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Trip Report: Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls--October 2019

Trip Report: Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls--October 2019

Old Jan 15th, 2020, 12:30 PM
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Trip Report: Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls--October 2019

Part of our NE US tour (Trip Report: travels through the Northeast, Fall 2019 ) was interrupted by a Canadian detour. This was according to by cousin’s wishes, and we had little input on the actual itinerary. We managed to add one night to our Toronto stay, giving us one full day in that city, and eliminating one night in Niagara Falls, one full afternoon was enough. I did not want to push and take over what they wanted to do. But I offered to look for housing and the compromise was to split the search in two, I would look for housing in Montreal and Toronto and his travel agent would take care of Ottawa and Niagara Falls.

Aside from the above mentioned reservations and the car rental that was for the entire NE trip, we did little planning. The trip was my cousin’s suggestion and we went along, with the exception of choosing the Art Gallery of Ontario as a destination in Toronto. The result is that what we saw was on a haphazard basis.

We drove to Montreal from Vermont. Using Google maps we had little trouble finding our lodging which was somewhat removed from all the major sights. We were at the eastern end of the Sherbrooke Ave. bus line, in the Hochelaga neighborhood, between two metro stations, and just 4 stops from one of the major neighborhoods. Our two bedroom rental cost $306 for three nights. It was a ground floor apartment with access to a rear-yard hot tub which we did not use.

In Montreal we searched out some iconic food items excluding poutine; they were the bagels and the Montreal style pastrami. I found neither overwhelming. I still think that a NY bagel is better, and I still have memories of spicy and fatty Romanian pastrami in Chicago (late 60s). For one evening meal we ate in a local Vietnamese restaurant—OK but run-of-the-mill—near the Prefontaine metro station. One night was at home, delicatessen style with pastrami and smoked fish. We also ate in an inexpensive Korean restaurant where the soups were really designed as individual servings whereas the meats should have been shared. I ordered pork cheeks, thinking that it would be a dish with other items—rice and some vegetables—and was served an enormous platter of just cheek meat—good but the amount was excessive.

We wandered around Montreal. Le Plateau Mont-Royal is a lively neighborhood. I was taken by the side streets with the typical Montreal stair system

which is found in all sorts of variants in many residential neighborhoods. I was not particularly taken with Old Montreal, although the cathedral is impressive:

but not to my taste; I prefer church architecture from the Romanesque through the Rococo plus some modern churches. The waterfront is pleasant and varied, and from there one can see the Expo housing which I would have liked to visit. I believe that one of the units has been turned into a “museum” but our time was too limited for such a visit. The top of the Mont Royal offers a wonderful view of Montréal.

I really liked Montreal and felt most comfortable with its bilingualism. I can speak either language equally well at the conversational level—my French is slipping through dis-use—and it felt liberating to operate in that type of environment.

I’ll let the pictures speak for what we saw in greater detail: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJ5JwRN

From Montréal we drove to Ottawa. We had lunch on the road and arrived in Ottawa in the late afternoon, early enough to see the government buildings (Gothic? Style) from the outside and walking around the old market area where we found a fish restaurant for our evening meal. We stayed in a hotel about 4 blocks from the government compound. None of us expressed desire to visit the buildings, so the next day my wife and I visited the Museum of Canadian history across the river in Gatineau. We only saw the Indigenous section which covers pre-history, pre-Colombian era going to the modern era. It is not an art museum, so the art aspect of Indigenous objects was not featured as prominently as it might have been in other museums such as Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC. Other floors dealt with the European arrival, but we did not get to see that because the museum was readying itself for the final debate for Canada’s election. The museum is also interesting for its architecture designed by an Indigenous architect, and for it beautiful view of the government buildings across the river.

Our second dinner was in a pub in the downtown area.

Later we walked back to the market and in the parks near the locks of the Rideau waterway. Ottawa is not worth much more than one full day, and could easily be skipped for more time in any of these three cities: Québec, Montréal and Toronto.

Here are the pictures for that part of the trip: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJ7EvHW

We then drove to Toronto, making a slight detour to drive through the Thousand Island area where we also stopped for lunch in a typical small town restaurant with a fairly standard menu; I had liver and onions with all the trimmings.

Originally my cousin had planned just an overnight stay in Toronto. All he wanted to do was go up the CN tower, which he did not do when he found out how much it would cost ($53). We stayed for two nights in a rooming house

that looked like it had been a flop house in earlier times, to be upgraded by creatively adding en-suite bathrooms. But the walls were still a sickly pale yellow and the hallway carpeting could have used a change. The room was clean. We paid US$ 368 for two rooms for two nights.

My wife and I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario,

and later wandered around the downtown area, going as far as the Saint Lawrence market

while my cousins wandered downtown, reaching the waterfront where we failed to do so. We could have stayed in Toronto longer, but this was not our trip.

Here are the pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJnu38X

Getting out of Toronto is not the easiest thing. Signage seems to be lacking. But we figured it out, taking the highway closest to the lake and driving through a wall of new high rises. Some of that architecture is interesting, and some of it is just another glass box.

We arrived in Niagara Falls around noon, dropped off our stuff at the motel, and went directly to the falls area. There are three levels that pertain to the falls. The bottom of the gorge is one, where the boat landings are located and where visitors can experience the American Falls up close, either by walking down or by taking an elevator down to the river level.

Then there is the park like viewing area which is at the same level as the top of the falls. It is a very nice area with benches trees and lawns, all very well kept. We stayed at that level which can be reached by stairs or by taking a funicular from the third level. We felt no need to take a boat ride to the base of the falls, and were satisfied with staying on that level.

The upper most level is just plain ugly. It is an amalgam of hotels, motels, a casino, entertainment areas, and mostly chain eating places. We stayed in a motel next to the Frontier BBQ and had our evening meal there. There is an old downtown to Niagara Falls, mainly early 20th century commercial building with a new city hall, but it gives the appearance of having lost its commercial liveliness to the strip above the falls themselves. It is as if the economic life of Niagara Falls has been sucked out of the downtown. It is a depressing sight, moderated only when driving along the river shore and finding old elegant houses, often converted into B&B’s. I would have chosen that location for our overnight stay, but the motel was my cousin’s choice, or rather his travel agent’s.

The immediate area around the falls is beautiful, and the falls must be seen. It is difficult to imagine the amount of water that is rushing by. But for me, once is enough.

Here are the pictures of the area: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJj1NFd

Crossing the border to continue our trip was no problem going by car. My cousins had a long wait, because they took the bus. Their ticket to New York City started in Niagara Falls Canada, and it was only when we checked on the location of the train station (now abandoned) that we found out from the bus driver himself who happened to be there that the train no longer stops there and that a shuttle is provided to the train station on the American side. But the bus, along with other buses, is subject to a full search, which meant that all the luggage had to be taken out, subject to individual searches at the whim of the customs officials. The crossing took two hours in contrast to our ten minutes.
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