everywhere, good food and a nice compact place with great atmosphere. Old Montreal is similar to Old Town Quebec…like being in Europe and once again the most prominent language being French. In fact, we have found ourselves picking up various French words simply so we can get through our stay. And again we have found ourselves in a predominantly French speaking suburb. Interesting when you have to go shopping, let me tell you!

We visited the Old Port whilst in Montreal. The old port offers a nice walk around the waterfront and if you are in luck, there will be something going on at one of the piers - perhaps a Poutinefest like we managed to stumble upon. Now Poutine is not just Poutine (a dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy originating in Quebec and possibly the cause of many a hardened artery). And before you ask…..yes! we did give it a go. If I can eat guinea pig in Peru, it is only fair I try the Poutine in Montreal, Quebec. However, most of the cafes/restaurants have been re-creating the Quebec culinary staple with the person seeking variety in mind. No longer is poutine just fries, gravy and cheese curd (as if this is not enough to give you a heart attack) because now you can get a variety of toppings including sausage, bacon, onion, turkey, mince, jalapenos and much more. I can categorically say – NEVER again.

20150709 Montreal (32)

20150709 Montreal (32)



While we were in Montreal, we just happened to arrive during the final few days of the largest Jazz Festival in the world. With a who's who of artists, the 33rd Edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal was a fantastic way to spend 2 afternoons in the city where we listened to several free Jazz bands and got to witness a dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment. One of our favorites was West Trainz, a fusion of Retro-futuristic multimedia in a show the band ‘takes on the road’ on an old Mad-Max like train.

20150709 Montreal (36)

20150709 Montreal (36)



Always seeking to just happen upon something a little out of the ordinary, we decided to venture to something known as the Tam Tam on our first Sunday in Montreal. Every Sunday Montreal has a free unofficial festival in a park at the base of Mount Royal. There are artisans who sell their products (including drums etc) and across the whole park you can see several groups playing musical instruments. We also saw Frisbee, slack lining, a pet ferret, hacky sack games, skipping, hula hooping, juggling, a Buddhist playing a drum, sword (with shield) play fighting/acting, inflatable bumper balls, peeps walking around with beers and we smelt Marijuana whilst walking through the park. All in all a happy time was had by all and it appears they have this fun every Sunday. Albeit for the olfactory bit, it reminded us of Alex Salvador’s Full Moon Drum Circle held at the Gregory Street Amphitheatre in Townsville every month.

On Wednesday 8 July we went to an area of Montreal known as Mile End. Here we simply wandered and enjoyed the neighborhood filled with great coffee shops as part of a student neighborhood. Mile End is a quaint spot in the city where you can see the old world architecture, some hippie shops and some great art places and enjoy the "montreal bagel". The two main players in the 'Who has the better Bagel' game are St. Viateur (1957) and Fairmont Bagel (1950) - we chose St. Viateur. The great debate is whether the New York bagel is better or worse than Montreal’s bagel. For now, I think we are sitting on the fence because in all honesty, they are both very different and both very yummy!

20150709 Montreal (83)

20150709 Montreal (83)



After wandering around Mile End for an hour or so, I decided we had sufficient energy to walk to the top of Mount Royal. Mount Royal is a large hill or small mountain in the city of Montreal and has a nice view of the Downtown area. Elevation is not too high, but it has plenty of walking/jogging trails and a refreshing view of the city from the Chateau. We could have opted for the gentle gradual path with lots of switchbacks, or straight up the middle with a shortcut. We chose to do a bit of both. At the end we had the option of 2.3km up the gradual path or 257 steps straight up. We chose the steps. The stairs are quite steep and there are a lot of them but the view of the city when you get there is worth the climb! On the way back down we walked through McGill University back down into the city. All round we walked almost 19km today.

20150709 Montreal (86)

20150709 Montreal (86)



On Friday we took the Montreal Metro to the Old Port again. We decided to do Voiles en Voiles (sail sails). This is an aerial adventure course ranging from 1 to 10 meters high between two 18th century Pirate Ships. There are 7 aerial courses where you are attached to a zip line and have to traverse your way around various routes ranging from a simple ladder or plank to free swinging logs and cargo nets. I managed to last 1 course only before being overcome by my fear of heights (or was it a fear of falling???). Alyssa and Nick stayed the full 2 hours and I think managed to cross all but 2 of the really high courses and the zip line. We then continued to walk around Old Town and got down to one of the 4 man-made beaches in Montreal. The latest addition to Montreal's handful of beaches is the Montreal Clock Tower Beach, a place where locals and visitors can wet themselves by the misting stations and then lounge in the sun or under a parasol in the comfort of a long chair. They even have a bar at the end of the pier/beach.

20150710 Montreal (21)

20150710 Montreal (21)

On Saturday we decided to something a little more low key and rented a car for a little road trip. We didn’t get out of the Avis office until an hour after planned and then the traffic north was at a snail’s pace. We didn’t quite make it as far north as we wanted, but ended up having lunch at 12:30pm (they offered us both the breakfast and lunch menu) at Resto Du Coin. We opted for the breakfast menu and after we ate we strolled down the main street of historic Ste Jerome. With a little time left before we had to head home, we jumped back in the car and drove further north and stumbled across an artisans market in Ste Adele. It was a great day for a road trip. When we dropped the car back in Downtown Montreal, we then ambled along Rue Sainte Catherine because they had blocked the entire street for yet another festival/celebration … la Sainte-Catherine celebre! That night we stayed up late to partake in the L'International des Feux Loto-Québec 2015 (Montréal International Fireworks Competition). On Saturday night it was Italy’s turn to impress and we got to see it all from our own private Terrace. The fireworks displays are on Saturday and Wednesday nights over a period of 3 weeks with 6 countries competing. During summer, Montreal is all about the celebrations that’s for sure!

fireworks

fireworks

fireworks from terrace

fireworks from terrace



Our last Saturday in Montreal we decide to take Alyssa to see a movie at the Montreal Forum. The Montreal Forum was an indoor arena called "the most storied building in hockey history" by Sporting News, it was the home of the National Hockey League's Montreal Maroons from 1924 to 1938 and the Montreal Canadiens from 1926 to 1996. The Forum has been refurbished into a cineplex with more than 20 cinemas.

20150718 Montreal (16)

20150718 Montreal (16)



After that we decided to get lost in the Montreal Underground City. Montreal's Underground City (officially RÉSO) is the set of interconnected complexes (both above and below ground) in and around Downtown Montreal. It is also known as the indoor city and is the largest underground complex in the world. It is very confusing but we managed to traverse our way through a series of underground malls. We stumbled around several ‘tunnels’ that connect several commercial buildings downtown. It's kind of a maze under there and we only managed to walk 6 1/2km of the 32km before heading home on the Subway for the evening. Once we got back to our suburb though we opted again to wander a different route and came across a little street with a variety of outdoor games for kids to participate in such as hopscotch, snake and ladders and the bean bag toss. Pretty cool find!

20150718 Montreal (1)

20150718 Montreal (1)

20150718 Montreal (9)

20150718 Montreal (9)



On our final Sunday in Montreal we walked to the Olympic Stadium to go to the ‘free’ Jackalope Action Sports Festival. Fun for the whole family this weekend with urban and action sports including rock climbing, slack lining, wakeskating, skate boarding and Montreal’s answer to the mechanical bull ride – the mechanical surf board. There were bars set up in 3 different locations, pop up shops and food trucks and free samples of coke, cliff bars, ice blocks and protein snacks (salami sticks for yuppies). Turns out is has been on for the last 5 years and Canadian, American, Brazilian, French, Moroccan, and Japanese athletes come to Montréal to compete in skateboard, climbing, wakeskate, freestyle, motocross, fixed gear, slackline, and highline events for prize money as high as $10,000. If only I didn’t have a fear of heights (or is it falling!). Montreal sure knows how to party in summer.

20150719 Montreal (24)

20150719 Montreal (24)

Posted by V3USA 14:19 Comments (0)

Quebec City, Canada

June 22nd to July 1st

Well our 6 month stay in the USA has come to an end. We have decided to cross the border to Canada for the next 4 months or so and will hopefully be permitted to re-enter the USA for the last 6 weeks or so of our North American experience. That part is still unknown as there are no definitive rules on how long we should be out of the US before being allowed back in. In the meantime, we are going to see as much of Canada as possible.

We are still travelling with Richard and Dianne who have spent some time in Canada on previous overseas holidays. They had suggested a stop in Quebec City due to its beauty and history and since it is relatively close to Boston.

Getting to Quebec City from Boston however was a little bit of an adventure. Firstly we caught the 7.00 am Greyhound bus from Boston to Montreal, about a 4 hour trip in total. However you have to pass through Canadian Customs at the border. When explaining to the customs officer that we intended to visit Canada for 4 months, he quizzed us on how we could afford to do that assuming we didn’t have jobs. We explained we had sufficient savings and we are getting paid Long Service leave payments (something that doesn’t exist in USA or Canada). After that he quizzed us on Alyssa’s schooling, upon which we explained that her schooling was being completed by Distance Education. All up I don’t think he totally believed us but nevertheless he granted our request. Anyways, after arriving in Montreal we had to taxi from the Bus Station to the Train Station and then catch the VIA Canada train for the 3 ½ hour trip from Montreal to Quebec City, the capital of the Province Quebec. Arrival time was close to 10pm.

For those who do not know, Quebec is largely a French speaking province where the locals are known as French Canadians. In fact, the province of Quebec has long debated and held referendums to determine if they should separate from Canada.

Founded in 1608 and located on the St Lawrence River, Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America and the only walled city North of Mexico. The city's famous landmarks include the Chateau Frontenac, a Fairmont hotel which dominates the skyline and is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world. It was built for the Canadian Pacific railway company to encourage luxury tourism and bring wealthy travelers to its trains. It is also home to La Citadelle, an intact fortress built in the early 19th century and remains the largest of its kind in North America. We were fortunate to see the Changing of the Guard on our final day in Quebec City. This military ceremony, a tradition at the Citadelle since 1928, is held to mark the changing of the guard assigned to garrison security after a 24 hour shift. The colourful and precisely choreographed ceremony features an inspection of the troops by officers, music by the Royal 22nd Regiment Band and an appearance by the regimental mascot, Batisse the goat.

Chateau Frontenac

Chateau Frontenac


Chateau Frontenac 2

Chateau Frontenac 2


Walled City

Walled City


Changing guard

Changing guard

Much of the city’s most notable architecture is located east of the fortification wall in Old Quebec and the Place Royale. This area has a distinct European feel with its stone building and winding streets lined with shops and restaurants and is split between Upper Old town and Lower Old town.

Upper Old Town

Upper Old Town


Lower Old Town

Lower Old Town


Parliament House

Parliament House

The Upper Old town is linked by steps and a funicular to Lower Old town which includes such sites as the ancient Notre Dame church, the historic Petit Champlain district, the port and the Museum of Civilisation. The Lower town is filled with original architecture and street designs dating back to the city’s beginnings. Cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages and elaborate cathedrals are the norm here. The Old City earned recognition as an official UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 thanks largely to city planners who managed to update and preserve the 400 year old buildings and attractions without destroying what made them worth preserving.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Lower Old Town murals

Lower Old Town murals

Much like in Boston, we decided to hire a car for a day trip into the countryside. Our drive was through the heart of the Charlevoix area to the small town/village of Baie St Paul, only a 50 minute drive from Quebec City. Baie St Paul is a small artist’s community where the main street includes numerous art and craft galleries. As an aside, the world famous Cirque de Soleil began in Baie St Paul.

On our return to Quebec City we detoured to the Canyon Ste-Anne. The canyon is a spectacular steep sided gorge with a 74m high waterfall and where 3 suspension foot bridges cross the canyon (one which is 60m above the gorge). Many scenic overlooks allow you to discover giant potholes as well as view the falls from many different angles and marvel at the 1.2 billion year old rocky cliffs.

Ste-Anne Canyon

Ste-Anne Canyon


Ste-Ann Canyon 2

Ste-Ann Canyon 2

We also spent some time just strolling around neighborhoods and stumbled across Cartier Street with a myriad of hip eateries, cafes and boutiques (just looking). We also ventured to the nearby Rue St-Jean to visit the Choco-Musee Erico for a history on all things Chocolate and to see some amazingly stocked delicatessens.

Cartier Street

Cartier Street


Cartier Street 2

Cartier Street 2

Speaking of eateries, we had to try (only once) Quebec's beloved Poutine. This local meal is ridiculously popular (every eatery and restaurant has it on the menu) and consists of French fries sprinkled with cheese curds and smothered in gravy. Like I said, only once. On a slightly better note, Alyssa tried some Maple taffy, essentially Maple syrup poured on ice/snow and once solidified it is rolled onto a stick.

Frozen Maple Taffy

Frozen Maple Taffy


Maple taffy 2

Maple taffy 2

All up our time in Quebec City was wonderful, enchanting and relaxing. Well worth a visit if you are in the Eastern part of North America.

Next stop ……. Montreal

Posted by V3USA 07:59 Comments (3)

Boston

June 14th - 22nd

After 3 weeks in New York we met up with Richard and Dianne, friends from Australia at Penn Station to board an Amtrak train direct to Boston, Massachusetts.

When telling friends that we intended to visit Boston, everyone recommended walking the Freedom Trail. We were lucky to walk the trail with a good friend Mark and his kids Katie and Michael who live a mere 45 minutes out of town. They provided an audio insight into America’s earliest history when the first Patriots fought for freedom against the Royal Army. The trail starts at Boston Common, the oldest park in America and is marked by a double row of red bricks on the footpath. Sights include the Old State House, built in 1713 and the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770, Park Street Church, Faneuil Hall and Paul Revere House.

Old State House

Old State House


Faneuil Hall and Quincy Markets

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Markets

A trip to Boston in summer however must include a trip to Fenway Park to watch the Boston Red Sox baseball team. Fenway was opened in 1912 and is the oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues, it also the second smallest by seating capacity. Because of its age and constrained location in a dense neighborhood, the park has been renovated many times. The left field includes a green wall that is 37 foot high known as ‘The Green Monster’, a target for right hand batters. On this occasion, the Red Sox were hosting the Atlanta Braves. The Red Sox prevailed 9-4 and we were to witness some history by their second baseman Brock Holt who hit for the cycle, meaning in different Innings he hit a single (reached first base), a double (reached second base), a triple (third base) and a home run (in any order) in the same game. Holt was the first Red Sox player to achieve this in 19 years.

Fenway Park

Fenway Park

The New England Aquarium is located on Central Wharf adjacent to Downtown. The aquariums main attraction is a four-story Giant Ocean Tank. The cylindrical saltwater tank houses more than 1,000 animals including turtles, sharks, eels and fish. At its deepest point the exhibit goes down 26 feet, it is 40 feet wide and holds 200,000 gallons of water. At the base of the tank the penguin pool is home to three species of fun loving penguins and we were lucky to arrive at the moment they were being feed. Interestingly they were provided 10 fish each and the times feed and amount eaten where monitored by staff members. Other special features include the marine mammal exhibit and the shark and ray touch tank.

After the Aquarium we had dinner at the Cheers Restaurant in Downtown. The authentic replica of the Cheers set is located in the historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace and is an accurate duplication of the famous Hollywood set including a central island bar, Tiffany lamps, overhead TV lights, and a catwalk. The restaurant showcases some of the original costumes worn by the Cheers cast.

Of course, any trip to Boston should include a trip to Springfield to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame. Well that is my line of thinking anyways. As Springfield is around 150 km from Boston, we decided to hire a car and make a day trip to Springfield.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame building features a metallic silver basketball shaped sphere flanked by 2 similar symmetrical buildings. The game was invented in 1891 in Springfield by Dr James Naismith, a Canadian physical education instructor seeking a team sport to be played between fall football and spring baseball seasons. The museum is the sport’s most complete library of basketball memorabilia and includes a history gallery, players and coaches gallery, full size court to shot some balls and information on every member of the Hall of Fame.

Hall of fame building

Hall of fame building


Hoops Hall of Fame

Hoops Hall of Fame


3 of the Greatest, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan

3 of the Greatest, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan

Whilst at the Hall of Fame, Ronnie, Alyssa, Richard and Dianne ventured to downtown Springfield and visited the Dr Suess National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to the world as the beloved children’s author and illustrator, Dr Seuss, was born in Springfield Massachusetts, in 1904 and drew much of his early inspiration from his hometown.

Dr Suess gardens

Dr Suess gardens

Boston waterfront

Boston waterfront

Next stop …… Quebec City, Canada

Posted by V3USA 10:58 Comments (0)

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