The second week of our stay in Quebec took us to Montreal. This time we would be trying something new to us on the accommodation front, staying with complete strangers we found on AirBnB — a site that allows people to rent a spare room on a short-term.
Our hosts, Camille and Vincent, welcomed us with cous-cous and local Quebec beers. Such was the taste of these fine local brews, that I consumed quite a few glasses. That right folks, the non beer drinker was turned, but only momentarily.
Staying with Camille (Vincent was camping most of the week) was a great decision — we got an insiders view of Montreal and really got a great feel for the city by staying in the trendy Plateau area — something that would not have happened had we gone via the usual tourist haunts. Her suggestions on where to visit, eat and generally showing us a good time were invaluable.
During the week Vincent’s girlfriend threw a disco party, and we were invited to attend. Despite having not packed for such an event, we were able to make an impact on the fashionable Montreal types courtesy of my hair being able to stand up on end like it has tried for many years now. My French is quite poor, but I let the hair do the talking for most of the night.
Apart from spending another week in French-speaking Canada, my main task for the week was to attend the Osheaga music festival and finally see my favourite Canuck band, The Tragically Hip. The festival spanned three days, but we decided to attend only the Saturday and Sunday. Osheaga took place on an island just off the main island upon which Montreal is situated, and had a Metro stop only metres from the festival gate — now that’s service! Over the weekend we saw Tragically Hip (who were as amazing as I’d imagined), Bright Eyes, John Butler Trio, P.S. I Love You, Sia and Elvis Costello. In general the music was of a pretty good standard, but the choice of Elvis Costello and The Flaming Lips to finish off Saturday and Sunday night was a little wanting, these are acts that don’t exactly blow the roof off with energy and the amount of people heading to an early train showed that I was not alone in this view.
If I were to recommend a way to travel across Quebec, I’d do Montreal first. And the reason why is that having come from Quebec, Vieux-Montreal (old Montreal) had none of the impact that it should have. For instance, Montreal’s city walls are foundation stones, whereas Quebec is a walled city — no comparison in the history stakes. Nevertheless, we walked around Montreal’s harbour and took in an old clock tower on the river.
Watching MacBeth in a graveyard, was one of the more original activities we did in Montreal. Although the ‘modern’ take on the old classic sounded an awful lot like the text I studied in high school, the setting more than truly made up for it. While walking out after the performance, we got took a wrong turn ended up on our own and a little lost. Claire’s grip on my arm was a little tighter than usual but once again, my navigation skills rescued us from undead, vampiric and zombie peril.
Being in town during the Just For Laughs comedy festival gave the town an awesome energy and the chance for us to see one of my favourite comedians in Jimmy Carr. A lot of Jimmy’s comedy is based on heckling, so to have an audience of polite Canadiens and only a few vocal Americans hindered Jimmy’s style. I did think that the ‘free heckle’ segment showed how much of his routine is based on putting people in their place.
This clip isn’t G-rated, you’ve been warned.
All in all it was a spectacular week in Montreal, it is without doubt the best place we have seen in Canada.
If we were to live in Canada again, I’d undergo intensive French lessons and move over there without delay. Although I would have to work out how to survive winter, it does get rather cold there.
Note: I, Chris, take full responsibility for this post being about 8 weeks late. We are fully employed again and currently living back in Sydney. I choose to blame that rather than my procrastination for the tardiness of this post.
Chris and I both fell in love with this European style city. Its cobblestone streets are filled with character(s) and little restaurants and shops filled with amazing food await you at every turn. As the oldest city in Canada it is also home to much of the country’s history.
The old Fort Wall wraps it’s way around the central part of the city to help defend against the various invasions the city experienced as North America forged its identity and borders. We made our way through the gateways into the central town each day from our accommodation at Laval University.
Our first day in any new place normally consists of a general reconnaissance mission to see what possibilities the city holds and start the sightseeing. In Quebec we did this by bike riding next to the wall down to the lower part of town and then struggling to get up the steep incline again. The views are amazing and the vibe electric.
One of the highlights of our trip was our first Cirque du Soleil experience. The owner has been putting on free shows in the city for the past few summers and we were lucky enough to be amongst the crowd that gathers to see the spectacle. Performed under an overpass, the performers tightrope walk, execute acrobatics off the sides of shipping containers and bounce ecstatically off three stories onto the trampolines below. We were both hypnotised by the experience and fantastic music performed by a skeleton in kilt playing piano and guitar. We are now Cirque converts.
Chris has had an iconic Australian beer hat in his luggage and being in the middle of French Canada he felt it was safe to wear the VB fashion label to help fend off the very hot summer sun. Two footsteps into our favourite cafe in the city and the barista recognised us for the aussies we were. It turned out he had lived in Melbourne for three years, as had the waitress. The up side was that we found someone who knew how to make a cracking flat white.
Chris decided that the hat needed to go into hiding for a little while. A few days later he was courageous and donned to hat again for a walking food tour of the city. As we sat on the bench with the other tourists waiting to start the girl next to us turned round, “Nice hat!’ Yep, another Australian. The hat didn’t make another appearance for the rest of Quebec.
The food tour was lovely. In a group of six we headed across the road from the tourist centre to the SAQ, the local grog shop. Here we had a taste of ice cider, a Quebec twist on the country’s ice wine. Our favourite was the maple whisky. Sadly worries about our baggage weight allowance stopped us from stocking up so if anyone else is travelling in that direction, pick some up for us. We also headed into one of the oldest delicatessens in town for a taste some local cheese. Next was a chocolate shop and then a maple store where we tasted three different grades of maple syrup. Another place took us into their beautiful wine cellar for a small sampling. One of the fancy restaurants had prepared a little terrine for us. At another restaurant specialising in cuisine from Brittany we enjoyed a cheese and ham crepe and sipped on a glass of absolutely glorious cider.
Historically Quebec City is central to Canada’s past. Being the history buffs we are we tried to explore as much of it as possible. One of the main areas is the the Plains of Abraham, named after the farmer who once owned the land. The battle held here was pivotal in the Seven Years War. You can easily spend hours walking through the now picturesque parkland looking at the areas where various stands took place.
A stairway now leads up a steep hillside where the English were able to draw up their boats and climb the hill during the night. The French had believed the area was an unlikely entry point and had left it largely unguarded. The bulk of the French troops were miles away leaving the English to gather on the plain giving them a massive advantage. The stairway is now a training climb for local runners and tourists who are prepared to expel a little extra energy.
The ramparts that surround the old city make it the only remaining walled city in the Americas north of Mexico. Within the walls is The Citadel where you can watch the changing of the guard. Definitely worth it as the chance to see the regiments mascot is too good to pass up. The 22nd regiment is still active with many of its troops currently serving overseas. It is also the only Francophone regiment in the Canadian Regular Force. Batisse the Royal Goat is paraded around the quadrangle each day in his silky blue cape and gilded gold horns (pretty sure they were just covered in gold horn covers when we saw him). Whilst the marching band plays and the rest of the regiment is inspected, Batisse and his handler, who is also in full uniform, stand to attention and perform the odd manoeuvre as required. The surrounding audience can’t help but let out a giggle as the woolly white angora goat enters his stage. Chris was particularly thrilled as he does enjoy the odd goat both as a meal and I fear, as a pet one day.
Looking forward to getting back here. It is a really beautiful and tasty city.
As an Anne of Green Gables girl when I was growing up, a trip to the home of the red-headed heroine was a must on our trip. A train, a bus, a taxi and a day took us to the famous maritime island which is also famed for it’s beautiful seafood.
It is the people that really make a place memorable and this was certainly the case on Prince Edward Island. Chris, the accommodation finding king, booked us into The Trail Side Bed and Breakfast near Charlottetown, also home to Grandmas Tea Room. Our hosts Cindy and Guy were wonderful going above and beyond to make our stay a special one. We were invited to watch a movie with them one night and Guy made fresh popcorn for the occasion. Home cooked hamburgers with them another night were a lovely treat and the four of us polished off more than one bottle of wine over the week.
Our highlight with them was our final evening, an authentic PEI experience. Cindy and Guy took us to one of the areas most popular eateries to taste an Atlantic donair (think kebab on a fluffy pizza base.) A drive down to the beach for a seaglass hunt along the shoreline proved fruitful, Chris and I both finding pieces. Cindy makes beautiful jewellery out of the artifacts and I happily walked away with a couple of new accessories.
We were also taken to the grave of LM Montgomery, the writer who helped put PEI on the international map. Our next stop led us from an old church up a hidden pathway which the writer used to walk along. It now leads to the ruins of her grandparents house where she grew up. An insiders view that you won’t easily find.
We did get up to a few activities of our own as well. Over the course of two days we cycled about 80km. Up the confederation trail one afternoon and from Charlottetown past Pownal the following day. We discovered a baked goods stand on the side of the road and a strawberry stand a little further on. Thus lunch consisted of fruit scones and strawberries. It finished with a welcomed night of sleep.
I did happen to notice some lovely looking wild strawberries growing along the side of the trail. It seemed an excellent idea to stop and have a little taste or five. All was good and well until midway through my picnic I looked down to find ants crawling all over my jeans
We were a little limited by not having a car, transport around the island is far from amazing. We opted for a tour which incorporated Anne of Green Gables for me and some island industry and history information to keep Chris happy. The Island’s Finest Tour fit the bill.
We learnt about the islands lobster and shell fish industry as well as the farming (mainly potatoes for Lays these days.) Green Gables house provided part of the inspiration for Montogemery’s famous character and of course we had to take a stroll down Lovers Lane to complete the visit. There was also the Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silverbush where the writer was married. Silverbush is also the home the Lake of Shining Waters. The houses are totally decked out as they would have been in Montgomery’s time but there is a procession line to get through them so we had to take it all in quickly. Being with a tour instead of self driven means your time is also limited in each location.
We stopped in at Kensington Station which (under a different name) is where Matthew picks up Anne for the first time. It also where Chris fulfilled his wishes of tying me to the train track. He was a little disappointed that there was no chance of a train coming along.
Food wise, we got our fill. Chris and I fought a lobster out of its shell at The Old Dublin Pub where a band was playing fabulous traditional island music. Stupendous oysters were eaten at Claddagh Oyster House and great muscles from a little hidden gem, the Water Prince Corner Shop. Cow’s ice cream is the islands pride and joy so naturally we partook in one of their chocolate sundaes. A visit should also include a taste of another island speciality: PEI potato chips covered in our rich milk chocolate. If you are an Anne Of Green Gables fan, you must try the raspberry cordial.
With our time in PEI now done it was time to get back on the train and head off to Quebec.
Back on the train and out of Alberta we rode. Three days of watching beautiful scenery go past, reading books, and eating loads of food as Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario went by. With so much good food and the uber comfy beds, it was not too hard to stay on the train for three days straight.
Finally we arrived in Toronto where we got in a car and promptly left, but not too far away.
Our lovely friends Ed and Kathy picked us up and we drove to Ed’s place in Alliston about an hour outside of Toronto. For a glorious week we sat on Ed’s patio having afternoon drinks in the sun, eating (more) tasty food and enjoying some of the areas great outdoor activities.
Kathy and Ed took us to one their favourite walking trails at Mono Cliffs. From the top you get some fabulous panorama’s of the local area. Wild rhubarb and blackberries grow alongside the trail but sadly were not quite ripe yet.
Another day was spent kayaking at Wasaga beach. We all thought we had a reasonable fitness level but sooner than we expected the rowing started to wear us down. Two hours is an applaudable effort. Pats on the back all round. The day was finished perfectly with a truly amazing meal at the Peter Cellar’s Pub. Here’s the write up.
We went out to Barrie’s Annual Ribfest and Craft Beer Show to catch up with my old school friend Amanda and her husband Jake. So good catching up with them as we hadn’t seen each other since their wedding in Sydney. Chris and I stuffed ourselves silly on ribs and pulled pork and discovered a delicious cider beer, I just wish I could remember who made it.
We’ll be back in Toronto before too long. More fun and games to come.
You can see some of our photos on the train and the food we ate here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/51265585@N00/5910548214/in/photostream
After a marvellous visit to Southern Alberta, it was time to enter the heart of darkness — Calgary, the home of the current Conservative Canadian Prime Minister.
Luckily for us I decided to dump our van full of immigrants, druggies, Muslims, hippies, homosexuals, and other reasonable people in Waterton. I hoped that a couple of days’ showers would remove the stench so that we could move amongst the population undetected and unmolested. My unkempt appearance would always raise eyebrows however.
Calgary, also known as Cowtown presumably because it was founded as a missionary post by some particularly zealous bison in 1273, roared into view as we sailed down Alberta Route 2 and no sooner had we entered the town than we were caught in a proper Calgary traffic snarl. The town is built for cars, and scorns at people who think otherwise.
Thankfully that morning we had managed to find a delightful B&B to stay in that was in the suburb of Inglewood, close enough that we could walk into town and give the rental car some rest. (By the end of the trip, the car would do 1600kms in only 7 days.)
Calgary is a large country town on steroids, and I don’t mean country as in “not urban enough”, I mean country as in cowboy hats and cowboy boots. We were there the week before the famous Calgary Stampede started, and were told by locals that the town goes absolutely bonkers for Stampede. I’d believe it.
The biggest attraction for us in Calgary wasn’t actually in Calgary at all, it was several hundred kilometres away in the Canadian badlands in a town called Drumheller. In Drumheller is the Royal Tyrrell Museum which is a mecca for dinosaur buffs. One of the better aspects of the museum is that most of the fossils are local to Alberta and they are the dinosaurs that you grow up with. (Feel free to name me 12 Australian dinosaurs in the comments section without using the oracle of WikiGoogle.)
The Royal Tyrrell is absolutely amazing and it was truly a joy to visit. Despite trying to educate visitors, sometimes it is hard to overcome ingrained ignorance. For instance, take the example of the loud American older lady that upon viewing a projection of the largest marine reptile ever proclaimed: “That must be where whales come from!”
I had to bite down really hard not to laugh loudly at her, and consoled myself with the fact that I would soon have revenge on America and its ignorance by waving my mighty and until recently worthless South Pacific pesos in their economically ravaged faces within weeks.
I also adore Drumheller’s tiny 6 chair ski lift just outside of town in a very tiny hill, which I thought was very funny until later someone explained how winter skiiing operates in Edmonton – it happens on the river banks and leaves very little time to turn before hitting the lodge.
If you ever make it to Alberta, a drive to Drumheller is a must.
On the drive back to Calgary we also got a taste of a thunderstorm prairie-style. The clouds were big, black, and looked very menacing; I expected a twister to drop out of the clouds at any minute. We made it through fine but did read a few weeks later that a tornado had taken out property from around the region that the storm occurred.
Canada Day happened on July 1st for the 144th straight year and we were in Calgary for it. The nice organising people put on a pancake breakfast in Fort Calgary (the one built by the cows all those years ago) before we met up with friends and poured money into Calgary’s pub and chinese food sectors.
We finished Calgary with a very good Mexican meal that Claire detailed here (Claire has been blogging our meals for tastingcanada.com).
I never heard from the people in the van again, I hope they made it back to the west coast alright.
Yes it sounds a little a bit violent and in practice it probably was but don’t worry, we did not partake. Chris did threaten to push me off the jump at one stage.
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump was actually the second tourist stop while we were staying in Claresholm. Buffalo jumps were a common hunting technique used by the native Indians in the prairies until horses and white people came along (the latter nearly managed to eliminate buffalo off the face of the planet.) The practice involved herding a bunch of buffalo up a cliff in such a rush that they stampeded off the other side and were killed. The animals were quickly butchered and nearly every single part of them was used to either house, feed or make tools. It was a sustainable hunting practice that lasted thousands of years.
If you’re interested I found the video below that shows how the technique worked. It’s not exactly the same as the one I saw at Head Smashed In but it will give you an idea of how it worked.
I heard a couple of different stories about the name “Head Smashed In” but the official one at the site goes like this: a young Blackfoot wanted to watch the buffalo plunge off the cliff from below, but was buried underneath the falling buffalo. He was later found dead under the pile of carcasses with his head smashed in. Literal, yes, but it gets the point across.
It didn’t look like such a big drop from up on top. It was when I looked over that I realised it was actually quite a way down. That and the fact of 5700 years of debris left behind from buffalo jumping along with the cliff faces natural erosion goes some way to making the jump appear smaller than it would have been.
Have a read through the archaeological facts about Head Smashed in Buffalo jump if you want to find out more.
This time there were signs warning of wild cats and advised us to travel in groups. No cats were to be seen, wild or otherwise but we did see our first gophers along with some other type of ground squirrel chasing it’s tale in the middle of the road.
Catch up again soon. Until then you can keep looking at the photos.
We seem to have fallen a little bit behind with the blog posts but with so much happening who’s got time to sit down and write about it. Grab a cup of coffee and lets catchup.
When we last left you we had just got off the train in Edmonton, Alberta. After a night in a lovely big and fluffy hotel room we picked up a car and began the drive to Claresholm to stay with some more distant relatives of mine, Leslie and Jim.
The roads are straight and the land is flat; Leslie conveyed it best on email to me when she said “The drive from Edmonton to Calgary is quite uneventful, get it over as quickly as possible.” As you get past Calgary the prairies are quite beautiful if a little trying for the driver. Turns out dead straight roads are actually pretty tiring to drive. Due to some rather large insurance costs associated with hiring a car we decided only one of us would do the driving. Chris was it!
We had a lovely BBQ with Jim and Leslie, their daughter Holly and her hubby Trevor along with Leslie’s sister Cathy. The first of several great dinners and many bottles with Jim and Leslie. After seeing Jim’s “man cave” which included a spectacular record collection, Chris confirmed that he too would one day have his own man cave. But it’s not all about the people, food and wine although i dearly love all three, we were on the tourist trail as well.
Our first trip was out to Waterton Park. A massive national park which crosses over into the US and includes the spectacular Rocky Mountains. We drove out to Cameron Lake. On one side was a sun drenched green landscape with canoes out on the water. As you go further out a layer of ice begins and gets thicker and thicker until it hits the ice wall of a mountain at the other end.
Signs warned that this was Prime grizzly bear territory, so we decided to go for a hike.
We chose one path but soon decided to turn back. The snow was still quite thick in areas, so much so that at one point I took a step and sunk right up to my knee. I was stuck but Chris wouldn’t help me out until he had photographic evidence. He soon had his comeuppance, sinking right up to his hip. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the camera. It was attached to Chris. I took pity on him and hauled him out of his hole.
We saw a good amount of wildlife during the day. Our first chipmunk, the local goats and some buffalo (behind fences). No grizzly bears, but then that was probably a good thing. We stuck near the hikers with the bear bells which I’m sure saved us from impending doom.
While recently out visiting Mayne Island, I went a bit overboard and decided to take plenty of photos for panoramic purposes. Fortunately they seemed to have worked out quite well.
Be sure to click on these images to view them in all their massive glory.
What a crazy past few weeks it has been. Packing, traveling, packing part two, and finally leaving Vancouver for parts unknown.
For a couple that only spent around 15 months in Vancouver and was trying not to accumulate items, we gathered quite the collection of books and knick-knacks. Nine boxes and two suitcases were handed over the removalists, as we harboured dreams of setting off across Canada with a suitcase each.
“Yeah right!” the inner voice told me — I should have listened.
As we packed for our final day in Vancouver, it soon became clear that we had left behind far more items than would fit into our suitcases, let alone be under the 23kg or 50lb weight limit for the train we were about to take. Consequently on our last morning in Vancouver, we purchased a big black bag to hold all our excess.
Down we went to the train station, and was told by the baggage handler that all our bags were overweight and we would be charged penalty fees on our bags. Removing some of our luggage, we went home to try and jam the new excess into our carry on backpacks. This wasn’t a good idea.
Such was the excess of the excess, that on our taxi ride to the train station, we returned the same bag shop from the morning and purchased the exact same bag. The dream of 2 suitcases had multiplied to 4 suitcases that luckily were all just under the weight limit.
Thus finally on the night of Friday June 24th, we were able to board the VIA train to leave Vancouver and travel to Toronto.
Don’t you two hate trains?
Back in August 2009, Claire and I took a look at the Northern Territory and decided to do the Alice Springs to Darwin leg on the Ghan. This decision was based on the gushing stories from parents after my sister and I had stumped up to give my parents a trip on the Ghan in one of the nice sleeper classes for Christmas. But Claire and I were in steerage, and boy did it feel like cattle class.
We froze the entire night as all we were wearing was shorts and t-shirts after being in 35+ degree heat all day, and the train was set at a relatively chilly 20-something and we had no warning as to the setting of the air-conditioner beforehand. On top of this, the person responsible for looking after our cabin was a complete prick of the highest order, who read out rules like a house master the moment we got on board, and refused point blank to raise the air con temperature — before anyone had even asked for it to be raised.
Based on this experience of the desert ice-cube on rails, the Ghan ruined any positive thoughts I may have had for train travel.
But after the good experience of the Skytrain in Vancouver, and a 50% off sale, I was willing to give the train another try — this time we would be forewarned and be packing jackets.
It also didn’t hurt that we coughed up for sleeper class on this trip.
What a difference a day makes.
After only twenty-four hours on the train so far, we are overwhelmed by it. The food has been delicious and in copious quantities; the beds are soft, warm, and surprisingly roomy; and the views have been something else entirely.
At this point in the journey, I would highly recommend a train trip across Canada.
However that recommendation is only after 24 hours, in a few days we return to Edmonton to travel for three days to Toronto. We shall see if the recommendation can survive that.
There’s a reason that half the cost of the fare between Vancouver and Toronto is for the Vancouver-Edmonton leg: and that reason is clearly the Rockies.
I knew when I came to Canada that Australia had mountains that were a joke by comparison, but it wasn’t until seeing the Rockies that I can appreciate just how much of a joke they are.
The first night we left Vancouver at 8:30pm and we woke up around 6am just outside of Kamloops where Claire managed to sight a big horned sheep. At the time we thought it was quite dry in the Rockies, but only later did we learn that we had seen this area before on our trip to the Salmon Run — we were barely a couple of hours drive out of Vancouver and would have the entire day to get to and go through the Rockies. We are unsure what the train did that first night, presumably it departed Vancouver and stopped the moment that darkness hit, the train stopped.
During our trip through the Rockies we saw waterfalls, bears, lakes, and sediments/rock faces forced into vertical positions — the forces needed to do this are staggering.
At points of interest the train would slow down quite considerably for enjoyment and photo opportunities, like Pyramid Falls above. On sighting a bear, a call would going down the quarter-mile length of the train “Bear on the left (or right)” and everyone would rush to the window to spy the animal.
A stop at Jasper gave us a chance to stretch our legs and drink some coffee that wasn’t of the train drip variety — but true to form in a ski resort, the first six voices were heard off the train were Australian.
Once out of the rockies, the train found another two gears and really sped up as we approached Edmonton — where we would take up the Albertan leg of our trip.
At some point in the future, we will start to write up our adventures as we cross Canada. However we do have this quick video that we took in Calgary that was just too funny not to show immediately.
For the moment though, enjoy this Canada Day gopher fight over a packet of whipped butter.