Toronto and done

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The final stay on our incredible Trans Canada journey was in Canada’s largest city. Toronto sits along the shores of Lake Ontario and is home to 2.8 million people. This was our second visit, as I had joined Frank when he came here in the late ’90s for a transportation conference. He has always considered Toronto a “transportation junkie’s dream.” The size, efficiency and breadth of its network — street cars, buses, subways and bike lanes — continues to impress. We utilized it to explore some new places and to revisit others.

Our airbnb was in a downtown high-rise. The wall of windows overlooked a sea of other apartment buildings, office towers and the iconic CN tower — magnificent views, day and night.

All was ideal with the exception of our second night. At 2:30 in the morning, we were awakened by the blaring of the fire alarm! The shaky voice of the building concierge came through the intercom, “The alarm system indicates a situation in the F stairwell. If your alarm is sounding slowly, remain where you are. If your alarm is sounding quickly, proceed to the exits. Don’t use the elevators. The Toronto fire department is responding.” Frank and I looked at each other wondering if our alarm was sounding slow or fast — it was kind of medium(?!). She repeated the message three times as the alarm continued to blast. We readied ourselves to go down and just before we walked out the door, the Fire Marshall came on and issued the all clear. (It turned out to be someone smoking in the stairwell!)

The rest of the trip was less eventful but still very interesting. Toronto is Canada’s top tourism destination. There’s a lot to do, no shortage of good restaurants and the shopping is second to none (be it vintage, boutique or department stores).

Like Montreal, Toronto is vibrant and multi-cultural. The two cities, however, have a very different vibe. Toronto is, obviously, much bigger, but it’s also more business-centered — and the locals all speak English. Montreal feels very European, while Toronto seems like a big American city — albeit one with modern and efficient mass transit(!). After our two-month journey across this amazing country, the city made for an ideal transition as we headed back across the border.

 

 

 

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Montreal

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Frank and I loved Montreal. Although the weather was cold and the skies were gray, we ventured out to explore this vibrant city full of color and character. Eight days provided us with just a small taste — we were left wanting more.

Montreal is Canada’s second-largest city, with a population of 1.7 million people. It is set on an island in the St. Lawrence River. The city is divided into 19 boroughs (or arrondissements), each with its own unique personality and assortment of neighborhoods.

We stayed in an airbnb in the Little Italy neighborhood of the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie borough. It was a delightful area with many good restaurants, bakeries and one of the city’s best markets. Our place was convenient to Montreal’s efficient and extensive public transportation system.

Montreal, like Quebec City, felt very European. But unlike Quebec City, Montreal seemed more cosmopolitan and multi-cultural. It was easier to get by in English and the people were much more friendly. We felt welcome.

Montreal has countless museums and many beautiful churches, but our favorite thing to do is to explore neighborhoods. Give us a lively, local market and colorful street art, and we’re happy. Oh yeah — and a good meal. Whether its fresh meat and produce from the markets, countless little cafes and patisseries, diner or fine dining, or any ethnic cuisine you can think of, the city does not disappoint. Montreal is a feast for the eyes, as well as for the stomach.

We did see a lot of traffic congestion. And like most cities in the north, there’s a lot of construction taking place before the snow flies. We arrived on a Friday afternoon and it took us 45 minutes to go six miles! We coped by leaving our car parked for the rest of our stay. Our feet, the metro and an occasional Uber took us wherever we needed to go.

And the weather . . . Yes, the weather wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t stop the people (and us) from being out and about. Bundled up, umbrellas handy, people adjust. We spent one day exploring Montreal’s extensive system of underground tunnels, which connect downtown office buildings, malls, museums and the metro. How great for the people who live and work in that area!

Our list of things to do – and places to eat – was sadly much longer than our time in Montreal. If our take-away from our last stop, Quebec City, was “I remember” (“je me souviens”), our motto for Montreal is definitely “je reviendrai,” or “I will return.”

 

Je me souviens du Quebec

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Je me souviens is the official motto of the Quebec province. You see it throughout  government buildings and on car license plates. Translated into English, it simply means “I remember,” but paraphrased, “We do not forget, and will never forget, our ancient lineage, traditions and memories of all the past.”

Staying in Old Quebec, or le Vieux-Quebec, Frank and I felt immersed in that past —  cobblestone streets, European architecture, historic neighborhoods. Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico. Our apartment was located just inside the wall and our front window faced one of the arched gateways that divide old from new. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped down our street.

We absorbed the past that was “New France” through tours, talking with locals and a lot of walking. Visiting the Parliament building gave us historical perspective and taught us about current political processes. A Jesuit priest and an Augustine nun explained the important roles their religious orders played in New France’s academic and medical development (respectively). Quebec’s religious and military past are intertwined and, as we explored, we couldn’t help but comment on the proliferation of two seemingly opposing concepts: many, many churches and many, many cannons. Often times, they were right next to each other!

Frank and I were pleased to observe the impressive efforts made to preserve the city’s original architecture. Sixteenth and seventeenth century government buildings, homes, schools and churches are extremely well-maintained — and often repurposed as you will see in some of the photographs.

Much of the explanatory signage, brochures and websites is in French. In 1977, the Charte de la Langue Française made French Quebec’s official language. The law requires that public signage is predominantly in French and that immigrants send their children to French-language schools. Currently, 95% of the population speak French as their first or second language. Being in the more touristy areas of Quebec City, we found that most people we dealt with, in stores and in restaurants, spoke some English. And, of course, we did our best to speak some French.

So, in addition to our history lessons, the incredible sights and my feeble attempts at remembering some high school French, what else will we remember from our stay in Quebec? First of all, we rarely needed our car. Quebec is fairly compact and very walkable — but beware, some of the hills in the upper part of the Old City are extremely steep! Second, there is an abundance of restaurants but aside from buttery croissants, some yummy crepe breakfasts and a little Italian place with great pasta, we were underwhelmed by the food. Neither of us are big fans of meat pies or maple pie (and we still haven’t tried the ubiquitous poutine!). Third, I mentioned it before but the repurposing of old buildings really made an impression on me. The churches transformed into libraries blew me away! Finally, I never imagined that a city so close to home could remind me so much of Europe. I will never forget the city’s charm and beauty. Je me souviens du Quebec! We will always remember Quebec!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf Peeping

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Frank and I took a ten-day detour back into the States to “leaf-peep” the northeast. We bypassed the crowded cities for the charm of smaller towns and the busy, four-lane highways for the winding, two-lane backroads, In doing so, we were able to truly relax and enjoy fall’s colorful bounty. The foliage was spectacular. The towns were charming. We also took some time to explore the area’s rich history at some fascinating museums.

The leaves . . .

And so much more . . .

Finally, more peeping before we head back to Canada . . .

Trans Canada, Eh: Across the Continent

Trans Canada One is our road of choice as we road trip 2,200 miles across the continent. Snow and sunshine. Farmland and cities. Lakes and mountains. Each day is a new adventure. I’m embarrassed to admit I never knew much about “our neighbor to the north.” This trip has really been an eye-opener. The cosmopolitan cities, the friendly people and the stunning scenery has amazed and delighted us. Come along and enjoy the ride . . .

Trans Canada, Eh: Calgary

IMG_3429To say Calgary was not what we expected would be an understatement. First of all, did you know the population is 1.3 million? It is Canada’s third largest city and the fastest growing — the population has increased almost 38% in the past twenty years!

The two things I knew about Calgary before we went were that it hosted a winter Olympics and that it was nicknamed “Cow Town.” Canadians also refer to it as the heart of the “New West.”  It was anything but the sleepy cow town we expected!

Calgary is a vibrant, modern city of skyscrapers and great neighborhoods. There is a lot to do and see and it’s easy to get around. Plus, it’s only three hours from Banff. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the snow, Frank and I could see ourselves settling down here (SOMEDAY!!).

I had planned to do just a couple small blurbs from each city and sight as we traverse  across Canada but Calgary deserved its own page. It was THAT impressive!

Trans Canada, Eh: Icefields Parkway to Jasper

Glaciers, glaciers and more glaciers. The 144-mile Icefield Parkway linking Lake Louise (in Banff National Park) and the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park has 100 of them! The road has been rated one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller. An opportunity to see so many glaciers, along with canyons, waterfalls and turquoise lakes is a trip we will not soon forget!