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Trip Report Two week taster

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We're spending 2 weeks in Ontario/Quebec on the first leg of a 5 week break from Australia.
I like to blog our trips as they happen as a record for myself and also because we enjoy the 'virtual company' of others following along, so I will post each day or so in the comments.

We arrived in Toronto after a 24 hr journey from Melbourne - Sydney- Vancouver- Toronto. It was the first time we'd flown with Air Canada and , although it was a long flight, it was definitely preferable to the other options that entailed multiple connections through the USA. The service on Air Canada was great. Our bags were checked straight through from Melbourne and our seats were pre selected.We lost track of the time zone changes but at the end of the (very) long day, we had travelled 17,000 km, seen the sun rise twice over the wing of the plane and travelled back in time 14 hours.

Luckily the food on Air Canada was reasonable and the drinks cart passed frequently. Like very hungry caterpillars we ate our way through 3 breakfasts, a lunch, a dinner, 3 rounds of bourbon, 2 bottles of wine, copious coffee and the entire contents of the snack cart that they store near the rear toilets.
No one really slept and we arrived in Toronto exactly 24 hours after taking off from Melbourne with that dazed and foggy feeling that only new mothers and long distance travellers can understand.

Still feeling the burn of being ripped off by a taxi driver in Paris a couple of years ago, we opted for the UP Express train to the city. This was a great deal at $25 for a family ticket. The train deposited us at Union station, right beside the Rogers Centre where the fans were just spilling out after a Blue Jays game. It felt a bit like landing on the set of an American movie – hundreds of people in blue and white baseball gear, hot dog stalls on the sidewalk etc.

On the map, it didn’t look all that far to our hotel in Chinatown so we set off walking. Some nice Canadians took pity on our puzzled map studying and offered directions. They said it probably was a bit far to walk but of course that just added to the challenge! Given we’d left home in 3C, the sunny 28C was a tad warm but at least the exercise helped level out the melatonin and by the time we got to the Downtown Super 8 (super being quite a strong superlative in this case) we were wide awake.

There’s an abundance of fast food in Chinatown. We settled on ‘Franks’, a hamburger and hot dog joint where we had our first encounter with poutine. Our fries were covered in gravy, pulled pork, onions, tomatoes, cheese curds – and an egg! Definitely near the top of the list of best things ever eaten.
Back to the Super 8, shower, blog, bed.

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    "My teenage son is desperate to see a game of baseball ..."

    So are Blue Jay fans. You just missed that 15-1 stinker. The season is figuratively disappearing as you arrive.

    In 2008 we arrived in Beijing and starting wondering around looking for our hutong. Little things like arrival hikes make for great memories.

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    Yes xcountry- couldn't believe we missed the Blue Jays at home. And the walk ( which we have repeated several times now without the luggage, was a great way to get oriented).

    Day 2
    We have some tried and tested strategies for warding off jet lag
    • DO NOT SLEEP until it’s bed time at your destination. This is the most important one. We did let Taine have a little nap on the plane because it’s entertaining to kiss him and take ridiculous photos of him with his jaw hanging open but apart from that, NO SLEEPING.
    • Eat whatever is offered to you as well as the M & Ms and Pringles stashed in your carry on ( it passes some time, you don’t feel so ripped off about the airfares and I’m sure there’s a valid medical reason about blood sugar or something)
    • Drink lots of water. My rule is double water to every alcoholic or caffeine beverage. Yes, that’s a lot of water. Yes, I had to go to the toilet a lot – that’s also good because it means you have to move your legs and you’re less likely to die from a DVT.
    • Get some exercise as soon as you get off the plane.

    So far, these strategies seem to have done the job. We all slept from 9.30pm till around 5 this morning and woke up feeling pretty good.

    It’s the Canada Day public holiday here today so the streets were pretty much deserted when we left the hotel after our North American style breakfast of waffles and bagels. With no real plan in mind we set off to explore the city, first on foot and then via the magnificent Toronto bike share program. We’ve used bike share in a few cities but I reckon this is the best serviced with bike banks every few blocks. There’s an awesome, dedicated exercise path along the waterfront, bike lanes on most of the major roads and a population tolerant of old ladies riding on the pavement when the traffic gets too hairy.

    Our first stop was the water front area. It was a picture perfect day for sightseeing and the harbour looked lovely – apart from the litter, which seems to be a bit of a problem here. I’d love to see this space in the Winter when the ponds are frozen but given how chilly the water was today in mid Summer, I’m not sure I’d want to partake of any water sports. The big drawcard at the waterfront was a giant, yellow rubber duck, apparently commissioned at a tax payer cost of $150K to celebrate the sesquicentenary. Bizarre!

    We had a wander in the free art gallery where there was an interesting but confronting exhibition made up of sculptured wooden figures. I’d like to know enough about art to fully appreciate this sort of work but I don’t. Mostly I just worry about the way the mind of the artist works.

    When we’re on holidays I try to book places that include breakfast and I encourage everyone to eat well enough to last them through to dinner. That’s probably not going to work now that we have an unfillable teenager with us and besides, we stumbled upon a Canadian version of Wholefoods with a hot food buffet bar that we couldn’t pass up.

    The food fortified us enough to keep riding, down through the distillery district, up to the old town and then across to the Toronto Easton Centre, Canada’s answer to Chadstone. We did a wee bit of shopping as a reward for packing lightly ;-)

    The degree of difficulty associated with bike riding is doubled by the fact that the traffic comes from a different direction for us. We were constantly screaming ‘look left’ as Taine gung hoed his way through the city but eventually we made it back to Chinatown in one piece.

    The architecture in the city is pretty boring, very rectangular and industrial except for parts of the old city and some of the side streets in Chinatown where remnants of a more creative building period remain. So far the stand out about Toronto is the warmth and friendliness of its people. Everyone has been lovely and so obliging, from the shopkeepers to the people in the street who ask if you need help before you even need it! It feels like a very liveable place.

    Tonight we ate at Burger’s Priest (I don’t know why the apostrophe is there – either the priest belongs to the burger or the sign writer got it wrong or the owners’ grammar needs work). I’d read great reviews about it and it was nearby. The burgers were OK but the fries were cruddy- not a patch on the poutine from last night.

    Also found a bottle shop across the road so we can nightcap with a lovely French merlot.

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    Day 3- Niagara Falls

    I don’t really have a travel bucket list. I want to go everywhere and see everything but if I did have a list then Niagara Falls would be on it. When we were in New York we toyed with the idea of a day trip but it was too cold and too far. I’m glad we didn’t go then because if we had then we mightn’t have gone today and I think it’s safe to say that the view from the Canadian side must be superior to the view from the US.

    We booked our tour from Australia, based on TA reviews. We had to meet the bus in town and we still had an hour on our bike share so we were confident of making the 8am departure. Unfortunately, there were only two bikes on the rack when we got there so Geoff had to walk. It’s a good thing he’s a fast walker!

    The trip to Niagara was interesting. The driver was knowledgeable and so we learnt quite a bit about Canadian history and to break up the trip, (140kms) we made a few stops. I’m not entirely sure of the reason behind some of the stops but I imagine the tourist network is a closely linked organisation. It did remind me a bit of our trip to the Cuchi tunnels in Vietnam – we’ll just stop at my brother’s cousin’s sister in laws café for a snack in case we can’t find food later! The first stop was at Niagara on the Lake, a picturesque little retirement/tourist mecca, reminiscent of Hahndorf, with nicely restored colonial buildings and a magnificent view out over Lake Ontario to the United States on the other shore. It was here that much of the battle for Canadian territory between England and America took place.

    Next stop, a fruit stand featuring the smallest wayside chapel in Canada. Interesting. I bought a lot of cherries and two giant apples (in case I got hungry later).

    After that, a winery where the speciality is ‘ice wine’. This syrupy concoction is made in the depth of Winter from frozen grapes, picked at midnight and trampled by fairies (ok, I made up the fairy bit). Anyway, it’s very expensive because each grape only yields a tiny drop. Either 11 am is too early for me to taste wine or someone is having me on because I’d rather scull a glass of maple syrup than that stuff.

    Eventually we made it to our destination, Niagara. Maybe it was the ice wine but somehow Geoff convinced me that a helicopter flight over the falls would be a great way to see the big picture. He was right! I nearly wet my pants as the chopper took off (I blame the wine drinking again) but after that I was too mesmerised by the view to be scared.

    Back on the ground we tried another vantage point, this time on the Hornblower boat to the base of the falls. Any other time a boat ride with a hundred other sardines in pink plastic ponchos would seem absurd, but the company was irrelevant. On July 4th, Niagara is crawling with people on both sides of the river border and the banks are littered with outrageous, gaudy attractions. I never fail to be bemused by the extent to which humans can take a natural resource of such beauty and turn it into a carnival – but remarkably, none of this takes away the majesty of the falls. It is simply awe inspiring.

    When we come again to Canada (I already know once will not be enough), we will stay in Niagara and take the time to fully appreciate the beauty and power of the landscape.

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    Glad you enjoyed the falls. There's a very old joke about the bride finding Niagara Falls to be the second biggest disappointment of her honeymoon.

    Many years ago I decided I would not cycle on downtown Toronto streets again (we live in Ottawa). Too dangerous. So good for you. You're showing that famous Aussie adventuresome spirit.

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    After the excitement of Niagara Falls, Wednesday’s train ride to Montreal was very tame by comparison.
    We caught a trolley car (identical to a Melbourne tram but newer) to Union Station. For anyone else visiting Toronto, the trolley was simple as long as you had the exact change - $3.25
    The VIA train was also easy to catch. The only close hiccup was when they weighed our bags. Mine seems to have suddenly put on weight even though we’ve only been here 3 days! Might have to go on a shopping diet for the rest of the trip. Luckily, it was exactly the 50lbs allowed – I claim this as a superior packing effort!

    Having set a precedent in Toronto, there was no question of a taxi from the station. With our screen captured map in hand we hoofed it through the city to our hotel. So far I am two for two on satirical hotel names. The Super 8 was anything but Super and the Comfort Suites is neither comfortable or a suite. Unfortunately a pervious valued customer had spilt water on the card machine so we have no room key but have to wait for someone from reception to come with us every time we want to enter our room. And the promised air conditioning is really more of a boxed in fan, circulating the hot air of Montreal’s warmest summer day around the room. Still, we’re in Canada and that trumps any minor inconvenience.

    We set off downtown – again on foot. I was keen to see some of the Montreal Jazz Festival - until we got there. It was only when I was hot and bothered and totally exhausted that I remembered I don’t like crowds of people or expensive beer and I actually don’t like jazz.

    The upside was that we found an IGA supermarket on the long walk home. Taine was most impressed (that it was an IGA) and so was I…they had six packs of cold beer for the same price as one cup at the jazz festival. We also found a park with squirrels. Free entertainment.

    Today we tried a later start and didn’t get down to breakfast till 7.30. Comfort Suites redeemed themselves somewhat by including bacon in their breakfast bar and a bowl of fruit available to take away for snacks. We walked down to the closest Metro and bought a day ticket each for $10, an excellent deal.

    First stop was Old Montreal where we collected some more share bikes, $5 per bike per day. This is such an excellent way to move quickly around the quieter streets of the city and, like Toronto, there are plenty of designated bike lanes.

    Old Montreal and the Port area are very pretty, with a very French feel and lots of lovely old buildings. Having survived the bike riding, I managed to trip on the pavement and fall flat on my face (and knees). Luckily there was no real damage and plenty of lovely Quebecois to fuss over me and check that I was ok.
    Back on the subway we headed to Olympic Park to see where the ‘76 Olympics were held. This area is kind of under construction as they attempt to bring the stadium and surrounds back to its former glory. You can tell that it must have been state of the art 40 years ago but now it’s a bit of a white elephant. There’s a crazy, leaning tower beside the stadium that was designed for the Olympics but not finished until 1985. You get to the top via a funicular type elevator. I guess they’re still trying to make up the 40 yr debt because it was a very pricey exercise – we decided we’d get the same view from the plane so we grabbed some more bikes, meandered around the park and botanical gardens area and then hopped back on the subway to Ile Saint Helene.

    The island is man made, created for the World Expo in 1967. There were lots of signs to promising activities but nothing actually open that we could see, apart from the golf course and a giant mesh dome. The dome, called a biosphere, looked intriguing, so we went there. Taine conned us into forking over $30 to enter because it looked vaguely educational. It wasn’t. And it had interactive games. It didn’t. The people running it were lovely but it was seriously boring. If you come to Montreal, don’t go there.

    We rode the subway back downtown and took an afternoon siesta. Remembering the weather we left at home, I hesitate to complain about the heat but 30C here is very hot (and did I mention our air con is useless?).

    After a little bit of afternoon shopping we rode another few stops on the subway, just for the hell of it. And then we grabbed some more bikes to ride back, just because.
    To date I have walked 86,406 steps in the 4 days since we landed.
    Luckily there’s still cold Milson beer in the fridge so we can lay around and watch Thursday night baseball on the tv.

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    As one last insult, the toilet in our hotel room packed it in this morning and wouldn’t flush. Given that they haven’t managed to find a key for our room in the 3 days we’ve been here, I don’t hold out much hope of getting a plumber, so it was lucky we were on our way out of Montreal today.

    We left our bags at the hotel and walked down to Rue Aylmer to collect our rental. On the way we came across masses of people dressed just in their undies and completely covered in red, yellow, blue or purple body paint. Like inquisitive aliens, they spread out across the city, climbing on statues and stairs and interacting silently with the public. I’m not sure what or who they were promoting but it was very cool ‘arte’.

    There’s nothing quite as adrenalin rushing as driving a rented vehicle, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in a country whose signs are written in a language other than the one with which you are familiar! Luckily the lovely man at Hertz (we haven’t met an unlovely Canadian yet) upgraded our vehicle to one with an inbuilt GPS, and with Taine & I chanting ,‘righty tighty’ or lefty loosey’ at every intersection we made our way safely out of the city.

    A few years ago we were lucky enough to ‘inherit’ an exchange student and so the motivation for our trip to Canada was to catch up with her. Thanks to social media we’ve been able to keep in contact, but seeing her in person and having us all in the same face to face space was awesome. As with all good friends, we just took up where we’d left off and it was as if the time apart had never happened (except that Taine now looks like a giant beside his Quebecois sister!). Florence cooked us a local pasta dish for dinner and we practised our Fringlish together. Montreal is a truly bilingual city. Every sign is written in French and English and every person in every shop seemed to be able to switch effortlessly from one language to another, sometimes in mid sentence. Provincial Quebec however, is solely French so we will be dependent on our interpreter for assistance!

    We’re staying at an Airbnb just out of the city of Sherbrooke where Florence is at university.
    Its lovely to have the space of a whole house after a week of hotel rooms and behind the house is a wood full of maple trees so we might find some more squirrels.

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    It was still warm but raining when we woke up this morning- great, heavy drops accompanied by lots of rumbling thunder. The backyard of maple trees was awash with green and it actually looked like the maize crop across the road had grown overnight.

    Florence arrived around 9.30 and we took off on a little road trip around the Eastern Townships. This area was settled by the English and Irish and that influence is still really strong in the architecture of the little towns that border the many lakes and rivers in the area. One of the most startling features is the many window boxes and other floral displays, evident in all the towns we’ve visited. They are like a celebration of Summer after the long, cold Winter with all sorts of colourful blooms carefully tended and displayed along the verandas and shop fronts.

    In North Hatley we visited the Local Farmer’s Market, sampling all sorts of organic goodies like nut cheese and wild pig pate before buying the less healthy options of donuts and bagels.

    From there we drove into the Sherbrooke, walking the length of the Lake of Nations to a micro brewery where we had a delicious lunch and sampled some of the boutique beers, including one made from blueberries!

    In the city, we marvelled at a giant spillway and rapids running straight through the centre of town and wandered around some of the older parts of the city with their ornate, colonial style buildings.

    Geoff is doing a great job driving in Quebec but it’s not easy. There’s the whole turn into the traffic the opposite way thing, which is even worse when you get to a roundabout or a parking bay and then there’s the constant ‘Arret’ signs, (not to mention the warnings that an Arret is coming up!) When you get to these you must completely stop the car and then the person who got to the stop first, gets to go first. It’s simpler than it sounds and because the Canadians are so polite there’s never an argument but you do have to be on constant look out for the signs. We were driving back to the Airbnb this afternoon, practising our French phrases, reminding Geoff about tight rights and loose lefts and keeping a keen eye out for arrest, when suddenly a police car with flashing lights pulled in behind us. Since there were no other cars on the road it was obvious we were the object of his attention so we dutifully pulled over and wound down the window.

    “Je vous ai trouvé accéléré dans la voiture à 79 km dans une zone de 50 km. Donnez-moi votre licence et vos vendeurs d'assurance. »

    Given that he had no idea what the policeman was saying, not knowing what he’d done wrong (we thought the speed zone had been a steady 80 since the city) and knowing that he’d left his licence back in the bedroom of the airbnb, this was greeted with a glazed but terrified stare from Geoff.

    Florence quickly intervened, explaining that we were ignorant but harmless Australian tourists and that we were her long lost host family who loved her but may not love her anymore now that she had not noticed the change in speed zone and really it should have been her responsibility and she was very, very sorry.
    Turned out the police officer spoke excellent English but I don’t think he minded Florence smiling so sympathetically at him. He handed back our registration details and said he would not like us to think badly of the Quebecois and so he would bid us a good day.

    I may have already said this… Canadians are the lovliest people in the world.

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    Thanks for the feedback- nice to know someone is reading :-)
    Elizabeth, sadly wer won't be back in Toronto this trip. We fly from Montreal to Ireland in another week. Meantime we are going north to visit Florence's family.
    We will certainly be back to Toronto another time I hope. We loved the city.

    Yesterday we packed a picnic and continued our tour of the Eastern townships, beautiful little villages set around the many big lakes in the area.

    We stopped in Magog for our lunch. There was plenty going on- a vintage car show in the car park, yachting, jet skiing and lots of families picnicking along the banks of the lake. Given that the water in the designated swimming area of the lake is waist deep at best and the water is as still as a mill pond, it was quite amusing for us to see life guards at several points along the edge of the lake. With no rips and no sharks, it must be a boring job at best. Luckily Taine and Geoff provided a focal point for the guards by skipping stones in the swimming area- this resulted in some shrill whistle blowing and strong hand gestures. A second indiscretion, attempting to swim outside the buoys, resulted in another bout of whistling and finger wagging. Luckily, they got out then without risking a third strike. I can only imagine how politely they would have been told to ‘si retirer’.

    With Florence’s tuition, our French is improving.
    Yesterday Geoff made an entire order for ice cream:

    “Bonjour, je suis Australien” (make apologies early!)
    “Je parle en peu français” ( I speak only a little French)
    “Une petit vanillé crème glace, s’il vous plaît” ( One small vanilla ice cream please)

    As for me? Well, I understood when I was being asked if I needed a bag in the super marche and Taine said ‘merci’ twice instead of grunting. Great progress!

    The ice creams were INCREDIBLE. Soft serves as big as your arm, dipped in super thick chocolate and whatever else you fancied. I can’t post a photo of them because Taine chose the grande size and it resembled something very lewd!

    For dinner we bought beautiful slabs of salmon and cooked them back at the Airbnb while we tried to entice the chipmunks out of the woods with peanut butter.

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    It seemed silly to be so close to the US border and not drop in for a visit, so we drove the 30 something kms to Stanstead and walked over into Vermont. Stanstead is a town divided, a bit like Echuca-Moama or Albury-Wodonga but covering two countries rather than two states.

    We parked the car on the Canadian side because we were carrying fruit and didn’t want to rummage through the car to bin it and proceeded on foot to the ‘frontiere’. Our guide at Niagara had mentioned several times that Canada and the US have the longest unprotected border in the world. This checkpoint didn’t feel unprotected. The officers at immigration were certainly friendly enough but the questioning was rigorous and their guns were real.

    Who are we?- Just some inquisitive Aussie tourists.

    Why did we travel to Canada?- To visit a friend ( What friend, where does she live, how do we know her?)

    What do we do for a living?- Both teachers (Both? What subjects, what year levels, what schools?)

    Did we always travel as a family?- Is this a trick question because I’ve seen ‘The Americans’ on Netflix and the KGB spies always masquerade as families?- Yes

    Have we been in any Middle Eastern countries in the last 5 years?- No.( You mean except for the UAE ?) Ooops, forgot about the missed plane in Dubai.

    How long do we intend to stay in the US?- About 30 minutes ( Are you sure? Will you be back, what’s the point?) Umm, just seems like an interesting thing to do… sir.

    And what do we intend to do while we’re there?- Drink coffee

    After we were ‘processed’ – filled in arrival cards, fingerprinted, photo ID’ed, paid our $6 fee and issued with temporary green cards, we walked across the road to a diner, where the change of country became immediately apparent. A soda bar with 750ml containers for 69c, hot dogs with queso and cold beer and wine all available at 10am (in Quebec you can only buy wine at one authorised liquor outlet).

    We spent a few of the greenbacks we’d saved since 2012, drank some coffee, ate some hot dogs and read the NY Times before heading back to the Quebecois side. Re-entry to Canada was a very simple (and predictably friendlier) procedure. As a bonus, our passports were stamped on both sides.

    It’s crazy to think how different life can be on either side of an imaginary line. Different languages, different laws, different currency, different politics. For other teachers of children’s literature, the whole exercise reminded me of the Fattypuffs and Thinifers. In between the border points is a little bridge, several houses and a shared library. The people who live/work in this no man’s land must live a Jekyll and Hyde existence.

    From Stanstead we headed toward Quebec City. The fastest route is via the ‘20’ but we tried an alternate, more scenic road. Our GPS was slightly confused but slowly and surely we wend our way through the countryside of greenest farmland you ever saw, punctuated by pitch roofed farmhouses (all with flower bowls on display) and enormous barns for housing the cows during the Winter. We thought Asbestos might be a nice place to stop for lunch but it wasn’t so we kept going until we needed fuel and a quick pitstop at a Walmart.
    Due to our meandering we didn’t reach Quebec City until peak hour, a relatively stressful experience for Geoff but one that he handled expertly.

    Our hotel is out of town at Beauport (the city was way out of our budget) and sits beside the Saint Lawrence River, a huge ribbon of water that runs through Quebec. There’s no view from the room but out the back you get a great view across the river to the city and there’s a bike path for Geoff to run on.

    We had our first bad food experience for dinner. We chose a chain restaurant called Mikes because it was beside the hotel. Understandably the menu was in French but poisson et frites sounded safe enough. It turned out to be two lumps of cod encased in rock hard batter, accompanied by some lettuce leaves and a couple of onion rings. Along with Taine’s sub (that Subway would have been ashamed of), a couple of beers, burnt poutine, taxes and the recommended %15 tip, the bill was $80! Seriously ripped off. No more fine dining for us.

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    The streets of the Quebec City Old Town are straight from the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast. You could be forgiven for believing that Belle or her father were about to appear at any moment and there’s no doubt the Beast could be hiding in the Chateau Frotenac!

    We took the car into town. I have finally got the gist of the offline maps.me app so finding our way around has suddenly become much easier and finding an all day park down by the waterfront was not difficult. From there we walked (and walked, and walked) up through the lower town to the funicular, an odd little elevator come cable car that takes you to the old city. There are so many shops to wander around. If I had any room at all in my luggage I could gladly have spent hours there but it’s really just teasing to window shop.

    Quebec City is multi levelled and from the Old City you can go even higher, up about 300 steps to the promenade around the fortifications that would have originally protected the city. The view out over the St Lawrence is breath taking.

    The Plains of Abraham spread out in hectares of green fields at the very top of the city. At this time of year they are home to the Quebec Music Festival and we saw some of the bands warming up. A few thousand more steps took us along the Grande-Alee, past the Parliament building, up to St Louis Gate, then down D’Auteuil to Place d’Youville, along the Cote-de-Fabrique and up to City Hall and the Basilica through streets full of very old and beautifully preserved buildings. There were buskers in the square and artists at work down many of the alley ways. It was like Paris without the Parisians (and have I mentioned yet how friendly the Quebecois are?).

    We finally made our way back down to the waterfront and completed our visit with a wander through the harbour side market where we bought a tub of strawberries that were the size of small apples, for $2 (tax included!)

    Taine has succumbed to a nasty sore throat so we let him choose dinner. He wanted ‘dirty bird’, known here as PFK – Poulet Frit Kentucky ! We had to drive half way across town for it but that gave us a chance to check out the different neighbourhoods.

    Tonight, a quiet evening of PFK, beer and baseball in our hotel room (at the bargain price of $27.95 + beer a much better option than we took last night!)

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    I very much enjoyed this trip report Kwaussie. Next time come to Ottawa. The bike trails are wonderful! Those Mike restaurants are awful. None in Ottawa but some in Gatineau,qc. just a few miles away.

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    Thanks Michelle. I haven't finished the report, just got side tracked enjoying the beauty of Quebec. We'll definitely be coming back to Canada, so I'll put Ottawa on my list!

    The Montmorency Falls aren’t quite as impressive as Niagara but they are higher, not as crowded and a little bit easier to access (if you’re visiting Quebec City).

    We opted to take the stairs (497 – 34 floors!) rather than the cable car and although my thighs are screaming tonight, I’m glad we did. It gave us the opportunity to see the falls from several angles and with all the rubbish we’ve been eating, the exercise is essential. So, we walked up, across the swing bridge suspended over the top of the falls – this caused minor vertigo, but hey, I’m on holidays, and back down again. Luckily the boys declined the opportunity to zipline across because as we were descending, someone in the queue slipped over the edge and a full scale rescue was in action!

    From Montmorency it was a simple turn onto the bridge to Ile d’Orleans, a relatively large island in the middle of the St Lawrence. The island is wall to wall ‘forget me not’ cottages, accompanying boutique industries and agriculture. The single road around the island is pretty much bumper to bumper with tourists. We stopped at the Chocolaterie for a lunch consisting of smoked meat sandwiches, coffee and hot chocolate (made with milk and a full cup of melted Belgian dark chocolate). The people at the next table recognised Geoff’s Kiwi accent and got chatting because they’d been to NZ and loved it. We’ve met someone new every day on this trip- it’s definitely one of the bonuses of traveling. It’s fascinating to imagine all the different lives intertwining through their connections with different places.

    We did almost a circuit of the island. There’s not many places to park and unfortunately road works prevented us from visiting the sugar shack – cabana sucre- that I’d had my eye on.

    Taine hasn’t bought a new cap for at least 24 hours so our last stop of the day was a shopping mall, Galeries de la Capitale, an unusual mall in that it had a full scale amusement park inside it, complete with a roller coaster and ferris wheel. This provided momentary distraction before we found the ‘Lids’ shop to complete Taine’s set of Quebecois sporting memorabilia.

    Not only is there an amusement park but also an ice skating rink in the mall and this kept us entertained through an early dinner from the food court.
    Being a wine drinker in Quebec requires commitment and initiative. You can only buy decent alcohol through one outlet, the SAQ and these are few and far between. Using our offline map.me we navigated to the closest one only to find them closed at 6pm. Our maps got us to Walmart which got us free wifi which then showed the closing times of all the SAQ outlets in the city. Luckily there was a late closer, (almost) on the way back to the hotel so we dropped in there and I used hand signals with the French speaking attendant to procure some Yellowtail and a rather interesting Californian red.

    We had a few hours to fill before we left for Saguenay so we took the car into Wendake, the First Nations reservation of the Huron people in Quebec City. The reservation itself takes up about 3kmsq and is its own suburb within the city. Street names are in French and the indigenous language and are marked in a different colour. Only members of the First Nations and their families are permitted to live in Wendake. The government owns the land but the people own the houses and within the reservation no one pays tax. This includes visitors like us- when we bought fuel and coffee in Wendake, we did not pay the 15% that applies to purchases elsewhere in Quebec.

    We visited a recreated tourist village and joined an English speaking tour. The young woman leading the tour was very informative and willing to answer questions and she provided an excellent overview of the Huron way of life in the past and in the present. It was interesting for us to contrast this with what we know of the Maori and Australian Aboriginal cultures. There are many similarities. Sadly for me, what resonated most was the similarity in the way our European ancestors decimated the population and destroyed so much of the indigenous culture with the introduction of disease, guns, religion and alcohol.

    From Quebec City we drove out to the start of the Parc National, met up with Florence and drove north to her parents’ home in Chicoutimi, Saguenay. Over a delicious welcoming meal of roast moose, and with Flo as the translator, we soon found that we had many things in common.

    On Friday our hosts had arranged an amazing day for us. We drove to one side of the Saguenay Fjord, stopping on the way at Nouvelle France, a movie set turned tourist attraction that showed the way of life of the First Nations and early European settlers on the river. On such a beautiful Summer’s day it was hard to imagine the area covered completely in the ice and snow of Winter, and then having pictured that, it was almost impossible to imagine how the original inhabitants and settlers might have survived it in their wooden huts and hide tents. Certainly the beaver skin clothing would have helped.

    For lunch we had a picnic overlooking the fjord and to complete the picture postcard view, several tall sailing ships that are in town for the 150th celebrations, came sailing by on the river.

    At dinner we had an even better view of the ships from a restaurant overlooking the harbour and then we went to the theatre to watch ‘Fabulouse’ a play about the origins and history of Saguenay. With a cast of more than 100, this was like an arena play but on a regular (albeit very large)stage. There were horses and cows and dogs and chickens! During the war sequence, commandos abseiled into the crowd from the ceiling and when the early settlers threw corn seeds on the ground, plants sprouted through the floorboards. There were cannons and fireworks and real water mixed with projections to create floods and rain and snowstorms. Even though it was all in French and we barely understood a word, it was epic! Adding to its greatness was the knowledge that the play has been running for 30 years with adaptations made each year and that all of the actors are volunteering amateurs, some of whom have appeared in every show and now share the stage with their children or grandchildren. At the end they raised the special Saguenay flag and everyone stood to applaud in an amazing show of community spirit. Fabulouse indeed!

    On Saturday, another road trip, this time to the other side of Lac St Jean to the Zoo Sauvage where we had a behind the scenes, close up and personal tour of the zoo facilities. Zoo Sauvage is like a cross between Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Zoo set up but only with animals from the Boreal – upper North America and Arctic Circle. For the most part the animals are free range and you view them from a safari type vehicle. Within the first few metres we had our first sighting of an elk, his majestic antlers peeping through the trees. Then a brown bear ambled across the road in front of us, followed by several of his friends. Bison lolled around the waterhole and prairie dogs and marmots (which I have just learnt are woodchucks!) popped their heads up and down out of holes like a ‘whack a mole’ game. It was pretty cool.

    On Sunday we all travelled to the family’s cottage by the shores of Lake St Germaine. This is actually a little slice of paradise and the most remarkable place to relax and wind down. There are only 22 houses around this lake so everyone feels like it is their own personal space. The water is pristine and surrounded by almost virgin forest. When Taine took the controls of the Seadoo, I thought he might explode with pleasure. As for me, I was content to sit and watch the changing face of the lake all day long. I didn’t even notice the absence of wifi! A magnificent dinner of salmon, followed by an early birthday cake for Taine and wine and firefly spotting around the firepit concluded a perfect day.

    Today we were woken by the loons and an unidentified bird that sounded like a mockingjay. It meant we were up early enough to watch the sun come up over the lake and to say goodbye to Florence as she headed back to uni. It was sad to say goodbye to Saguenay and the Bergerons but I am convinced we will be back one day.

    We took the long way back toward Montreal by driving up to Tadoussac and wending our way through the pretty little towns that border the St Lawrence on its western side. Just out of Tadoussac we actually saw a wild bear crossing the road in front of us - the icing on our tourist cake. It was a long day of driving, made hazardous by a mighty storm that hit us just out of Quebec City so we were pretty glad to arrive at our hotel in Drummondville, a sort of nowhere city that will provide a rest break before another big travel day tomorrow.
    Canada has been everything and more than we expected. I imagined lakes and forest but not in my wildest dreams did I imagine how vast the waterways would be or how dense the woods. It’s a truly beautiful country, full of courteous and welcoming people.

    We’ve had the best time and I can’t wait to come back and see it again with its Winter coat on.

    Tomorrow we head to Ireland and I'll post the next leg of our trip on their if anyone's interested.
    Also, some of the photos from Canada are here

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/139010641@N07/albums/72157683370769423

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    I have read your latest installments - and plan to go back and read them again! What a wonderful time you've had --- I've learned things about my own country from you.

    When you return let's plan a Toronto GTG!

    Best

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    Really enjoyed your report. We were in Montreal in 2005 and were disappointed in the Olympics stadium area. Glad to hear they are renovating the area.

    I agree about Ottawa. A great city! You should go there the next time you are in this part of Canada.

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    Thanks so much Elizabeth and Karen. I will take you up on that offer Elizabeth- love meeting onliners face to face :-)
    Here's the transition piece-

    The worst part of any great trip is the air travel. Being squished like a sardine for hours on end, shoulder strain from heavy carry on bags, expensive airport food, dreadful on board food that you eat anyway because it breaks up the time, the balancing act between staying hydrated and not having to go to those disgusting toilets too many times, running between connections or twiddling your thumbs in boarding lounges where there aren’t enough phone charge ports, arguments about window seats and aisle seats (and then ending up as the piggy in the middle), not to mention puffy ankles, sore ears and stuffy noses! Surely someone will invent teleporting soon – I’m afraid it just won’t be soon enough for me.

    We filled our last morning in Canada driving back to Montreal and up Mont Royal, the site of the original First Nations’ city of Hochelaga and the site where the peace treaty ending 100 years of war between the French/ Hurons and Alonquians and the English/Iroquois was signed in 1701. With its magnificent vantage point you can see why the Huron chose it as a fortressed camp. When the first Europeans arrived in 1535, there were more than 200 long houses within the walls. Again, I was struck by the fact that we were in Quebec for the 150th celebrations and yet clearly there have been inhabitants of the land here for thousands of years.

    On a clear day the view from Mont Royal must be magnificent. This day was very smoggy but the greenery of the parklands surrounding the citadel made up for the lack of city view. We admired the view, read the history, wandered in the woods for a bit and then had an iced coffee ( which turned out to be hot coffee with ice cream in it!) before setting off to the airport.

    It was Taine’s 14th birthday so he was allowed to choose the food all day. All he really wanted was Tim Hortons (he’s become addicted to Timbits- little balls of donutty goodness that sell for 10 for $2.90). Unfortunately, although there seems to be a Tim Hortons on every corner in Canada, there were none of the road to the airport so Timbits will have to wait for another trip.

    We returned our rental unscathed (always a feeling of relief) and boarded the first leg of our trip to Ireland, a Swiss Air flight to Zurich. Our seats (pre chosen) were at the back of the plane but in a configuration of just 3 behind the normal rows of 4 in the middle. This afforded us some welcome extra leg room, especially for the two on the aisle (not so much for middle piggy me!). The food was pretty good and there were three rounds of the drinks cart – always a bonus, but the seats were really hard and not conducive to sleep at all. Consequently, by the time we reached Zurich it was 6am and we had been awake since 7 the day before. We were restricted to gates D for some reason and nothing was open so we couldn’t even waste money on Swiss chocolate. The 3 hour layover was first world torturous but eventually we got onto the short hop plane to Dublin and pretty much snored for 90 minutes.

    In Dublin the LEAP transport Visitor’s Card gives you 3 days of travel on buses, trams and trains for 19.50 Euro. This included transport to and from the airport to the city so was well and truly worth the cost.

    We’re staying at the cutest hostel you’ve ever seen. Dublin is a very expensive city and I spent a long time searching for something to fit our budget. I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon Tipperary House but at 80 E a night for a room that sleeps 4 and has its own bathroom AND breakfast, pretty much in the centre of the city, its about a 1/3 of the price of anything else available. I was a bit dubious but the trip advisor reviews were good and luckily they were right.

    Our room is at the very top of the lovely, old boarding house- up 3 flights of tiny wooden stairs- luckily I had a couple of strong men to get my luggage up the stairs! We have a double bed and bunks, a TV and a window that opens. Its only 200 metres to Houston Station and within walking distance of the Guiness Storehouse.
    Who could ask for more?

    http://demansersintheusa.blogspot.ie
    https://www.facebook.com/An-Ordinary-Life-299149920528861/

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    I've really enjoyed your trip report. It seems you have enjoyed all things eastern-Canadian from city to country! Bless your husband for his courage driving. My husband drove in France last year and it was decided by both of us that that will not happen ever again! Too much stress when you want to be able to enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately you miss sometimes getting to lovely spots that do not offer public transport, or make it inconvenient.

    We live in BC, so hopefully one day you will have a chance to enjoy western Canada and all it has to offer. In the meantime I look forward to Ireland trip report!

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