Travel is always an adventure and no more so than on a cruise where you are definitely not in control, as that is the responsibility of the ship’s Captain. With a Blount Small Ship Adventure you are sure to have an adventurous nature as their relatively small ships (80 passengers) traverse less traveled waterways and dock at destinations where only small ships can go. My trip aboard the Grande Caribe took me from Montreal (see Part One of this sojourn) up to Quebec, then back through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, along the trail of the Erie Canal via the New York Canal System, down the Hudson River and docking in little old New York City, after a farewell cruise by the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan while pausing at the Statue of Liberty.
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This being my first time with Blount (it has about a 50% return booking of previous passengers) I have to commend the cruise staff from Captain John Hunnewell, to the all-important Cruise director, Lisa Pontarelli, down through all the seventeen support staff of housekeeping, galley servers and the deck hands who were all cheerful and helpful day after day of my twelve day cruise. A cruise ship company can have little control over weather, or tides, but when they pay special attention to passenger service, you know you have a good company and see why Blount has such a good return booking. Blount is not so much about luxury accommodations as they are about informative and enjoyable destinations where many other cruise ships cannot go. Among other destinations my favorites (I have several favorites) include historic Hyde Park, home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the Impressive West Point academy; Cooperstown with its charming main street shops, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and nearby Fenimore Art Museum preserved in an historic house. The Grande Caribe also stopped off at the Wooden Boat Museum, the town of Troy, the Fredric Remington Art Museum and a tour of the Singer Castle. But most enjoyable was progressing at a leisurely pace along the waterway with its homes and mansions of the Thousand Islands and all along the fabled Hudson River valley. Traveling on the water gives you a tangible concept of the country’s geography and how it influenced the area’s history.
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For true marine lovers the over thirty canal locks encountered from Montreal to NYC, is illuminating. Passengers continued to marvel at these engineering mechanisms and how adept the crew and captain was at navigating through them. These relatively short pauses give one time to reflect on the communities they bolster as well as a glimpse into American culture.
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A Blount Small Ship Adventure nurtures a leisurely pace of travel. While the day is structured with a 7:30 a.m. bell to call you to an 8 a.m. breakfast, and the following lunch and dinner, you never feel rushed, even though everyone on my cruise was eager for the delicious meal times. Breakfast offers a cold buffet of fruit, yogurt cereals, as the crew serves the specialty of the morning which might be eggs benedict, fresh scrambles eggs, hot pancakes, muffins or waffles. If there is a special egg order it is gladly taken. Lunch usually consists of a soup of the day and a variety of sandwiches throughout the cruise. After a BYOB cocktail hour, dinner may start off with a salad, followed by an entree of the day, maybe a steak, Mahi Mahi, pasta or Game Hen. Complementary wines are served by the glass during lunch and more extensively at dinner. Of course a desert of ice cream or cake or pie tops off the meal. All meals are open seating and it’s fun to mix up your dining partners, or cling to the congenial folks you like the most. The hit of any of our meals was the fresh baked variety of breads.
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As a single traveler I relished having one of the few cabins with an outside door to the walk around deck. While the sliding door often would not stay shut, when it was open during day cruising it was a joy to relax on the opposite bed with views out the door of the shoreline accented with a variety of homes and landscapes dotted with colorful autumn trees. My cabin was designed for two, and I might suggest for my tastes two persons might be one too many in any of the cabins, as elbow room in the cabins is at a premium. But such is the design of small ships. I did hear some first time passengers comment on the noise in the cabins of the individually controlled air system , the engine noise, and the challenge in taking a brief compact shower, but that has to be chalked up to part of the small ship adventure. Again, the Blount cruise is about destinations not accommodations.
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The evenings offered a formal cultural lecture in the common area, by Frederick Stonehouse, author of thirty books which made him an expert on the maritime history we were experiencing. A personable gentleman who was just as interesting when joining him during the informal family styled meals. Other evenings there was on board entertainment. The best perhaps was the jazz trio of Skip Parsons who brought a Dixieland style to this ultimate river boat. As my trip was in late October, when children would be in school, my cruise was made up almost entirely of senior citizens. I found all the fellow travelers well informed and well-traveled. Getting to know a portion of their knowledge was an added Blount Small Ship Adventures treat.

For your specal interests sign up for email alerts and explore a variety of 2015 cruise destinations at:

http://www.blountsmallshipadventures.com/

As you can tell from the title I had a near 3 week tour of the North East which was an all-consuming adventure of over 1100 miles, 32 locks and many city visits via Blount’s Grand Caribe small cruise ship. Blount specializes in traveling where large ships cannot go and giving their guests exceptional access to destinations approachable by rivers in North America. Blount cruises are ideal for Senior citizens. (More details about my cruise in Part Two.) It’s always a good idea to arrive early for any cruise ship departure, as you’d had to miss the boat because of airline or weather delays. I did that with my 3 night stay in one of my most enjoyable city explorations in Old Montreal.
Taking the suggestion of Montreal Tourism, I stayed at the upscale boutique Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel, in the middle of historic yet modern old town. The hotel offered all the amenities expected with a flare and style for which you always wished. The dining, bar, concierge, bell men, Internet access, housekeeping and staff all were the best of the best with efficient and congenial service. Le Saint-Sulpice is indeed a pleasant and quiet oasis from your Montreal touring.
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Being my first time in Montreal, I enjoyed my morning car tour by expert guide, Ruby Roy, who showed me many Montreal iconic sights. They included the past Olympic and Expo venues, several overlook vistas of the Montreal skyline, an exposure to the variety of unique architectural styles of its neighborhoods (where the design of street lights change with each neighborhood), the Atwater Farmers market and of course topping off with a visit to the 1823 Notre-Dame Basilica (entry fee), which is only half a block from my Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel.
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It’s said that Montreal has over 6,000 restaurants, but as only having 3 days, I was pleased to accept the challenge and sample a few, most in Old Montreal and within walking distance. Many were near the main street of Old Montreal, Saint Paul Street, East and West. The street is filled with enticing upscale art galleries, shops and other businesses housed in vintage Montreal facades. At times I felt I was strolling through a European city, exhibiting its sophisticated culture. A short distance from Le Saint-Suplice is the Montreal Museum of Archeological and History, a must to see for its original foundations of Old Montreal, and to explore its history through a labyrinth of exhibition narratives. The experience of taking in their multiple image movie was a welcome diversion and informational. A real treat is the very popular museum café, Restaurant l’AArrivage. The concierge at the hotel retrieved the last table available for my noontime respite, where the food was economical and delicious along with a variety of local people watching. So as not to be disappointed reservations, even for a noon time meal, is a must at most all Montreal restaurants. My other dining pleasures included: Helena is very popular and crowded with a Portuguese style menu. Chez L’Epicier has an elegant atmosphere and food presentations which started off with a Kir Maison of sparkling apple cider, cranberry and maple, to accompany their amuse bush of a sweet macaroon and chocolate mint. This may be their “eat dessert first” philosophy. Ask for their Club Sandwich, which is a dessert of sweet delights presented as if it were a sandwich. Perhaps the best taste in all Montreal was their Roasted Butternut Squash (tasting like peaches!) with sour cream and walnut crumble.
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Osteria Venti, was again a very popular restaurant. It seems everyone in Montreal eats out all the time. The service here was congenial and I must say that they followed my Martini instructions to the letter without hesitation. It seems in Canada in particular, that martinis are stirred not usually shaken, so my detailed instruction (ice on the pond) was welcomed, as they wanted to please this customer, as they also did with my meal of oven roasted half chicken, rustic peperonata, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.

You’ll need to take a taxi to Chez Ma Grosse Truie Cherie – but it was worth it to dine on their onion soup, pork tenderloin encrusted (port is their specialty), a hazel nut crème Brule, and accompany all with either an apple Martini or their special drink created by the bar tender, David, a martini of Montreal gin, herbs and a hint of maple syrup. To know that most their interior is from recycle materials including bowling alley wood made into table tops, is an added treat.
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Back at Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel your choice of breakfast dishes at the Sinclair restaurant is extensive, and who doesn’t need an early morning wake up for a full day of touring? If weather permits you might eat out on the patio, or if not, inside the enclosed terrace offering floor to ceiling windows. Having this hotel as your elegant, secure and convenient home in Old Montreal is a comfortable way to enjoy the city. There is even a Christmas shop halfway between the hotel and the Notre-Dame Basilica, and a liquor store across the street. Old Montreal…my new favorite haunt. Check out: www.tourisme-montreal.org, www.lesaintsulpice.com, www.restauranthelena.com, www.chezlepicier.com, www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/plan-your-visit/larrivage-restaurant, www.osteriaventi.com, info@blountsmallshipadventures.com.

A walking holiday in the second largest country in the world seemed a bit ambitious for beginners, but my wife was keen to go.

Fortunately we weren’t covering the whole country. Our itinerary encompassed Toronto, Quebec and Niagara, some of the highlights of this vast country that is home to only 35 million people, less than the population of California.

So, armed with waterproof jackets (which we didn’t need) and our most comfortable walking shoes, we set off on our adventure.

We had to delay the start of our trip. However, we met up with the rest of the group over dinner in Quebec, caught up on what they had experienced in Montreal and Sacacomie and immediately made new-found friends.

The next morning we boarded our coach to the toughest walk of our trip. A short drive took us to the Jacques-Cartier National Park, 260 square miles of mountains, lakes, rivers and walking trails. Blessed with almost cloudless blue skies, warm sunshine and trees turning to their Fall shades of red and gold, we chatted to our new-found friends as we walked the steep inclines through the forest. As the going got tougher and trails became staircases, conversation ceased and it became a struggle for us two beginners to keep up the pace. Thankfully our guide, Jean-Francois, made regular stops to admire the view and allow us to catch up. Those views were fantastic and well worth the climb, and as the trail started to descend we felt we had already achieved something special.

We stopped at the Visitors Centre and Jean-Francois produced picnic lunches for us all at a spectacular location, right on the water’s edge. It couldn’t have been better.
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Later that day we had some free time to explore the city. Old Quebec has a strong European feel and is the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico. It is divided into the higher and lower towns, the latter being right at the water’s edge of the St Lawrence Seaway and offering moorings to an increasing number of cruise ships. We enjoyed walking along part of the fortification walls and gates that stretch nearly three miles around the edge of the old city. The streets are lined with buildings of great character, none more imposing than the Chateau Frontenac. It claims to be the most photographed hotel in the world and we could see why.

We walked along the boardwalk past the hotel to the Citadel and the Plains of Abraham where, in 1759, the English and French armies, under Generals Wolf and Montcalm, battled it out. The Plains are now a spacious urban park and being right in the City are easily accessible to locals and tourists alike.

After a short flight the following day we found ourselves in Toronto. Originally named York, it changed its name in 1834. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, towering new skyscrapers and ongoing re-development are evidence of the rapid growth the city is experiencing. Tallest of the structures is the CN Tower and the best way to get an overall view of the city is from its revolving restaurant and viewing platform around 1,150 feet (351m) above the ground. If you are brave enough you can also venture onto the vertigo-inducing glass floor – great for selfies.

Toronto is the commercial hub of Canada and home to the Canadian Stock Exchange as well as its five biggest banks. This contributes to not only a high standard of living but also high housing costs and high-rise accommodation.

The city is culturally diverse with more than 80 ethnic groups. Street signs often proclaim the nationality of the immigrants who built their community there.

However, it’s not all concrete and glass skyscrapers, some older building survive including the famous ‘flat iron’ building and the St Lawrence Market, an indoor market founded in 1803 and full of stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Toronto is also a major Arts centre and boasts theatres, concert halls and galleries as well as the University of Toronto which dates back to 1827.

After two days of city walks we needed some open spaces, and where better than our next destination, Niagara Falls.
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Many people think that the Falls are in a remote area but they are in the city and the hotels are in walking distance. There are in fact three falls that flow into the Niagara River which forms a natural boundary between Canada and the US, but the Canadian falls, the Horseshoe Falls, are the biggest. The other two falls are the American falls and the much smaller Bridal Veil falls, separated from the American falls by Luna Island, a mere 130ft (40m) wide. All three falls are best viewed from the Canadian side but recent passport controls have reduced the number of people walking or driving over the Rainbow Bridge that links the two countries.

The area along the waterfront consists of well manicured gardens and smart hotels but just behind this area, downtown Niagara Falls and particularly the Clifton Hill area, looks more like an amusement park with a range of attractions, lower priced accommodation and eateries catering for families. Attractions such as the upside down house, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum and several wax works can keep kids, young and old, amused for hours.

No visit to Niagara would be complete without a boat ride into the whirlpool at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. All passengers are provided with hooded plastic ponchos to help keep out the water which, as you get closer to the falls, feels more like driving rain. It is from the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, cascading half a million gallons of water a second into the Niagara River, that you really appreciate the might of the second largest waterfall in the world.
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Whilst the Falls are the central attraction, the area boasts numerous vineyards, many of which are happy to welcome visitors in the hope that you might buy a bottle or two. There is also the famous Welland Canal, allowing cargo ships to sail between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, its seven locks allow ships to navigate the Niagara Escarpment which, in 1990, was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It is part of a network of canals linking the Great Lakes that allows cargo from both Canada and US cities like Detroit and Chicago to reach ocean-going vessels at ports such as Montreal and Quebec.

Nearby townships such as Niagara on the Lake and Jordan provide picturesque places to visit and the nearby Balls Falls Conservation Area, one of the earliest settlements in this part of Canada, includes the Grist Mill dating back to 1809 and St George Church, built in 1864.

Our final walk was along part of the famous Bruce Trail. The trail follows the Niagara Escarpment for over 500 miles (800km) and is the longest marked trail in Canada. It’s paths and bridges are maintained by a number of clubs that have sprung up along its route. For many hikers around the world it ranks as a ‘must do’ trail.
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This is just a slice of what Canada has to offer, from big modern cities to wide open plains, forests and mountains. One thing all the places had in common, however, was the warmth and friendliness of Canadians themselves who, from the assistant in a local Subway to the staff at the smart city hotels, were genuinely pleased to see us, happy to help and keen to hear about our experiences in their great country. We had walked many miles along trails, sometimes steep and rocky, along canals and through cities; we had enjoyed great exercise, fresh air and making new friends with our fellow hikers. Truly a trip to remember.
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For more information on this and other walking holidays around the world, go to www.hfholidays.co.uk, email info@hfholidays.co.uk or contact their US partners Fugazi Travel Agency Inc, email info@fugazitravel.com tel: (415) 393 1588.

Looking back, I had a bucket list before there was the term bucket list. High upon it was a scenic and comfortable train travel through the highly touted Canadian Rocky Mountains from Banff to Vancouver. It’s no longer on my bucket list as I recently experience a near flawless journey.

Often you get what you pay for, and this was evident in booking the highest of three levels of service of Rocky Mountaineer travel. Gold-Leaf Service is the best, with Silver-Leaf and Red Leaf Service following close by. With the Gold-Leaf Service, the experienced traveler receives a private double decker rail car with a minimum of 4 attendants for the 60 passenger car: two devoted to your observation deck requests of continuous open bar beverage services, and two on the first level serving two open seating’s per day of full breakfasts and lunches, on a two day trip.
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The open seating dining, invites you to meet and discover more about your fellow congenial passengers. My four different dining companions with their varied histories, added reality and spice to the variety of scenery passing by the picture windows.

While the dining service was fast and efficient, I never felt rush to finish dining and conversations, so that the dining level could be prepared for the next service. How the chef does all that he does in an abbreviated kitchen with a few accomplished helpers is a marvel. It’s almost as impressive as the sight of the towering Canadian Rockies, as the 400 passenger train snakes its way through passes and tunnels, over bridges and besides thunderous rivers. I enjoyed the Beef Short ribs, the Cedar Planked Salmon, the Untraditional Fish and Chips, Pancakes and Eggs Benedict. Bloody Marys’ may be requested for breakfast and 4 wines are offered at afternoon lunches, and throughout the afternoons viewing from your observation deck assigned seat.
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Photography aficionados will have no problem filling their days with expansive and majestic scenery, either from their double domed Gold-Leaf Service car, or from the outside open air observation vestibule, which offers fresh air views from either side of the train. Guests may want to bring along a good book, or knitting, or just leave the worldly cares behind and let the Canadian Rocky Mountains waft over them, as informative crew intermittently describe the history of the passing landscape.

Also with Gold-Leaf Service you can be assigned the best of hotel accommodations in Banff, and Vancouver, before and after your trip and the overnight lodgings half way through the journey at Kamloops. While up the mountain side from Banff the Rimrock Hotel and Vancouver’s city centered Sheraton Wall hotel both offered me upscale accommodations. At Kamloops the new contemporary Sandman Signature Hotel was a surprising treat of an accommodation. With Gold-Leaf Service your luggage arrives at your hotel room before you do, making the transition from travel to overnight stays a more lux experience. I booked an extra night on the start of my trip in Banff and an extra day in Vancouver before returning home. I highly recommend this, after traveling so long and far to these attraction packed cities.
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Thanks to Discover Banff tours I booked a day tour over to Lake Louise – an iconic image of the Canadian Rockies not to be missed. There are strenuous high mountain hiking trails to test your endurance, or you may want to just stroll lake level, or pause and take in the meeting of lake and mountain. I topped off my day with a late afternoon meal at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louse patio dining, with beverage and meal. Hard to discern whether it was the amazing view or the delicious food and drink that was so enjoyable. In any case a most pleasurable memory to place in my bucket. I only wish I had booked an additional day in Banff so I could have taken the full day tour up to the ice fields, and mountain lakes with wildlife viewing possibilities. But I was so glad I did get to experience part of Lake Louise.
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I had an extra planned day in Vancouver and booked a Sea to Sky Gondola tour at a mountain site by Howe sound about 45 miles north of Vancouver. Again a congenial guide took us to Horseshoe Lake for a brief stop before a stop at Shannon Falls, a lunch break at the top of the Gondola (again views not to be missed and a high altitude hamburger – one of the best), with accompanying suspension bridge and then a tour of the old Britannia mineral mine. An unexpected bump in my travels was when United cancelled my return flight from Vancouver, and I had a 12 hour delay before the next available Red Eye flight. Making lemonade out of these lemons I stored my luggage for a fee and took the airport train back into downtown Vancouver for my own walking tour using the very busy hop on hop off bus. I visited the art museum with a lunch, the observation deck at Top of Vancouver, and then to Granville Island where I imbibed and toured the Liberty Distillery, learning and tasting how top shelf Gin and Vodka are made. Then off to the harbor again with their active water taxis, before taking the train back to the airport to wait for my return flight.
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It seems when you check one activity off your bucket list, it gets replaced with another one. In my case, Rocky Mountaineer has more routes other than the “First Passage to the West,” which I took. They also have connections to Jasper, Lake Louise, Whistler and Seattle and from 2 day trips to Circle Journeys of 9 days. I found that one of those trips slipped into my bucket.

For detailed information and booking look at:

www.rockymountaineer.com/en_CA_BC/ and www.banfftours.com/specials and www.viator.com/tours/Vancouver/Sea-to-Sky-Highway-Day-Trip-from-Vancouver-Shannon-Falls-Britannia-Mine-and-Gondola-Ride/d616-3914SEASKY and http://thelibertydistillery.com/

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Usually I don’t need a special reason to travel to Québec City, but this time there was one – a major exhibition, Paris en Scène 1889-1914 at the Musée de la civilization.

That was the reason my husband and I landed in Jean-Lesage airport a day before the show opening, and comfortably situated ourselves in a grand Hôtel Château Laurier Québec.

The next morning, before leaving the hotel, we took a swim in a salt-water pool and acquired a key card to a self-serve electronic bar, where my favorite ice wine shared a glass vitrine with other Canadian brands.

Engaged and engrossed in the remarkable exhibition at the Museum of Civilization, I can still see it in my mind. Comprised of treasured artifacts from the Petit Palais and other museums of the City of Light, it presents works by Rodin, Camille Claudel, Bourdelle, Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha; stage costumes of Sarah Bernhardt, marvels of period technology, like automobile, bicycle, and film projector, and countless genre paintings and masterpieces of decorative arts.
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Seemingly lighthearted, yet profoundly dedicated to historical accuracy, the show unfolds into a fascinating document about the reality of Belle Époque and the many contrasting notions that characterized le Gai Paris in time of rapid modernization and industrialization, thriving arts, and massive push for entertainment – sans financial limits or moral restraints.

The exhibition layout replicates the streets of Paris where life never stalls; where circus acrobats, bicyclists, automobilists, dancers, painters, street walkers, absinthe lovers and theater goers collide and converge, and dazzle the unsuspecting contemporary viewer with glimpses into their now half-mythical existence.

The show opens with an enormous 1895 Le Halles painting by Léon Lhermitte, depicting “the belly of Paris” densely populated with busy red-faced female merchants, hunched fish and poultry carriers, and abundant bright fruit of earth and sea against the gray dawn and golden foliage of autumnal city. Measuring 4 m x 6.3 m, the painting was lovingly restored before leaving its home for the first time in 70 years!
In the next gallery, an equally grandiose 1888 canvas by Fernand Pelez realistically depicts the circus performers with clowns grimacing in the arena, and exhausted children-acrobats awaiting their cue and miserable old men of the orchestra taking a sullen break in the wings.
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Festive and overflowing with joie de vivre, Belle Époque Paris had its darker side, expressed in outright poverty backstage, and in less noticeable desperation of nubile “ballet rats,” supported by their hoary admirers.

In the consecutive galleries museum visitors engage with the lives of the bourgeoisie, bohemians, well-known artists, cabaret dwellers; watch a naughty film through a peephole, marveling at the amount of pieces of clothing taken off by an antique stripper, and observe a city view from the lower landing of the Eiffel Tower just being built for the World’s Fair of 1900.

Wandering through the Musée de la civilization gift shop later on, I spotted a box of unusual “Nordic” spices, and started reading the labels. A new culinary trend, the boreal movement, based on local produce and techniques inspired a collection of locally-found plants used as spices and produced by d’Origina.
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I had a chance to try Nordic cuisine at its best in a couple of Québec City restaurants, and decided to start using the new spices in my own kitchen.
Panache Restaurant, situated in an old 19th century warehouse building, is known for its elegant service and historical atmosphere, but most of all for its multiple-award winning food. Chef Julien Dumas uses herbs and vegetables from the restaurant’s own garden, and creates a variety of original dishes, paired with excellent wines from the 700-label strong collection coming from 14 different countries.
My favorite dish consisted of an aromatic chunk of pike with aioli sauce, garnished with seasonal vegetables. Purple potato, leek, zucchini, green beans, celery, and cauliflower were quickly iced right after steaming, and therefore retained their freshness and color, complemented by cherry tomato and olive.

The name Québec means “where river narrows” and the best views of the city open from the Saint-Laurent river.
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On a pier across from the iconic Château Frontenac we boarded M/V Louis-Jolliet by Croisières AML for an unforgettable river cruise. It included a sightseeing tour to la Chute Montmorency and back with a multi-lingual guide and – a great cocktail bar with smiley service.
The next day we took part in a detailed walking tour of the city provided by an extraordinary guide and guide book author, David Mendel, president of Visites Mendel company.
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We visited all the monuments of Québec – UNESCO World Heritage City, marked by the intricacies of its complex 400-year history and by the beauty of its diverse cultural makeup – and ended our tour at the richly decorated Parliament building, where the National Assembly of Quebec continues to examine, discuss, amend, and pass the laws of the province in French and in English for more than 125 years.
After the tour, we sat on a sunny terrace for a quick lunch at Auberge Louis-Hébert, and then continued to explore on our own, with a mandatory stop at the city’s farmers market, from which I always bring home dark maple syrup and creamy apple butter.

Slightly overwhelmed with the city’s ancient history, we spent the evening before our departure at a hip contemporary restaurant, Le Cercle, in a newly-fashionable bohemian neighborhood of Nouvo St.Roch.

The dining room was packed with young crowd, the jazz was playing, and excerpts from westerns were projected on the walls, while Chef Emile Tremblay was working his magic in the realm of Nordic cuisine. I was especially pleased to learn that the kitchen at Le Cercle widely used boreal spices – just like those already packed in my suitcase.

Yes! It’s true. You can forget all the problems that so many travelers experience when visiting Paris. Instead, discover as we did the magic of Quebec City (population 750,000) and Montreal (over 1.8 million), located, of course, in Canada’s gigantic province of Quebec at a fraction of the cost.

Having visited both of these parts of the world, we can honestly say that a trip to Quebec rises to the top with just about any comparisons you might care to make.

We are combining these two Canadian cities because of their relatively close proximity to each other – just 150 miles — and the fact that once you’re in this part of Canada, you might as well experience what both have to offer. Collectively, they exude a real and rich French flavor. Small wonder since there’s so much French history, and French, of course, is the predominant language – in fact, 93 percent of the people speak it. This fact may put some travelers off. However, this should not be the case, because most of the people of the region also speak excellent English, so there is virtually no language barrier, except perhaps for a few street signs and restaurant menus.

And, if a problem does arise, all it takes is asking any of the helpful people on the streets. Quebecers (yes, that’s what they call themselves) are very helpful and very welcoming to Americans and people of all nationalities. We were surprised to note that when we obviously looked a little puzzled at a street crossing, or while peering at a map, someone was sure to pop up and ask if we needed help.

In our six-day trip there we visited both cities, joining them with a delightful three-hour, scenic train ride on the country’s outstanding Via Canada Rail System – in our case traveling from Quebec City to Montreal. This was an exhilarating trip that we thoroughly enjoyed; we loved seeing much of the countryside of Quebec, including the rich farmland and the small villages along the way – a real treat and akin to meandering by rail through the European countryside.

To defend our claim about forgetting Paris, we’ve chosen several personal and pointed comparisons showing Montreal and Quebec City as the contest winners – such as:

DISTANCE: No need to take that much longer flight to Paris when Quebec is closer and almost certainly less expensive for us Yanks, i.e. Chicago to Paris is 4,200 miles, Chicago to Quebec City is only 900 miles.

FRIENDLINESS OF THE PEOPLE: Sad to say, in all our overseas travels, Paris was overall the least friendly; conversely Quebec City and Montreal are at the top of the list as most friendly. In fact, 99 percent of the visitors to Quebec City say they are happy or very happy with their warm welcome. We assume the same is true for Montreal; it was for us!

COURTESY & GOOD MANNERS: Unlike our stay in Paris, we found Quebecers, as noted, to be kind, helpful and courteous at every turn. We were often addressed as “Sir” and “Madame.” Only once in some of the many narrow streets we crossed, and the long city walks we enjoyed, did we hear a small toot from the horn of a passenger car to let us know we had wandered into a driver’s path. We also found young people to be especially helpful – even giving us their seats on the subway, if you can imagine– not so in Paris. In fact, as first-time users of the huge subway system there, we asked directions of a subway official and were sent opposite of where we wanted to go. So, after a couple of hours, we had to find our way back ourselves to the original station and then head off to our original destination. Not fun! And not a good experience for newcomers to the city.

SUBWAYS, by the way in Montreal, are much cleaner and fresher smelling than those in their ancient European counterpart.

CUISINE: Ah, it’s doubtful you’ll find finer anywhere in the world — including Paris. One of the local restaurants has the clever slogan: “It’s to dine for.” We are happy to recommend some that we can unequivocally say provide outstanding dining delights you will not soon forget. Three are very French and one very Italian — L’Echaude, St. Hubert’s and Savini’s in Quebec City are superb — and in Montreal you just can’t find any finer than Restaurant Apollo and also Jardin Nelson’s. Mmmm! Mmmm! Fabulous taste and outstanding service in each. Also, the many sidewalk cafes are just like you would hope to enjoy in “Gay Paree.” So, Bon appetite — right here in North America!

SMOKING: We saw few people smoking in the cities we visited in Quebec versus the prevalence in Paris.

SAFETY & CRIME: We don’t have statistics, but from all we’ve heard, you’re a heck of a lot better off in Quebec than you are in Paris, where we were warned of pickpockets galore and also sometimes families of gypsies going about robbing people. Whereas, in Quebec we found we could walk the streets nearly anywhere after dark and not feel the least concern – a big plus in any trip and a special treat when keeping late hours.

RIVER CRUISES: Again, you can forget the Seine. Instead, try cruising the mighty St. Lawrence River – a whole different experience. We enjoyed both a ferry boat ride in Montreal – this from colorful, Old Montreal to the Jean-Drapeau Park — and also a much longer, larger boat ride we boarded in Quebec City. These rides were on The Croisieres AML Lines — website: crosieresaml.com. This is an excellent cruise excursion company with 18 boats that serve a half million people annually. We thoroughly enjoyed both rides and the ever-changing views of the shoreline.

CITIES OF ROMANCE: Perhaps Quebec City and Montreal could be called “the twin cities of lovers.” We noticed so many couples of all ages holding hands as they strolled the streets and byways, looking very much in love. Maybe we’ve forgotten, but we don’t remember that being the case in Paris.

TO SUM UP: We could go on and on, but, let it be said that the European flair of Quebec City (old-world in architecture and spirit) and Montreal (more modern and cosmopolitan) provide a great combination that eliminates going to Paris for the same kind of travel adventure.
Now, for just a few specifics that made our trip to these two Canadian cities so captivating for us:

#1 For a long time, we had hoped to be able to see Quebec City’s fabulous Festival of the Military Bands which is held every August – truly a fabulous, must-see event. These crack outfits come from various parts of the world to showcase their remarkable talents, and the highlight of the week is the stirring Military Tattoo (teh-TOO) which is held indoors at the Colisee Pepsi. The Tattoo is an evening performance of the various bands, including a totally unforgettable Scottish regiment compete with pipes and drums, marching before an enthralled audience of thousands. Standing ovation, after standing ovation occurred as these fantastic groups “strutted their incomparable stuff.”

Both concerts we attended featured bands from Germany and Chili, as well as other groups, and we can’t say enough about how thrilling they were. Be sure to check out the website: www.fimmq.com

A Military Tattoo, by the way, is also held every August in Edinburgh, Scotland. To see that one, we had to plan a year ahead for tickets, and, again, you can have much the same experience without having to cross the Atlantic and the additional costs involved.
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#2 The Cirque du Soleil, which originated in the 80’s near Quebec City, and are held around the world, is a circus like none other anywhere. The one we saw was held outdoors at night and was stupendous — truly another of those wonderful, not-to-be-missed events. It’s been described as an eclectic mix of circus arts and street entertainment, as well as being the largest theatrical producer in the world — and the unchallenged world leader in circus arts. It and the military bands make an absolutely phenomenal duo for exciting, non-pareil entertainment. The circus’s website is: circdusoleil.com, and, for those interested — English pronunciation & translation are: sirk-due-soLAY – Circus of the Sun).

#3 if time permits, arrange for a half-day touring Old Quebec and another half-day in the countryside seeing Montmorency Falls, taller than Niagara, and the farming country of the island in the St. Lawrence River – the Ile d’Orleans. We also drove through miles of maple forests where the signature maple syrup of Canada derives. Our friendly, knowledgeable, and accommodating guide was Ms. Michelle Demers who was arranged through the Quebec City Tourism department. Website is quebecregion.com. We stopped, by the way, for a gastronomical experience that’s apparently to die for by the locals. It’s call poutine and is made by topping French fries — what other kind of fries in Quebec but French — with brown gravy and cheese curds. Now, how’s that for something to write home about – or maybe not to write home about — depending on how discriminating you are about the new kinds of food you eat? We quickly learned to like it, but we had to wonder: How do the French folks of Quebec stay so thin?
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#3 Again, you don’t have to go to Paris to see what we all know as the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. This is because Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica is an amazing jewel in and of itself. The imposing church features dynamic organ concerts that seem to rattle the entire structure on the more strident chords, as well as a stunning sound and light show celebrating the founding of Montreal and the building of the immense structure that is well worth seeing. For more information, see the website: Therewaslight.ca. We, by the way, were taken on a tour of Montreal, as well as the basilica, by an outstanding tour guide, Martin Robitaille, arranged for by Tourisme Montreal.
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#4 Museums are everywhere in both cities — the history of the entire area being so remarkably rich.

#5 As for hotels, we greatly enjoyed our stay at the Chateau Laurier in Quebec City with its excellent restaurant serving all three meals and a brunch. It’s sometimes reviewed as “a very nice place to stay at a fair price.” This attractive property is close to the Plains of Abraham and other battlefields, as well as within walking distance of Old Quebec, the Citadel of Quebec, and many outstanding sites.

In Montreal, our stay was at the city’s world famous “Grand Dame Hotel,” the serene and elegant Fairmont–The Queen Elizabeth. Both this property and also the Chateau Laurier in Quebec City offer exceptional service; both are warm and welcoming. The Queen E., interestingly, was constructed over 50 years ago and sits atop the Via Rail Central station, if you can imagine — an engineering feat to say the least. There’s even an organic, rooftop garden where harvested plants of all kinds are used by the hotel’s chefs. Imagine that!

Along with a huge number of stars and celebrities, British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, II, has stayed at this property several times, and it was fun to learn that John Lennon and Yoko Ono chose the Fairmont Q.E. for a week-long “Bed-in for Peace.” Thousands have elected to stay in the popular suite the iconic couple occupied.
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All the above considered, if you want an old-world experience on a budget – and right here on the North American continent, you’ll be hard pressed to enjoy anything as much as you are certain to enjoy in the sister cities of Quebec City and Montreal. Voila – (vuala is an incorrect spelling sometimes used but the same meaning) “Here it is!” or we could say, “HERE THEY ARE!”
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By the way, wintertime events, we are told, are spectacular, as well, so you might need to make two trips to enjoy both seasons – maybe even four trips and do all four seasons!

It’s interesting to note that Quebecers consider themselves so different from the rest of the population of Canada that in 1995, a vote by the people narrowly failed to make the province a separate country altogether. Though we can understand the French-influenced populations wishing for independence, we rather hope that doesn’t happen. We personally would like to seek Quebec Province remain the shining jewel of the nation.

In late November of 20011, I traveled to Northern, Canada, to photograph polar bears in the wild near the Hudson Bay. Outfitted with all my cameras, especially my favorite, my 500mm lens with my 1Dmark iv camera, heavy snow boots and down jacket, I learned how to photograph in the frigid temperatures of the Northern Arctic. One has to be careful of battery consumption when shooting in freezing temps. We often removed our batteries, put them inside our sweaters next to our bodies to warm them up to last longer. We also had difficulty with lenses fogging up due to temp changes.
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The polar bears hibernate most of the summer and move toward the bay around mid October waiting for the bay to freeze. The town of Churchill in northern Manitoba, braces for the presence of the bears as the town stands right on the shore of the Hudson Bay. The town’s polar police are activated and patrol the town’s periphery nightly. If a bear gets near the town, a warning blast is shot from a shotgun. This will often be enough. If the bear passes through the town’s perimeter, it is shot with a tranquilizer gun and taken to the polar “jail.” This jail can hold up to thirty bears. When a group is organized, the bears are again tranquilized, put on a truck, or else air lifted to an area hundreds of miles north. Under the watchful eye of a veterinarian, the bears are monitored until they awaken in their new homes.
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The bears that do not come through Churchill, eventually make it to the Hudson Bay. Once the bay is frozen, the bears grab on to a piece of ice and float out to deeper water wmye they hunt for seals. This feeding frenzy continues until spring.
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Photographers like me were driven out to the protected polar bear areas in polar tundra buggie,s which stand high on ten foot wheels. Inside the buggies the temps barely went above freezing. Shooters are permitted to put their lenses out a window in order to have a clear shot of the animals. There was also a “back porch” where folks could stand and be up close to the curious bears. All visitors were warned never to attempt to touch a bear… they are so powerful and strong that they can rip your arm off in one swat. Polar bears are known to pierce 2 feet of ice to capture seals swimming beneath the ice. I was able to capture extreme close ups of polar bears, adults exercising and mothers with cubs. During the time I was in the arctic, we experienced a blizzard with temperatures dropping to below -30 degrees.
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Black bears are also a passion of mine. I have confronted a few bears at the Smokey Mountains National park, but this year I headed up farther north for a bear workshop. I went to the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary.

Located near Orr in northern Minnesota, the sanctuary today is the home to numerous black bears in a very special meadow.

During the depression, Vince Shute was forced from the struggling home farm to the forest to earn income to help support his family. He started a small logging company. During this time, the workers were often frightened by the presence of the black bears in the logging camp. After years of killing the bears, Vince noticed that the bears did not want to harm the humans, just eat their food. So to co-exist, Vince started to feed the bears. The bears remained wild, but learned to cohabitate with man during those trying times. As the years went by, Vince was concerned for the bear’s future once he passed away. A group of nature loving folks got together and formed the non-profit American Bear Association which now supports the sanctuary. People began hearing of the bears in the meadow and many wanted to witness the bears in the wild. I did too.
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I was amazed to see so many bears in this meadow. There are no fences and the bears are completely wild. However, they know that man will not harm them in the meadow. As a photographer, it gave me ample opportunities to capture their images as well as learn so much about their behavior. We learned to speak to the bears in low, calm voices and that the bears are just as scared of us as we are of them, probably more so. The cubs scampered up trees due to the presence of the large male bears. We never stooped down as this meant that we occupied the same space as the bear and that made them feel frightened. I inadvertently did stoop one time and a big black bear came right toward me. I stood quickly, spoke calmly, and backed away giving the bear lots of space.

Today, the sanctuary is home to hundreds of visitors who come to watch bears in the wild and learn about their behavior.

“The first bear I saw and photographed in the Smokies more than made my knees shake. I was so nervous that it took many shots to get one that wasn’t blurry from my hands shaking. At the Vince Shute sanctuary, I felt comfortable around the bears, although cautious, and was able to concentrate on capturing the moment.”
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Noted for its charm, and its French style pastries, a visit to Victoria, British Columbia doesn’t disappoint. Victoria is a great walking city with different neighborhoods offering different pleasures. Lower Johnson Street combines colorfully painted historic buildings with local shopping, restaurants. Nearly all estimated 40 businesses are locally owned.
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The Inner Harbour is the premier strolling area of the city. It’s home to the Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and places to enjoy the activities of the harbor. Head to Government Street for more shopping and dining. Kids may not be interested in shops, but they might enjoy the Victoria Bug Zoo. At the other end of town, stop by Chinatown. It’s small, but offers Fan Tan Alley – the narrowest street in Canada – as well as Dragon Alley.
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Major Standout Attractions
The dream of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, Craigdarroch (which means “rocky oak place” in Gaelic) was completed in 1890 and filled with stained glass, intricate woodwork, and plush Victorian-era furniture. Subsequently it functioned as a military hospital, a college and now the Craigdarroch Castle Historic House Museum.

The Royal BC Museum offers an introduction to the richness of the history of British Columbia. Guided tours are available of First People, Natural History, and Modern History tours or join the Highlights Tour with a taste of each. Admission to the IMAX Theatre is extra. Don’t miss the third floor history gallery and First Peoples Gallery. Be certain to walk through their impressive outdoor totem pole collection towering over Thunderbird Park, and the kids will love it, too.

Located on Vancouver Island about equidistant from Victoria and Vancouver, no visit to the area would be complete without spending the day enjoying Butchart Gardens — easily one of the finest on the North American continent.
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Food and Lodging
The Chateau Victoria Hotel & Suites is highly recommended. The suites are huge and the hotel is perfectly located in the heart of the city, but just off a main street so it isn’t noisy or congested. Stop and admire the statue in front of Clive Piercy, owner of the Chateau Victoria Hotel and Suites and his beloved dog Shaker.

Have breakfast at Willie’s Bakery & Café. It’s the oldest bakery in Victoria, and you can even sleep in the two guestrooms upstairs in a heritage building in the neighborhood called LoJo — Lower Johnson. An alternative for a lighter and more casual but quite excellent breakfast is Murchies at 1110 Government Street. There’s plenty of seating, including comfortable chairs and low tables for a sitting-in-the-living-room feel. They serve breakfast (quiches, muffins, croissants, scones), lunch and of course their teas (their coffee is good, too).

For take-away light meals and pastry for any and all occasions — there’s one total standout. Patisserie Daniel (1729 Cook Street). The feather light mushroom and Parmesan quiche with a hint of a crust was delicious. Their almond chocolate croissant had me swooning.

There’s no shortage of tea shops, but one standout is Silk Road Tea on the edge of Victoria’s tiny Chinatown. Silk Road’s newest offering is tea and chocolate pairings. The chocolate is locally made artisan chocolate. One pairing was Peach Paradise – a peach black tea – with a smoked caramel dark chocolate flavored with Lapson Suchong. Unique, delicious, intriguing.

 
Getting To and From Victoria
You can fly in to Victoria International Airport and then a cab or a shuttle into the city. If you’re in the pacific Northwest, you can take Black Ball Ferry and have your car right there for excursions — including driving to Butchart Gardens. Their Port Angeles terminal is just a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle, WA.

Regardless of how you travel, remember that if you are an American citizen you will need your passport to enter Canada and re-enter the USA.
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Every year thousands of visitors from around the world come to Quebec City to enjoy the festivities of one of the world’s most enormous winter festivals. Quebec Winter Carnival is ranked among the world’s top ten best winter festivals and is considered one of the world’s 1000 must-see destinations.Parades, rides, attractions, sporting events, dog sledding, dining, ice sculptures, ice buildings, skating, skiing, snow shoeing and more create a world class vacation destination in one of North America’s most majestic cities.
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Flying into Quebec City at Jean-Lesage International Airport is hassle free. The magical and historical city of Quebec is transformed into a winter wonderland worthy of a movie or fairy tale. Music, events, dining and activities abound that celebrate Carnaval. Bonhomme, the snowman, is the mascot whom visitors revel in spotting and meeting throughout the city during the Carnaval festivities. We stayed at the Hilton Quebec which was within walking distance of everything the picturesque city offers. This proved invaluable. We enjoyed dog sled races and show shoe races and live bands on the Plains of Abraham. The Carnaval Day Parade rivals the Macy’s Parade and is a must see with dozens of gigantic inflatable characters including Bonhomme.
Also one magical evening we were enchanted by a lovely ice skating session just blocks from our hotel at Place D’Youville where folks of all ages skate under gently falling snow to music. Bonhomme arrived and everyone went wild with excitement. It was like a scene out of the movie with the beautiful and historic buildings and lights framing the rink. One highlight was a guided Snowshoer’s Walk on the Plains of Abraham where our entertaining guide dressed in period costume, narrated and sang with us while weaving a tale of the history of the area.
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Just a few beautiful miles from Quebec City is Le Nordique, a gorgeous spa retreat where couples can enjoy massages, hydrotherapy pools and more, all amongst majestic mountain backdrops and frozen rivers and lakes. A beautiful hotel property nearby, Le Manoir du Lac Delage offers sumptuous meals and gorgeous views. We spent the afternoon eating a simply wonderful lunch and partaking in a fun outdoor activity called Rand Orientation where, on snowshoe, participants hunt for markers in the forest from coordinate clues and a compass. It was a wonderful way to see the back country and exercise while testing our skills.

Also nearby is the Wendake nation’s hotel and museum. Home of the first inhabitants of the Americas, this village is very intriguing. The four star hotel, Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations, blends tradition and culture of the Wendake native people. The food is a cultural experience where delicious native foods like smoked sturgeon and seal are extraordinary. And home baked breads made by native grains like bannique bread made with wild berry corn and flour are tantalizing. The foods are prepared by native peoples or by elders using generations-old techniques. Local cheese and locally crafted adult beverages make this so unique and delightful. Even the herbs used to prepare the foods, over 90 of them, are locally produced.
The entire community is full of historic and educational buildings and a walking tour is a must.
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Also just outside the city of Quebec we enjoyed Montmorency Falls Park where we took the grand cable car ride up the mountain to a spectacular historical and natural wonder. These falls are higher than Niagra Falls and simply amazing. Quebec City is an immensely romantic destination and perhaps there is no better time to visit than during Carnaval. Another novelty of the Quebec City area is the Hotel de Glace just a few miles from the city. To learn more about the Hotel de Glace you can read more HERE.

Carmel is the editor of Roadtripsforcouples.com and you can hear her every Sunday at noon talk about her travels on KJAY 1430 AM in Sacramento.