Two Weeks in Canada: Day 15 – Leaving Canada’s Never Easy

Final day blues are here. Not just because it means a return to the real world, but also because it means just a lot of time sat in airports, on planes and then trying to find out way home when the most direct route has engineering works.

Anyway, we still had a morning before needing to start on this ridiculously long journey – so we tried to make the most of it once the remaining cereal bar were eaten as a quick breakfast as we finished the remaining packing.

There was one thing left on our list of things to do whilst here: a trip on the ferry to the town of Levis on the opposite side of the river. Being very much the off-season, pretty much anything we would have wanted to do as a tourist is closed or has severely reduced opening hours. That’s fine though, we’re only here for a bit of a wander and to take in the view of Quebec City.

During our wander, we went up a long and winding red staircase because Levis, like a lot of Quebec City, is on the higher parts of the cliff face. There is a bit of a historical trail that you are able to follow, but we just went for two things on the map. First, the local Notre Dame church. Had this been a weekday we’d have been able to go inside, but alas it is Saturday and those doors were very much closed.

Still though, we mostly came here for the views. So a bit of a walk away we ended up at the Terrasse du Chevalier-de-Levis. Essentially, a park on a terrace with benches and lovely views across the river. I can only imagine what beautiful sunsets can be seen from this vantage point. I think the view we got on this sunny and cloudless morning were more than adequate though. Feels like a really good way to say goodbye to the city.

So, we headed back across the river and walked around the Petit Chevalier area for a bit before a spot of brunch made up for some Beavertails greatest hits. I have been wanting another avalanche for a while and this felt like the perfect time and perfect wear her to be sat outside with this.

And so the travels begin. We technically got to the Quebec City Airport a bit early, but that just meant time to make sure devices were properly charged and to get ourselves another greatest hit of the trip.

By some amazing act of joy, one of two open food places at the airport was an A&W. This looks like a lot of food, but the next time we’d potentially get a chance for some food would be 7 hours away and at ordering this, we weren’t confident we wouldn’t have to really rush for out connection. So, I actually got to eat an uncle burger at proper temperature (a well as a chicken buddy burger). Both of these just further cemented my opinion that A&W Canada may just be one the best fast food chains I’ve been to and will miss when I am back in the UK.

And this was even further cemented when we arrived in Toronto and tried to get dinner at the only food place left offering a full menu (ish… like most of their stuff turned out to be unavailable it’s just that I didn’t try to order it). For $10 more, we get less with poorer service, poorer quality and a bit of a sad food note to end on… but airport food shouldn’t count.

So that really is it for Canada. Weird finishing off this final post once I’ve stuck the our clothes in for a post-laundry wash. Really sad that this trip is over, but wow what a lot of memories and pictures I will always have from this Canadian adventure.

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Two Weeks in Canada: Day 14 – Walruses and Ghosts

This is the last full day of our Canadian odyssey. Same day as Carly Rae Jepsen dropped her latest album, so that’s keeping me company alongside the remnants of yesterday’s mammoth bag of popcorn. The hub is currently getting the bulk of the packing sorted as I write – so hopefully I’ll be able to finish in decent time and be able to help him.

Whilst we were too late in the season to get on a whale watching tour, that doesn’t mean that I have to leave behind any joy of seeing marine animals. About half an hour out of town by bus and a weird pedestrian path-less walk is the Aquarium of Quebec. To allow for mop-up time in the afternoon, we had already pre-booked our tickets for a 10am entry… so ended up with another McDonald’s breakfast as it was quick. This breakfast came with a free apple pie for an unknown reason and I am not going to quibble with that.

The Aquarium of Quebec feels almost a bit of a misnomer. Sure, there are two aquarium buildings filled with fish, but the draws are to be found in the outside and open-air exhibits. For now though, let’s focus on what is indoors as that’s pretty much the order I ended up seeing things.

In the larger of the buildings, you have a more regular type of aquarium. However, as this aquarium was more set up originally set up as research into indigenous species, most of the fish you find in the larger building are Canadian and so you’ll find fewer tropical species. However, let’s not forget that Canada is the second largest country in the world. So for each tank with halibut (who are so awkward looking, bless them) and trout, you will also find octopus and the most darling hermit crab I ever did see.

The other building is more spread around two themes and the inevitable touch tank of rays (although these were cow-nosed rays, aka the cutest of all rays). The first is the best collection of jellyfish, underscored by a Sigur Ros track. There are a lot of jellies here and the clever use of mirrors make these weird creatures go on for ever. Moon jellyfish, sea nettles, bay nettles and a bunch of other species were just happily undulating away as the coloured lights changed.

Next door was a number of different seahorse displays as well as sea dragons and the close-related pipefish. With both this and the jellyfish, it was nice these groups of animals getting their own dedicated areas as, all too often, they kinda get lost in the shuffle of other aquarium animals. Here, they are allowed to be the stars.

So by the time we were done with the fish, it was time for the seal feeding and demonstration. This aquarium has both harbour and harp seals sharing an enclosure, which they seem fine with as they go about swimming and playing with each other. The harbour seals were especially cute as they were getting their medical checks and being rewarded with fish straight from the bucket.

After this demonstration, we noticed that people had begun to gather at the polar bears. Well, where the polar bears in Toronto were all resting – these two were far from sleeping. We were at the enclosure for a long time, running back and forth as they swam and playfought. Actually seeing them like this was awe-inspiring. These are stunning creatures, but as they were rearing at each other during the fights, there is this innate part of you that is triggered about how dangerous they are and to be thankful for concrete and glass.

Over our shoulder I then heard another sound – one of walruses grunting. Yes, in all the time we’d been with the polar bears, the keepers were now doing feeds and checks on the walruses (a father and his twins) – albeit not publicised and not in the wider display tank. Honestly I could just spend hours watching walrus swim and being their tusky selves, but it was so odd seeing them ‘walk’ rather than swim.

We swung by the arctic fox exhibit before leaving – weird co-incidence that this fox was born in Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, so I will have met his relatives. The timing of the exit could not have been more perfect, the aquarium was pretty empty during our visit and was about to be filled with two school buses worth of kids on a school trip. Bullet dodged.

Lunch was, what I assume as of writing this, my last plate of poutine that I will have in Canada and last plate for a long time. Back in town, we stopped into a branch of Frite Alors! to try one of their glammed up poutines. My husband went for one with bacon, cheese and sour cream and the bit I tried was very delicious. As for me, I was able to try out the General Tao poutine and… the chicken and sauce on this make the whole plate a winner. Damn I am going to miss poutine.

Since it was a perfectly clear day – and I am going to thank the weather Gods once again for giving us amazing weather on this trip – we went up the Observatoire de la Capitale to get that bird’s-eye view you just end up craving when in a city for long enough.

From up high, you really do see just how small an area is occupied by the walled old city and how it’s not to dissimilar in size to the citadel. This is also the only chance to get a decent view of the shape of the citadel itself, unless you have a helicopter I guess. The observation deck was clearly an after thought and more of a converted top floor, but hey with all the floor to ceiling windows, you get brilliant views in all of the cardinal directions.

By now we were heading towards an hour before sunset, so we finally got around to taking a big walk around the Plains of Abraham and the wider Battlefield Park. It was here that a half hour battle ended a war between the British and French due to the capture of the city of Quebec. An extremely interesting bit of history amongst everything else we have learned this trip.

As well as being a site of historic importance, this is also a really beautiful park to walk through. Even now as the trees are beginning to thin out a bit, this was a lovely way to spend an hour. Some of the views you can get here across the St Lawrence River are beautiful as long as you are okay with a cargo seaport just being off to the side. But hey, without that, it’s easy to forget that you are in an urban park because it sure is peaceful there.

Dinner was some sandwiches that we had purchased earlier from Metro. Neither of us really wanted a full meal and, hey, these Italian sub sandwiches were pretty good even though they were eventually eaten 3 hours after being bought and having a merry tour of the park. We took this chance to refuel before our final item of the day.

This isn’t something I have done before, but we went on a ghost tour. I know some of these put in a jump scare, which is why I haven’t done them – but this thankfully didn’t have any of that. Instead, a dapper looking guy took us around the lower city and told us stories of tragedy, executions and mass graves. Not a lot of ghosts, but I liked it more that way. Made for a really nice end to these few days.

So that’s pretty much it. Tomorrow we fly out in the evening, so we have a bit of a morning in Quebec City before about 20 hours of travelling get under way. Hopefully we’ll get the final thing done on the to do list and be able to say a proper goodbye to this city and then the country.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 13 – Un Petit Tour

The threat for a long time was that it would be a day of near constant rain. Hell, for a time there was even some snow predicted. Well we got some serious rain and a fair bit of drizzle, but in the end the worst of it all happened whilst we were on a coach or inside. This weather warning has chased us for the whole two weeks and it pretty much worked out.

So today we went on an organised tour outside of Quebec City. We’d have rather made our way to some of these places, but it’s post-Thanksgiving and pretty much the end of tourism season. At least there was this tour which rather conveniently started out almost opposite the hotel.

Since there was no lunch stop, we had to make sure we had a good breakfast. We headed down into the lower levels and I had a rather nice plate of French toast, bacon and potatoes whilst my husband had crepes and bacon. This would need to get us through until the tour had us back in the city at gone 15:00, which it pretty much did.

We had two things we wanted to see as part of this tour, which ended up being the final two stops after the guide completely flipped the itinerary. Guess it meant that things improved with every stop as the first two were the kind of stops that consistently turn me off doing a guided tour like this.

So we first went to the island of Orleans, which you can see from Quebec City and is set up mostly to be agricultural. The kind of place where all the city’s fresh produce comes from and you might take your kid to go picking strawberries. It’s also got a lot of tree coverage which meant us giving through golden corridors of leaves that would all be on the ground in about a week’s time.

However, we were taken here to… visit a chocolaterie. Not even a big chocolaterie at that. Sure it smelt gorgeous and one of the people on the tour ended up spending $80 on stuff, but this isn’t why we were here. So, to kill the half-hour, we walked a little bit to some kind of promenade walkway to take in some views across the St Lawrence River and take some photos of what this river looks like at low tide. We also got some shots of Montmorency Falls, the (now) final stop on the tour and the reason we were on this bus.

The guide took us off the island and through some rather lovely residential areas. He also reinforced a bit of a point he made earlier when an American tourist tried to make him stop speaking French and instead speak English… that we were in classic French Canada and that very few people in the communities we were now driving through would be able to converse in English. Again, this is a foreign and beautiful land.

Stop two was a copper gallery slash shop. The reason for it being on this tour is that the large copper doors of a church we are visiting was made by the man whose family now continues his work of making copper embossed art. At the back is a collection of embossed silver artwork depicting the life of Jesus from birth to ascension. All brilliant works of art, but also this place is definitely trying to their $30 bookmarks, jewellery and a stunning rooster that is a steal at $2950.

Not too far was the third stop, the first that I was really looking forward to: the basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre – the largest church in the province of Quebec. Given how devout this province has been within it’s history, this claim isn’t to be taken lightly – this is a massive church. Also, less than a century old as the previous iteration burned down in 1922 and took a long time to rebuild.

When you are inside, the newness of the church shows. It’s something I’ve seen in all these major Canadian churches. In the older European churches, the walls are littered with religious art of different dates and provenances and there will be slabs on walls and floors about those whose bodies are interred here. This is not criticising or saying older European churches are better, it’s just something we’ve only been able to put our fingers on today.

This is a stunning church though. I think this may end up being my favourite of all those I have seen on the trip and might be the first one I’ve visited where there is allegedly a priest near the gift shop who will bless purchases. Then again, this is one of those sites that receives a lot of pilgrims (Pope Francis himself visited in 2022) and is linked to healings. So it makes sense it would have a way to get your purchases blessed for the sake of healings.

Then, finally, it was the last stop: Montmorency Falls. These falls, which are 50% taller than Niagara Falls, aren’t the easiest to reach in the off-season and are well worth a visit. Honestly, I wish we could have been here for a lot longer than the 45 minutes allotted by the tour, but at least it wasn’t raining!

 

At the falls you have some options of how you want to view them. You can see them on ground level, you can make a climb up some stairs or you can take a cable car to an upper level and see them from a suspension bridge. We opted for a hybrid of the first two as we weren’t sure what seeing the Falls from above would really bring.

Waterfalls above a certain volume and height are always stunning. Montmorency Falls were especially stunning as all the rain had generated a bunch of smaller cascade falls to the left of it. Also, the jagged nature of the waters descent really contrasted with the smooth curtain of water at Niagara. This is a fall you would not survive a spill over.

The best of all the views came when we stopped halfway up the stairs (we didn’t have the time to go further) and took it in from the lookout they had built up there. Really was the best way to get a bit closer and just take in the scale of the power on display here. I just need to return to Canada and some of the other amazing waterfalls that they have here.

True to the guides word, we were back in the city centre little after 15:00 which meant we needed to find some lunch right away. I don’t think we’d walked 50 metres before finding a good smelling place for lunch. Sure it was a burger and fries, but mine had smoked meat on it. Also the hub got a venison burger with mushrooms cooked in maple whiskey. Definitely felt like something Canadian only.

The rest of the afternoon was spent back down in the lower areas to finish off some souvenir shopping. I got my final magnet and key chain of the trip, my husband finally found himself a good zipped hoodie and we got some nice soft plushies to give to the nieces. Also, for later, we visited one of the many boutique popcorn shops and got a bag that was, in retrospect, too big for us.

We stayed in for the evening for the first time this holiday since our previous attempt was scuppered by the keycode to our Montreal accommodation getting changed. This meant we were able to watch an episode of Le Maitre du Jeu (the Quebecois version of Taskmaster) live on television.

There aren’t a lot of takeaway options in this area of town, but we did manage to find a place called Mango Tea which fit the bill perfectly. So there I was, sat on the floor watching a Quebecois show with subtitles, lychee bubble tea, a very good lemongrass beef banh mi and some popcorn. I think it’s one of those quieter evenings that I really enjoy.

Tomorrow is, somehow, the final full day here in Canada. Got some really nice things which will hopefully carry me through what will end up being nearly 24 hours of travel. Until then, I’ll have some fish to see and some ghosts to walk.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 12 – Vieux-Québec

I think I can call it for now, the old city part of Quebec City may indeed the prettiest area of any city I am likely to visit in North America. I know there is a bit of a European bias going on here, but this is still giving me vibes of like a small city in Western Europe than something on the other side of the pond. Clearly it’s all coming from the French sensibility of it’s early days, but wow it’s a real treat to be roaming these streets all day.

Breakfast was a simple one day. Since we are in what feels so much like parallel universe France, I found us a cafe around the corner where we had a massive butter croissant and I had a pistachio latte. Trying to assimilate so hard that I actually had a fancy coffee drink and, as someone who doesn’t really like coffee, it was pretty good.

So, the whole point of today was to really see as many of the main attractions in the old city area of Quebec City. Any leftovers being rolled over into some spare time on future days. The first call was made at the Notre Dame of Quebec, which is the end of this weird mini-tour of Notre Dames.

The interiors of all three Notre Dames have been very different. This one with cream walls with any accents being in gold or a very pale blue-grey. The chancel was absolutely beautiful with those gold arches all reaching towards Jesus at the top. What was also interesting to me is just how welcoming this particular church felt, probably helped that there were some nature sounds coming from one of the rooms. Almost feels like Montreal is the church that inspires awe, but this is the one that might inspire more togetherness.

We then paid another visit to City Hall and their Halloween village. Some of the impact is lost in the daytime, but it allowed me to take some pictures of elements that were occupied last night. I also got a better look at what turned out to be a nursery of pumpkin babies. Like these were literally pumpkins in cribs, with blankets and expressions drawn on in Sharpie. Yet, these are some of the cutest non-animal things I have seen for while. Don’t know what is wrong with me.

Not too far from here, and visible from most points in the area, is the towering Chateau Frontenac. Inside is a hotel that I would be able to afford without some serious career adjustments. This is one of those buildings that just looks good from any angle and it is appearing in so many of my snaps.

Given how high we are, there are also some beautiful views overlooking the river and over to the neighboring town of Levis. Hopefully we’ll find the time to take the ferry over to Levis and get the reverse of all the photos I took, but that’s assuming good weather (and tomorrow is looking like a wet one).

It was more view appreciating as we walked along the Dufferlin Terrace, a very scenic boarded walkway that hugs the end of the hill and gives more chances for good views of the river and the surrounding area. Honestly, despite the rather bleak sky in all the photos it really did turn out to be a nice day.

Up the stairs and a bit of a walk later and we arrived at the Citadel of Quebec. Built as a means to defend the city from American forces, it never had to be used as a defensive position, but it still has an interesting and storied history. It is also still an active military site, so if you want to actually see it, you need a guided tour.

We just missed a tour, so we milled around the attached museum and read up about the history of the citadel itself and the Royal 22nd Regiment that it currently houses. By the time of the tour, we felt pretty knowledgeable – but it was still very much worth it for the lovely tour guide we had taking us around for an hour.

It also allowed us to get some great views from up on high, as we stood next to a cannon called Rachelle. Speaking of cannons, because we were on the 11am tour, we finished just around the time of the firing of the noon shot. So we got to see the preparation, loading and then firing of an actual cannon. That was actually really cool to have experienced.

As we needed a larger chunk of time for the afternoon, we skipped some things on the list to be taken up in two days time and instead made our way to the lower lever of the old city, via a lot of stairs. The impression made of this area was immediate in part to a street performer playing one of my favourite tracks from the Amelie soundtrack. But more on this area later.

Lunch was something that I have been meaning to get ever since I found out that Canadians had their own word for it. So it was a Pogo (aka a corn dog) with some creamy coleslaw and a helping of Italian-style poutine (aka fries with a tomato-ragu sauce and the cheese curds… I love this country). With a little room left, we shared an order of pouding chomeur for dessert so we could try something Quebecois. I man this was a bowl of cake soaked in it’s own caramel sauce and then topped with ice cream. It was glorious.

Around the corner was the Museum of Civilization, which we wanted to reserve the rest of the afternoon for. I hadn’t read too much into what was here, but now I have been it feels like this name may be a little bit grandiose and something that feels more apt for the Met or the Louvre. It was still a fun way to spend an afternoon though.

First section we visited was all about the history of Quebec as a province and as a cultural identity. As this is a more modern museum, there is definitely a difference in how things have been framed around the interactions of the white settlers and the First Nations peoples when compared to the older explanations in the Chateau Ramasey.

For me, the biggest takeaway was something that the Museum of Canadian History glossed over a bit: the timeline that led to the two votes for an independent Quebec. Like, I understand this a lot more now and can definitely see how emblematic the French language is since the region is no longer as brought together by the Catholic church. I just hope that, for the Quebecois, they are happier to be part of a unified Canada than at that point 30 years ago when the difference in the referendum was razor thin.

Also among the permanent galleries was an area about First Nations people in Quebec. There was a separate room dedicated to an art piece around the awful impact of residential schools; which we then saw an American tourist literally walk through… as in he thought the door was a usable door rather than a piece of the actual art. Talk about on the nose. I just sat there in utter shock because as a living metaphor it was utterly ridiculous.

Two temporary exhibitions were also available, but the one I want to talk about was all about poo. It’s presented in a very tongue in cheek fashion a lot of the time, but it also really talked about some important issues around egestion, our attitudes to it and how so few people around the world do not have access to sanitation.

We also learned things like how astronauts poo in space, saw a piece about the trouble and stigma faced by those with ostomy bags and then played some poo-themed arcade games. Seriously, a whole room with some games in it that were educational about defecation and poo health. I know it’s a bit of a taboo topic, but what a way to talk about it. I would love it if this exhibition could somehow be cascaded to a bunch of museums around the world as it talks a lot of truths that many don’t want to discuss.

Our day was then finished off with some proper exploration of the Basse-Ville. This meant walking the old world streets and enjoying the beauty of the (rather empty) Place Royale before navigating around the Petit Champlin area with all it’s little shops and restaurants. I feel like when we get some focus on souvenir shopping, we really are going to be spoiled for choice.

Dinner, much later on, was at a restaurant near the hotel which was exactly the type of French Canadian food that my husband has been looking forward to. Also meant we could cross off the final two entries in our ‘to try in Canada’ food list as both could be found in their set meal menu. What a result!

To start with was pea soup, made with yellow peas and rather different to the Dutch pea soup you could probably pitch a tent on. It was the perfect warming dish for what was becoming an increasingly cold evening. The main was tourtiere – a local type of meat pie which is very much the French showing us Brits how to make our own food and in a better way. I didn’t even end up using any of the condiments as there was so much delicious gravy to dip the fries on.

Finishing it all off was a maple syrup pie. I mean the waiter commented that we were going for the full Quebec experience and boy howdy did we go for it. This pie was sweet enough to make me scared for my teeth, but so silky smooth and flavourful that I wanted to appreciate every bite. I think I was about half way done when I noticed my husband was basically finished.

A bit of a massive first day here in Quebec City and tomorrow is us actually taking a guided excursion into some nature… on a day where the rain is set to not cease. We would have preferred to do this ourselves, but so much seems to stop in Canada once they’ve had Thanksgiving. Hey ho, should at least be a fun day if a little wet.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 11 – Trek Across Quebec

I think today’s the day where it really hit me that this trip is going to come to an end soon. As long as there was more than one city left to visit then the prospect of an end point felt just that further away. So it was with such feeling that we packed up and made for Montreal’s Central Station.

Breakfast was some s’mores Pop Tarts we found on sale, lunch was at the station’s McDonald’s because the fancy food court stuff was very expensive; also we got a ‘free sandwich’ coupon in the Monopoly promotion. So I got a free chicken habanero sandwich (still trying to go for things I can’t find in the UK) and the hub got himself pancakes and sausage because all day McDonald’s breakfast is a thing here.

At just over 4 hours, the train journey really passed in a flash. Probably helps that I spent half of it writing the massive post for yesterday, then I swapped seats with the hub to get the window whilst I was all cozy in my soft hoodie with my podcasts. We also, somehow, ended up with seats in the comfort class – so that was great legroom and proper plush seating. If I could get that for the flight back to the UK it would be amazing.

And so we arrived in Quebec City in the very late afternoon and it was very much raining as it continued to do so for the rest of the evening. Really does feel like a terminus rail station, but what a beautiful station to welcome you in. The interior makes you feel like you about to run into Phineas Fogg and Passepartout as they get into the home stretch of their journey around the world.

It was a quick march to the hotel some 15 minutes from the station and up the hill into the upper part of Quebec City. Managed to pick some great hotels for this visit and this one appears to be no exception. Wonderfully situated in the old town near some key landmarks and the room is just darling. During this trip have managed to stay in a chain hotel (Ottawa), the largest hotel in Canada (Toronto), a self-catered studio apartment (Montreal) and now a boutique hotel. Kinda keeps in with the different feels I have been getting from each location.

By the time we got ourselves properly situated in the hotel, the sun had set and it was time to get some dinner. However, with all the lamps on, I had to have a little bit of an explore as we slowly meandered to the restaurant. We got a sneak preview of some sights on tomorrow’s itinerary, looked over the river to the neighbouring town of Levis and then saw something that was super cute.

So, of course, we are getting very close to Halloween and the further along this trip we’ve gotten the more we’ve seen decorations coming out. Well, the City Hall of Quebec may have won it for me. It’s like they’ve set up their own Halloween Village like you’d see for Christmas. Very kid friendly, utterly charming and exactly my kind of speed.

Dinner was at the small chain Poutineville where, of course, we wanted to get some pimped out poutine. We also indulged in a rare instance of appetisers with their combo plate – which I had to get because of the deep-fried pickles. We ended up sharing two ‘regular’ sized plates of poutine. The first was the chain’s signature with braised beef and a red wine gravy, the other a more insane affair with hot dog, bacon, ground beef and a regular poutine gravy. Both delicious, but in the end we both had different favourites (mine was the less refined hot dog one) and we just finished off those plates solo. Now just to figure out how to get poutine to be popular in the UK…

It was still raining, but the initial walk to Poutineville had enchanted me so much that I wanted to walk around the old town a bit more at night to see everything lit up. We stopped by the Parliament building (again something we’ll spend more time on in the coming day) and had a general wander around the area and just taking in the architecture of the old city.

Then came the Christmas shop. A massive Christmas shop that on some days is open until nearly 11 at night. I just couldn’t not go in and then end up getting something for home to remind me of this trip to Quebec. Just have to keep my fingers crossed that my new figurine and ornament will survive the flight home. Now to bed as tomorrow is going to be a big day.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 10 – Fleuve et Montagne

Well this is our final full day in Montreal, so it was a bit of a jam-packed itinerary. Even though we removed the Museum of Beaux-Arts since it was closed today and allowed us more breathing space.

Lots of walking on the docket which came via one of the sponsors of this trip (oh I wish): Tim Horton’s. Finally found a place that carried the steak and egg biscuit and it was just okay. Like I don’t know what I was expecting, but their sausage biscuit is the way to go.

As part of our continued donut watch, we tried out the plain cake donut and the apple fritter. The plain cake shows off what is the fundamental of a good Tim Horton’s donut, but without a glaze it was a bit on the dry side. On the opposite side, the apple fritter was a bit of a wet donut. It was delicious and may be the best of the trip so far, but it fell apart a bit.

To start off the day we headed towards Mt. Real itself, whose presence would dominate the Western sky if it wasn’t for the tall buildings. Going with the mass TripAdvisor good words, we started the day at St Joseph’s Oratory. The exterior is stunning and one of the largest church domes in the world. As with a lot of things, it is in the middle of a massive construction project set to finish in 2024 – so the immediate impact of the white steps was lost.

Now, I am writing this paragraph a day later which means a lot of my feelings have since cooled but – this Oratory was not it. Not only was it a massive disappointment because the gardens, greatly advertised on the website, were closed for the season (not that you’d know from their website) but so much of all of this felt heavily commercialised. I was keenly aware of all the places that they were trying to get money.

On the plus side, the main basilica was massive and very modernly decorated. It made for a contrast with other churches on the different itineraries which are more Gothic Revival. The Votive Chapel was also interesting, if only because as a non-believer I found this almost the concept of lighting votive candles to the extreme conclusion as you might see in the sets for a game like Bayonetta.

So I was seething that we had lost time, but turned that rage into action. We spent less time at the Oratory than we had expected, so it was a mission to get a good view of Montreal from high up in the park. Also allowed us to walk through some fancy neighbourhoods where realtor company’s are Sotherby’s auction house and the Halloween decorations are excellent.

We did some initial wood walking in the Summit Woods where we appreciate the more yellow colours of the surrounding trees, then eventually got to the main park area with Beaver Lake. Slight chill in the air, the fiery leaves and a warm maple flavoured London Fog in my hands – this is definitely autumnal living.

Eventually we arrived at the Kondiaronk Belvedere viewpoint and the views across the city were worth the hike and worth the fake-out of the Oratory earlier. The way that the red leaves almost framed the bottom of the cityscape no matter where you looked was incredibly special. The views continued as we walked down the many steps and exited the park on street level.

Next was the question of how we, now we’d been in Mt Real Park, what would be the best way for us to get to Old Montreal. By some coincidence, the place we’d exited was also the start of a tourist walk called La Promenade Fleuve-Montagne. The sole purpose of which seems to be just this, whilst also taking us via some local landmarks like the impressive buildings for McGill University and Phillip’s Square.

Rather than follow the route all the way, we took a slight diversion on a suggestion of my husband. He knows that if we’d had more time here, I would have wanted to do an ‘Underground City’ walk like we did in Toronto with PATH. It wasn’t a long stretch and probably wasn’t the best example of it, but hey we at least tried.

Finally we arrived in the old town and at Place d’Armes. This is one of the very few times where I got the feeling I had been here before as I had a real spark of recognition of the statue in the centre of the square, especially the bronze of the the First Nation man. Actually nice to not feel like I’d completely slept-walked through that trip 16 years ago.

Now, what do I say about the Notre Dame de Montreal. This is the big thing to see in Montreal’s old town. It is a beautiful Gothic Revival basilica and one of those things that would have absolutely crushed me if we’d been unable to see it.

The interior is beautiful, especially the roof whose decorations were done with inspiration taken from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It was also interesting how the floor sloped down towards the alter at the front. On some level I assume it helps to give a better view and engagement for attendees sat at the rear, but it also really draws you in. Looking forward to seeing how the Quebec City Notre Dame matches up.

Time for a late lunch and something my husband has been wanting since we got into French Canada – crepes. Between us we tried two very different offerings at the Creperie Chez Suzette. First was the one I ordered that was filled with brie, ham and spinach then covered with a béchamel sauce, then there was my husband’s order of a goat’s cheese, honey and almond crepe. Both rich, both delicious and it was almost like we’d gotten dessert thanks to the sweeter one.

Fuelled up, we did some more exploring of the Old Town by going down St Paul’s Street. We revisited the old harbour area from out first night in Montreal, only to realize it is infinitely more fun once the sun goes down and everything is lit up. Also paid a visit to the Marche Bonsecours, which is a palatial looking building on the inside and has some shops and restaurants on the inside.

Our final stop in the old town was Chateau Ramezay. They have it on a lot of their information that this house was included in a 1001 historical sites to visit book. Felt like a no brainer to go inside, once we’d finished going around the period gardens at the rear which were free to take a turn about.

I think that if we’d not already been to the Canadian Museum of History this might have hit a bit differently. So much of the history was already covered there and in a more up-to-date fashion that didn’t completely shy away from the Europeans being terrible. It was interesting to get some of the city-specific history, but this wasn’t the highlight I was hoping it would be.

That was it for the old town, which still feels like I am walking through Belgium rather than Canada. We had to get back to our accommodation to drop of our bags as we had tickets to watch an NHL match that evening. We took the chance to take some chill time before having a pre-game burger at A&W (today it was the Papa burger and this may be the final time we get one in Canada).

So this was my second time seeing a league ice hockey match. When I was 12, I saw one in Prague – so over 20 years ago by now. At least this time I’d heard of the teams: Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The atmosphere was everything I was hoping for: full of energy and ultimately incredibly friendly. It was also so cool to see the classic tropes of North American sports in person. Like, the middle-aged woman actually playing the organ on site – including covers of ‘Karma Chameleon’ and ‘Something Stupid’. The tambourine sounds? Actual tambourines being played by in-audience cheerleader-types trying to keep the energy up. Also, for some reason, a live-DJ sponsored by Monster energy drink. All a bit mad in the best possible way, like their furry orange mascot.

It was a bit of an insane set of scoring in the end with the Canadiens winning 3-2, coming back from a two goal deficit and clinching the decider in extra time. The rapture when the Canadiens scored a goal was like nothing I’d every experienced before and, I guess, I now have an NHL team to favour as well as a new hat for when it gets cold.

Post-game was had at Dunn’s Famous where I finally was able to get my mouth around a Montreal smoked meat sandwich. The plate was massive. I decided to swap my fried out for latkes and it was exactly the right decision – to the point where I regret trading one of mine for some of my husband’s fries because of some longing looks. The coleslaw was also fresh and crisp with only a dash of vinegar needed.

Somehow there was room for dessert and I ended up with the best slice of cheesecake that I have had for years. It rivaled cheesecake I’ve had in New York it was that good. Sadly it’s pieces like this that have ruined UK cheesecake for me as we just don’t do it the way I like it. At least not in our restaurants where the filling is too homogenous and the base is too thick.

That’s it for our final full day in Montreal. Tomorrow’s is a long travel day to Quebec City so fully expecting the post to be rather short compared to this massive blog post. It’s the homestretch of my Canadian adventure and am already thinking what my West Canada adventure could look like.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 9 – How Green Is My Montreal

At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned we were going to go over our plans again. Well, good thing too because we soon realised that two things on our list were going to be shut (because many museums in Canada are closed on a Monday) so we’ve had to have a rethink. Meant we ended up dropping something and just let ourselves have more of a chance to breathe in our itinerary.

Breakfast was at a place down the road called Hinawi Bros. since Montreal is known for having a distinct type of bagel. Compared to New York style bagels these had a bit more sweetness and a crunch to them. I cannot account as to whether these were cooked in a wood-fired oven as tradition dictates, but they were delicious with the lox and cream cheese.

From here it was to the Olympic Park, via a Venezuelan bakery but more on that later. Part of the original plan was to totally relive some time I had here back in 2002 by going up the slanted Montreal Tower – but this is closed for works for another two years… but on the bright side it saved us a bunch of dollars and it’s not like you can’t not see this weird bit of engineering.

There was a lot of other general construction going on in the Olympic Park with didn’t allow us much of a chance to have an explore other than a real cool set of plaques honoring all the attending athletes and listing all the cold medal winners. Insane just how dominant the Soviet team were back then.

So on to the main thing here in the park for us to do: the Biodome. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what you do with sporting areas that have been purpose built for the Olympics. What was once the velodrome, now houses four large themed enclosures. This has had a face-lift in the years since I was last here and it is so great now.

We started with the warmest climate and then circled round to the coolest, which meant we started with the tropical rainforest – now known as the fourth time I nearly cried because of animals in a zoo.

The rainforest section feels like the largest of all the sections, as in the largest single room and others have some discrete areas. There are tropical trees, a waterfall and every now and then misters activate to keep things moist. Tamarins and a sloth have seemingly free rain throughout the entire area – tamarins I have recently come to realize are my favourite of all the primates.

It wasn’t the tamarins that made me almost cry in public, it was the capybara. Now, back in Cologne, I had another bout of losing it over cute animals as the tapirs were being fed. Well, not only were the capybara being fed, but they were eating whilst being their best semi-aquatic selves. I don’t think I have ever seen a capybara swim, but they look so at home in the water – even if they have a piece of wet lettuce stuck to the top of their head.

After I had recovered from joy-induced light-headedness, we went to the Maple Forest enclosure. Lovely big area here, but very much split into separate areas for the otters, beavers, lynx and racoons. The beavers were in their den, sadly, but we did have some good face time with some adolescent lynxes taking some independent steps before going back to mother for reassurance. All right at the top of their area so it was hard to take pictures, but it was cute to see them being 100% cat.

Then there’s the Gulf of St Lawrence area where the big draw is the fish tank with massive sturgeon and other fish inside. Watching these giant ancient looking creatures was hypnotic and forced an earworm in my brain of Bjork singing ‘Nature is Ancient’ from her song ‘My Snare’.

Lastly is the sub-polar room where the walls in the entrance corridor are covered in a thick layer of actual ice. This is where you can find humanity’s favourite birds: the penguin. Some beautiful king penguins were living here and trying to look all magnificent before one of them seemed to take a tumble into the water. There are also gentoo, macaroni and rock-hopper penguins in the enclosure, but the kings really draw the eye.

Next door in a separate enclosure were what my husband referred to as the ‘fake penguins’ – aka the puffins and murres. So cute, so talented and so black and white. We had time to revisit enclosures but I don’t think anything was going to top the swimming capybara having lunch.

Speaking of lunch, we didn’t exactly have lunch today. There aren’t exactly too many options at in this area, so we were glad to have bought some cachitos with us to eat as soon as we found a place to sit down in the Botanical Gardens. The cheese and guava one was especially delicious.

 

The Montreal Botanical Gardens are very impressive and extensive: second only to Kew Gardens in London in terms of size. The big difference between the two is theming. Where Kew has some themed gardens, they are a bit loose and rely a lot on the use of buildings to create the sense of split. In Montreal, there are a number of different gardens, a number of which are themed amazingly well. Half of the area is a more standard arboretum and with some looser gardens centres around ponds and creeks, but the bulk of our time was spent in the themes areas.

The best of all of them is the Chinese gardens. When I was 16, these were some of the first photographs where I remember not just taking them to document where I was, but also to try and frame some shots to make them more aesthetically pleasing. I had never been anywhere like the Chinese Gardens at Montreal and they hold their impact still now I am approaching 33.

What made these even more interesting to visit this time was that everything was out for a big light display that had separate ticketing once the sun goes down. Big bespoke lanterns depicting a creation myth, fishermen, pandas and birds.

Then there is the Japanese gardens. Not as embellished as the Chinese gardens, but focused far more on the form and principles – to the point of a particular type of nearby quarried rock being used as accent points. Definitely one of those gardens that has a feeling of tranquility even when there are kids screaming blue murder.

The other main themed gardens we delved into were the First Nations and the Alpine Gardens. The Alpines were nicely done as their own little rocky mounds for each of the different displays; like it was nice to see a bit of height being used. The First Nations Garden reminded me of a similar ‘walk’ we did at Toronto Zoo – i.e. the purpose is to have a forest similar to what it would have been back then, but with explanations of how the different plants were used and some surrounding history.

If we had brought a proper picnic, we could have easily spent another hour or so here just touring the arboretum section – other than the beeline I made my husband take towards the gingko section. But we were getting really hungry and it was surprisingly late in the day so – we let loose a bit of a cheat card.

En route to our next location, we made a quick stop off to get ourselves some fast food poutine from McDonald’s. This was what we were originally meant to have done on our very first night, but everything was so delayed that they had closed their doors to everyone but UberEats drivers. This did mean, however, that I could have the Quebec-exclusive buffalo chicken poutine. It was the best thing I have ever gotten from a McDonald’s because all the flavours worked. Damn!

Last major stop of the evening was on St Helen’s Island. In summer months, this is the home of La Ronde – Canada’s own Six Flags theme park. We are not here at the right time of year for that, but we were here to get a bit of a closer look at the rather iconic Biosphere (but not pay the $22 to go in), take a photo or two of the city from the edge of the island and then pop off again.

Now, this is when I would have a dinner picture but there’s a bit of a story there. So, we realized that in Quebec there are no A&Ws anywhere near us. Similarly, the one in Toronto Airport for our connection on the way home is in a different terminal like so many video game princesses. This was, therefore, the perfect chance to get ourselves an A&W meal and maybe have a bit of a chill time using the Chromecast ready television. Nope, we got locked out of our accommodation.

When I say locked out, I mean that the key codes we were given to enter the premises no longer worked. It took over half an hour for the new code to given to us and we were just left waiting outside for most of it. Since we had no idea how long this would be, and because a cold burger is rancid, we ate standing outside the window. Eating what may actually be the best fast food burger I have had outside of Asia.

Not the best end to the evening. At least my burger, the Uncle burger, was delicious enough to not have made it utterly bleak. Tomorrow is our last full day here in Montreal and it’s a semi-early start to make the most of it because it is going to end in an NHL game and hopefully some Montreal smoked meat.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 8 – Welcome to Montreal

Well, it most certainly was a whistlestop at Ottawa. I don’t remember if I have done such a quick turnaround in a place I was staying at, but it certainly pays to be the kind of person who doesn’t feel the need to ‘unpack’ when going on holiday. I know some people don’t like travelling out of a suitcase, but that’s always been the way I’ve preferred.

Breakfast was a repeat of yesterday, thanks again for another $50 of free breakfast buffet. It actually meant I could try oatmeal and it made me miss porridge from back home where you’d make it with milk rather than water. Feels weird that this is one of the few food preparation methods where the North American version is actually the lower fat version.

This left us a few hours between hotel checkout and our train to Montreal. Rather than sit in Ottawa station for 4 hours, which would be incredibly dull as there is actually nothing here (considering how large Toronto’s Union Station is, this station’s lack of anything was a huge shock), we ventured into the surroundings after leaving bags with security.

The immediate vicinity is mostly highway but there are two ‘malls’ either side. I put mall in quotes as I was hoping for something inside with a food court instead of those completely outside ones where people travel by car to go between stores. We stuck out a little bit walking around there with our backpacks.

Still though, this did mean that I got to visit a Walmart for the first time ever. For a Canadian or an American, it probably sounds a bit weird to be excited at the prospect of going to Walmart, but it’s one of those cultural touchstones (like Costco) that I wanted to do firsthand. Now I have been, I was actually surprised that things weren’t as cheap as I expected, like anything sweet is still much more expensive than in the UK. I did enjoy having a bit of a rummage around though and there was an offer on Pringles and Pepsi – so that was a cheap train lunch sorted.

Fast forward 3-4 hours and we arrived in Montreal. The moment we reached our accommodation we got down to some good old domestic work: using the washer and dryer that came with our Sonder. Well, we stuck around for the washer – and loaded up the dryer to go whilst we were out. By some amazing act of kismet, it literally did the last churn of drying as we came back through the door at the end of the night.

By the time ventured out, the dryer on a bit of a timer, we made our way down to the Old Port of Montreal. The sun was setting behind us and during the whole walk I had an unsettling feeling: despite the fact that I was here back in 2002 I can’t say I recognised anything. I mean, by crossing the border into Quebec it already feels like we’ve gone to another country – but I expected something to twig. Hopefully in two days, when I am doing some proper retreading, some things will trigger.

We made our little walk in order to ride La Grande Roue de Montreal – the big Ferris wheel that juts out into the St Lawrence River. I love a good wheel and it makes for a great way to see a city… especially with storm clouds brewing and the lights going on prematurely.

Of course, what do storm clouds mean: rain and winds. Where is it very fun to be when the wind is audibly howling: inside the capsule of a Ferris wheel that is rocking back and forth. Honestly though, having the ridiculous winds really added to the whole experience. It was also great to have three complete rotations so that I could grab some snaps on the first spin and then have two to just take in the view and the sound of the howling.

After coming back to Earth, we had a walk along the harbourfront. Took in the views of the glowing theme park across the river and tried to get a decent photo of the Biosphere (I failed). We also made our way over to the Clock Tower on the river, built to commemorate sailors lost at sea. It looked beautiful and a bit foreboding all lit up at night.

Now, we hadn’t exactly had a proper lunch so by this point I was properly hungry. We had a nice walk through the nearby streets of Old Montreal, but as this is our point of exploration tomorrow I thought it might be nicer if we got dinner in a different area. By some weird quirk we ended up in Montreal’s Chinatown and we found a nice place here.

Still slightly haunted by the meh tomato ramen, we ended up in a place called Sumo Ramen and it was time for a redo! We had okonomiyaki to share as an appetiser and then I had a pork and kimchi ramen with extra tofu skins as my main. I consider this revenge as this is exactly the ramen I was looking for. Also, the okonomiyaki with it’s dancing bonito flakes took me right back to being in Japan.

I also walked away with a nice souvenir as they apparently sell plushies at the till and I just couldn’t give up the chance to take home this Chansey. They’ll keep me company for the rest of this trip and whilst we finalise the rest of our itineraries.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 7 – A Full Ottawa Day

So here it is, our only full day in Ottawa. Feels a bit off to be devoting so little time to Canada’s capital, but I think we managed to do everything that we would have wanted to here. Probably the big side-effect of having the Canadian behemoths of Toronto and Montreal being so close.

The day started as I wish all days did, a free breakfast buffet at the hotel. My eyes might as well have been pinwheels when I saw that the price of the breakfast was $25 per person… meaning we got $100 of free food for this stay. The mind boggles; the cure being getting a plate of the hot food and then finishing it off with a small bowl of oatmeal and a banana. I hope to do the same tomorrow.

Full of free breakfast, we ventured a few blocks away towards Parliament Hill. We had a late visit here last night to view the centennial flame, but this is the first time we were really seeing it up close in all its glory.

For what it’s worth, I think a sunny autumn morning must be the best time to visit Parliament Hill because of how surrounded it is by trees – especially the maple. When viewing the buildings from certain angles, it is hard to not have them nestling amongst maple trees in various stages of fire colours.

Even without the help of flaming trees, Parliament Hill would still be incredibly picturesque with the Gothic revival building that makes these buildings look equally religious, palatial and governmental. Yes, it is indeed a weird mix, but it works so well. This is all the weirder when you realise that the senate building is just off the hill in a building that used to house a railway station.

After this was a bit of a weird diversion, which is only weird if you don’t know me. One thing I had yet to see was a proper large supermarket here in Canada. It’s something I love to do when in another country and not sure if I am going to get a proper change. So, we took about a 30-40 minute diversion East to visit a Loblaws (and my brain kept making Arrested Development references the whole time). We went there for a stroll through all the aisles, which for me is really fun. Like, a whole freezer section for chicken wings just blows my mind. Having picked up some Pepsi Zero Sugar and a tray of nanaimo bars (which we have been making our way through) it was back to normal stuff.

Lunch didn’t exactly happen in a normal sense. Since Ottawa is the home of Beaver Tails we got another pair of them between us. This time it was one maple sugar and the other was a chocolate peanut butter that was so overloaded with toppings it was just… dripping. Think that the cheesecake style ‘Avalanche’ is still my favourite, but I think we may be done with Beaver Tails.

We got our timings a bit wrong, so ended up waiting on a bench for 20 minutes (in retrospect a good thing because… it made us sit down and rest) so we could enter Ottawa’s Notre Dame Basilica. The time outside did give us time to admire the beauty that was the sparkling tin roof and steeples. I never knew that tin could be so beautiful, it always just feels like the metal that old toys and soup cans are made from.

Inside, the Notre Dame (which I realize now is the first of three same named churches we plan to visit in Canada) was very colourful. The deep blue ceiling adorned with stars and the green columns painted to imitate marble made for a very immediate impact. As far as I have seen from online chatter, this is probably the minor player of the three Notre Dames I plan to see – which is exciting in it’s own right.

Across the road from the church is where we spent the rest of the afternoon: the National Gallery of Canada. First though, a big mention to the giant bronze pregnant spider statue standing outside. This is, somehow, the third of these I have seen after the one that was once on display at the Tate Modern in London and the one at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo. Pretty much makes seeing it a once a decade phenomenon which explains why it is still so impactful as a piece.

The collection of the interior gallery is mostly split across two floors. We ended up seeing all the rooms, including a temporary exhibition and left about 10 minutes before closing. The reason for our visit was served by the first set of collections on art from Canadians both Indigenous and Settler.

Works of both groups are displayed alongside each other, keenly aware of the influence both had on each other and how both are important to be recognising in a gallery of this type. I hadn’t really though much about Canadian art, but there were a lot of pieces that really wowed me in these initial galleries.

These galleries also challenged a lot of my preconceptions about what art from both of these groups. For one thing, I hadn’t given much thought to how the Indigenous art would have developed but the work of Norval ‘Copper Thunderbird’ Morriseau gave me pause. Similarly, the number of works on display by female artists was, sadly, surprising given how male centric a lot of galleries end up being.

Like with the Canadian Museum of History, I feel I have gained a greater insight into Canada’s past. Having the historical context from yesterday really helped with explaining how and why art changed – especially the context around the banning of Indigenous art as a way to wipe out their culture (the reason was officially to aid assimilation, but to-may-to, to-mah-to).

Also worth noting in this area of the gallery is the Rideau Chapel – where they completely relocated the interior of a local Chapel that was destined to be demolished. The room itself is beautiful, but what made this especially memorable was a sound sculpture work called ‘Forty-Part Motet’ that was playing through forty speakers in the round. Each speaking was playing a different voice from a choir which meant you felt like you were being swallowed up by music. It was an utterly bizarre experience which gave this chapel even more gravitas.

The contemporary and the European/American galleries didn’t really stand up to the first bunch of rooms. Contemporary art can be hit and miss for me. Some pieces, like a statue of a doe birthing a human were very interesting. On the other hand, one room was literally a piece of twine going from one corner to the other. Like… pieces like this do not help with the idea that modern art is basically a money laundering scam.

As for the European/American galleries, I know I speak from a place of great privilege given that I am a Londoner and so have access to many pieces in our own National and Tate galleries. I get how important it is for pieces by great artists like Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh to be seen by those around the world to spark interest… but other than an amazing Klimt (which was specifically ‘no photos’ and some beautiful Canalletos there wasn’t too much here.

Final stop on our tour of Ottawa was a walk along the Rideau Canal. Well, a short stretch of it as it is 200 km long – but it was the perfect mental palate cleanser. Walking along the calm canal with the autumn colours was just lovely and the perfect time to crack open the nanaimo bars that had been in my backpack for five hours. This really did turn into another heavy walking day.

Dinner, a while later after we’d dropped things at the hotel, saw us back in the Byward Market area. After the gorgeous banh mi of yesterday, I spotted an Ethiopian restaurant and kept a mental note of it. So that is where we ended up with a mixed selection of goodies on top of a nice spongey injera. It was actually really nice to introduce my husband to this food and style of eating which, after years of Covid, feels pretty counter-intuitive. I still have no idea of the names of the different piles of deliciousness, but all I know is that I still have no idea how to properly ration my injera.

So our time in Ottawa comes to a close. It’s a mid-afternoon train ride and then it’s time for destination number 3: Montreal. Not much is planned for tomorrow given the whole ‘checking out with luggage’ but there is a chance I might see my first Walmart if we have enough time at the station… which I am weirdly looking forward to.

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 6 – Onward to Ottawa

After five lovely days of weather it was only a matter of time before autumn crept up to us. So it was at 7am that I was woken up by a large amount of rain hitting the hotel window, realizing I must have passed out last night on top of the covers and had slept like that all night. Good thing that today is going to feature a whole lot of sitting.

Breakfast was at Union Station, which left only two options: Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s. We’re lazy and like ordering via screens, so McDonald’s won out even though I was sadly unable to find the Canadian-exclusive jalapeño breakfast muffins. I was, however, still able to find something not available in the UK, which meant a chicken breakfast muffin for me… and I hate just how much I enjoyed that.

The first half of the journey was mostly spent me finishing writing up the blog post for yesterday after lapsing into unconsciousness rather suddenly. Meant my husband was able to get the window seat for this leg and I kept poking him about maybe getting some pictures of the countryside. I think he did rather well.

Rather than buy something on the train, I had popped into a Metro and bought us a sandwich, some diet Pepsi and a bag of Sour Patch Kids to share. I know had we gone here in 2020 as planned, this would have been normal pricing, but thanks to the UK government putting the economy in the toilet everything is just that bit more expensive. Still cheaper than getting it from the train, so at least it wasn’t a false economy. Plus it was a jolly good pastrami and Swiss on rye bread.

The remaining half of the journey was just watching the scenery go by and being unable to take pictures for most of because of the insane amount of rain that kept lashing against the train. The only warning being the sudden rush of falling leaves that seemed to preempt every torrent. Was nice to be snuggled up with my podcasts though just watching Ontario go by.

Arriving in Ottawa, I don’t think I quite got just how different the feel would be to Toronto or my memories of Montreal. Even the guy who checked us into the hotel (who also gave us free breakfast coupons, because apparently the gay mafia is real after all) was a bit dismissive of Ottawa versus other nearby cities.

Here’s the thing though, I think where some might dismiss Ottawa is exactly what is making me like it. Yes, this is a city and somewhat of a compromise capital in the same way as Canberra. However, in an afternoon and evening I have gotten such a good feeling from it. Where Toronto is this modern U.S. style city but with wide enough streets to allow you to take a breath, Ottawa is feeling so much like Luxembourg but with high-rise buildings downtown. Also, there’s the food which I will get to later.

We got in on a Thursday which, in Ottawa, means we really lucked out on something: free late night entry to the Canadian Museum of History. It means you only have two hours to get around as it’s a 17:00-19:00 deal, but hey it’s free and it was one of two museums here in Ottawa we wanted to hit up. Also helps that, based on the three areas in the main museum, we were mainly interested in the first two and less of the third.

I feel that, if you are in a foreign country and there’s somewhere nearby that can teach you a good deal about that country’s history – you need to go. You may not completely internalise it all (like how I have not retained most of what I learned about Korean history), but it helps you to appreciate where you are… even if your own country comes off as the absolute worst when you read about all the awful things they did to the indigenous populations.

The first section spans the greatest amount of time and, for me, was the part I was keenest to find out about. The first thing you come across is an Anishinabe creation myth and that sets the tone for the first section as you learn about different traditions of the First Nations, about how different tribes came and went and how they co-existed both in peace and in war. Then come in the first contacts with Europe via the Vikings, the French and then full colonialism at the hands of the British.

As a Brit, the second section on colonialism was hard but it’s among the many things that I feel we in the UK need to know more about. Hell, these are the kinds of things that need to be taught in schools as otherwise the only concept you get about indigenous peoples is watching Disney’s Pocahontas.

The layout of the three sections is really well done and profoundly modern. There are interactive elements, plenty of informative videos and some tactile replica objects. At two hours we were a bit rushed at the end, but we were able to amble along until ‘Modern Canadian History’ at which point my husband made a beeline for the World War Two section whilst I went for the bit about Quebecois identity politics and their independence movement.

Despite the weather warnings on our phones, we lucked out this evening as we left the museum. Sure there were showers and it was a bit windy on the bridge as we crossed the Ottawa River, but it could have easily been a whole lot worse.

For dinner, I wanted us to make the first of what may be multiple visits to the Byward Market area. This district is the sort of place I dream, just city blocks full of restaurants of all different cuisines. The walk there was also pretty beautiful with all the old-style street lamps giving everything a welcoming glow.

Thanks to my husband we found the restaurant (as Google was directing me to the takeaway pickup address which is different). It is called Parle by Viet Fresh and I want them to be in London at this very moment. I was craving some kind of banh mi and, magically, the flavour that has a reduced price on a Thursday was the one I would have gone for (since there are few food I like more than East Asian BBQ pork). The prawn summer rolls with their peanut sauce were also really good… but the banh mi were the unadulterated star of this show.

On the way home we also stopped by the Centennial Flame since, obviously, night time is the best opportunity to see it. Also given that we’d just been learning about Canadian history, it felt like it was the right time to do so.

And this is where this is a place of total honesty. Rather than dessert… I had noticed there was an A&W on the way back to the hotel. So we grabbed a ‘buddy burger’ from the value section and shared a poutine. What can I say, this was a good little burger and it’s cool to have tried another Canadian chain… and from the price and the quality of the burger I think we may be back here before the holiday is up.

Tomorrow is our only full day here in Ottawa, so going to try and make sure to get most of the greatest hits before packing and making for Montreal on the following day… which will also mark the halfway point of the trip. I could get used to these two week holidays.