A Travellerspoint blog

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)

New York

25 May to 14 June

This is our second trip to New York. Our first visit was in late 2009 and although we had 5 days in the Big Apple, we didn’t see too much mainly due to it being New Year’s Eve and the middle of winter. This time we wanted to see as much as possible so decided on a 3 week stay.
We were a little tardy with organizing accommodation and only settled on a place about 3 weeks prior to our visit. This reduced the options available and we ended up staying in the Southern part of Brooklyn. To say this was an eye opener would be an understatement. The area is truly multi-cultural with mainly Russians and Jews living in area along with a few Turks. It was a safe area, but the cultural difference in relation to grocery shopping (more specifically they were corner stores) and shops and cafes was very noticeable as very little signage was in English. Adds to the experience we kept telling ourselves.

Since we were only 5 train stops from Coney Island we visited a few times during our stay. Coney Island is a New York City neighborhood that features an amusement area that includes more than 50 rides and attractions. It is truly an American Icon with a boardwalk (all the way to Brighton Beach and beyond), the wide sandy beach with Life Guards every 100 metres and the amusement park that most visitors to New York probably wouldn’t consider as a sight to see. On a Friday night we headed to The Coney Island Circus Sideshow which is the last traditional continuous sideshow performing in a circus or amusement context and continues to offer a Sideshow School. Strange but still worth the entrance fee, this Sideshow/Freakshow is a little Houdini, Ringling Bros and Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not all rolled in to one. We witnessed nails hammered into nostrils, a sword swallower, a contortionist, a Puerto Rican laying between two nail beds while someone of considerable size stood on top of his chest, a fire swallower, the ‘princess’ with a 13 foot long, 70 pound albino Burmese python and of course, ‘Mental Floss’ (a drill bit drilled into a nostril). Insert oohs! Aahs! here. We also visited the Amusement park and bought some tickets for rides including The Wonder Wheel (built in 1920), Wild River, Coney Island Sound and Brooklyn Barge.

Coney Island

Coney Island

On a visit to Manhattan we purchased a 2 day pass for the Hop On and Off bus tour to allow us sufficient time to see all the destinations such as the Downtown Loop, Uptown and Harlem Loop and the Brooklyn Loop. We were lucky that this also included a 2 hour boat tour so got to see Lower Manhattan from the water, travel under the Brooklyn Bridge and get up close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Times Square New York

Times Square New York


Stature of Liberty

Stature of Liberty


Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge


Brooklyn Bridge with One World Trade Centre in background

Brooklyn Bridge with One World Trade Centre in background

In fact, it was whilst on the Brooklyn Loop that we learnt about the Brooklyn Heights area. Since many young professionals and artists have found Manhattan too costly, they have moved across the river to Brooklyn for its cheaper and more expansive space. Neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, which had fallen into disrepair over the years, were restored and reborn as funky enclaves. We were on the Brooklyn Loop on a Sunday and passed the Smorgasburg markets which showcase 100 + local and regional food vendors. Now knowing of its existence on a Sunday, we made sure to clear our calendar for the following Sunday. Prepare to drool because they have absolutely every possible food option you could think of. And with Manhattans’ skyline in the distance, one can only say that we have eaten in worse locations. Later we strolled along the Promenade for breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, some time at Jane’s Carousel and meandered through Prospect Park and past some of the most stunningly beautiful brownstones for a taste of history.

Smorgas burg

Smorgas burg


Brownstones in Brooklyn

Brownstones in Brooklyn


Brownstones in Brooklyn 2

Brownstones in Brooklyn 2

Of course what is a visit to New York without taking in a Broadway show? When we were here in 2009 Ronnie was keen to see Wicked but it wasn’t quite possible due to the time we had and the fact that there were 5 of us instead of 3. This time though, we ensured a show would be seen and as Wicked was still playing, there was really only one choice. Wicked is the untold story of the Witches of Oz. It is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, an alternative telling of the witches from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Wicked tells the story of two unlikely friends, Elphaba and Glinda the Good, who struggle through opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, reactions to the Wizard's corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba's public fall from grace. Alyssa loved it, particular the bedroom makeover scene and Ronnie and I absolutely loved the whole thing. I too really liked the makeover scene because the actress who played Glinda the Good did such a great job and was extremely funny.

Wicked

Wicked

What is a trip to New York without a walk through Central Park? Central Park is the most famous park of NY and is known around the world. We spent an entire day here, wandering around the different gardens, letting Alyssa play in the many playgrounds and generally just taking in the relaxed atmosphere. There was plenty of nature to enjoy and people, artists and musicians to watch. We made sure to visit the Strawberry fields area and the memorial for John Lennon. Alyssa did an exercise circuit as part of her School work and Ronnie did some interval training with Alyssa. Now she can say she ran (shogged – shuffle/jog) in Central Park. We are sorry we missed this highlight 5 years ago, but made up for it this time.

Central Park 2

Central Park 2


Central Park

Central Park



In 1888, a small deli by the name of Iceland Brothers was established on Ludlow Street in New York’s Lower East Side by predictably the Iceland brothers. Upon the arrival of Willy Katz in 1903, the name of the store was officially changed to "Iceland & Katz". This same deli is still there and is well known from the film “When Harry Met Sally” (the orgasm scene). This is somewhat of a landmark deli and iconic restaurant. It has the old fashioned ticket system for payment and is renowned for its food and the size of the sandwiches. I had the Reuben, Ronnie had the Roast Beef and gravy and Alyssa a cheese burger. The sandwiches were so big that they could probably be shared between 2. We did our best to eat the whole thing though.

Katz Deli

Katz Deli


Katz Deli - Reuben Sandwich

Katz Deli - Reuben Sandwich



While we wandered around the streets of New York, whether we were in SOHO (South of Houston Street), Chelsea or the Lower East Side, we were always on the lookout for different things to experience rather than the run of the mill tourist traps. We saw Union Square Market; a farmer's market that provides wholesale opportunities for medium sized farms and one of our favourites: The Chelsea High Line.
The idea of turning the old railroad tracks into an elevated park is really genius. It's an awesome concept with great execution. The Highline provides a refreshing escape from the city while being intimately part of it and with great views. The High Line is a New York City public park built on a 1.45 mile-long, elevated freight rail structure on Manhattan’s West Side. It is managed by the non-profit organization Friends of the High Line under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The park stretches from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues.

High Line

High Line


High Line 2

High Line 2


Chelsea Markets

Chelsea Markets

It has serene gathering spaces with secluded seating and communal picnic areas and highlights the rail track walk (3 linear walks located in different areas along the High Line) with the use of artifacts, benches and funky art. At the end of the park sits the Ganesvoort and Chelsea Markets. Chelsea Market is like an Aladdin’s cave…a block long and a block wide and just a short walk from the Hudson River in the area of Manhattan known as the Meatpacking District, Chelsea Market is well known as being a great indoor food hall. Not only does it have more than thirty-five vendors purveying everything from soup to nuts, wine to coffee, cheese to cheesecake but it also has funky pop us shops showing off the objects designed and made by local artists. This combined with the High Line will probably remain our highlight of New York.

Wall Street

Wall Street


FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz


Central Station

Central Station


Pumpkins at Union Square Market

Pumpkins at Union Square Market

Posted by V3USA 08:41 Comments (1)

Chicago

May 14th - 25th

I have to admit, Chicago wasn't on my radar as a destination but Ronnie was keen (thankfully) so I relented. After getting a heap of advice on sightseeing activities from a number of friends, I started to feel better about a trip to the Windy City. We decided on a 10 day stay to allow us 2 full weekends to see and enjoy as much of Chicago as possible. Alyssa has school during the week and although she is often finished around 1-2 pm, it generally doesn't allow enough time to travel too far for sight seeing. Our accommodation was booked through airbnb and like most of our trips was selected on price, reviews and access to public transport and grocery stores (usually in that order). We ended up settling on a 2 bedroom apartment in the suburb of Mont Clare, West of Downtown but only about 20 minutes on the train to Union Station. The Mont Clare train station is less than 5 minutes walk away, there are a couple of grocery stores within 10 minutes and 150m away is a park for Alyssa to play.

Although Chicago is the United States' third largest city, it is often called the Second City (New York being the First City). It is a haven of art and architecture, elevated trains, a wealth of museums and wonderful places to eat, drink and be entertained. Chicago was originally a small fort on the Chicago River, which was destroyed in a massacre. The city remained a small trading post until the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Chicago Union Railroad were opened in 1848, after which Chicago grew rapidly. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of downtown and the north side of town (the entire city was built of wood). So they decided to rebuild with steel and created space for bold new structures.

Which leads us to the Architectural boat tour. When talking to friends about our intended trip to Chicago, they all immediately urged us to do the Architectural boat tour. It turns out a number of companies offer the 75 minute tour with numerous time slots during the day. It is easily the most popular tourist attraction in Chicago. The city is the birthplace of the modern skyscraper with the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the Trump International Hotel and Tower being the third largest in the US, the famous Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower where chunks of famous locations (Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Palace of Westminster, Great Wall of China and many more) are embedded in the lower walls. We decided to visit the John Hancock Tower on advice from the Lonely Planet as it is free to visit the 95th floor Signature room and get panoramic views of Chicago ..... so long as you purchase a drink. Now obviously the drinks were not cheap (still less than visiting the observation deck of the Hancock or the Willis Tower) but was totally worth it.

Chicago skyline

Chicago skyline


South view from Hancock building

South view from Hancock building


North view from Hancock building

North view from Hancock building

The Lincoln Park Zoo is the original zoo of Chicago, built in 1868 and located just North of Downtown. The zoo features many fascinating and exotic species including Tigers, Lions, Giraffes, Rhino, many varieties of birds and reptiles and even some kangaroos. One of the big perks is that the admission is free.

Grant Park and Millennium Park are located next to each other on the banks of Lake Michigan. Grant Park is home to the Buckingham Fountain, built in 1927 and having more than 5,700,000 litres going in its system, every hour the main water cannon launches a stream of water vertically 46 metres into the air for 20 minutes. Millennium Park is the city's showpiece and includes Cloud Gate (the bean), Pritzker Pavilion and Crown Fountain, a de facto water park that projects video images of locals spitting water, gargoyle style.

Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain


Cloud Gate aka The Bean

Cloud Gate aka The Bean

If you are in Chicago during Spring or Summer, you have to see a Baseball game ...... you know we did. We chose a Saturday game due to the 3pm start and caught a couple of trains to the famous Wrigley Field, the second oldest baseball stadium in the US. The Cubs were hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates and handled them with relative ease 4-1 however a day at the baseball is much more than just watching a sport. It's experiencing the atmosphere of 38,000 people, having a traditional Chicago hot dog (a wiener topped with onions, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and sweet relish) and seeing the food and drink vendors travelling the walkways servings all kinds of food and drinks directly to your seat.

Chicago Cubs Game

Chicago Cubs Game


Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

On another day we partook in a Pedway Tour. What is a Pedway? It is a Pedestrian Walkway, a series of walkways that connect building to building so you don't have to go outside in either Winter or Summer. Interestingly each Walkway is administered by the building directly above it, so some are maintained better than others and the sections which run underneath the road are quite run down. In all it was quite an interesting and informative 90 minute tour. Afterwards we had to try the traditional Chicago style Pizza, deep dish style. Well let's just say we were Totally disappointed. The pizza is more like a quiche with a flaky type base instead of a normal dough and covered in way too much cheese.

Deep dish pizza

Deep dish pizza

Posted by V3USA 13:34 Comments (1)

RV, Chicago and beyond

May 14th

We dropped the RV back to Cruise America on Tuesday. The final tally was 4,412 miles, 7 States (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota) and a heap of National Parks, National Monuments, State parks and a Native American hospital. Long story, all recovered now.

So how do we sum up the RV experience? Well 6 weeks was probably the ideal amount of time. We clearly did a lot of travel but only in the last week did we actually feel that the time on the road was starting to take its toll. Unfortunately for us our RV already had 82,000 miles before we left and this meant a number of small issues with things breaking and needing repair. We dropped it back with a list of 11 issues that needed to be rectified. For the inconvenience we were refunded 3 days rental. However the most difficult challenge was the cold weather and how cold it is IN the RV. Although we had a furnace, it couldn't be run for more than 7 hours before setting off an alarm. This therefore meant we didn't use it at all and of the 40 nights we were in the RV, I would say only 10 were above 0c (outside temperature) - a couple degrees colder in the RV. We slept in jackets and gloves more than once and awoke breathing 'frosties' on many mornings.

Currently we are sitting at Denver International Airport about to board a flight to Chicago, the Windy City. We have booked accommodation for 10 nights before departing to New York for 3 weeks. At this stage we will then be catching up with good friends to spend some time in Boston followed by New Hampshire.

This will then end our USA journey as we will be close to our maximum 6 month stay. Our plan is to travel through to Quebec City in Canada and spend 4 months in Canada with hopefully a return to the USA in mid October.

Stay tuned.

Posted by V3USA 11:33 Comments (0)

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