Featured : Halifax & Nova Scotia | Montréal | Quebec City | Toronto
“There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada…with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.” ― Sir Winston Churchill
Contents for Halifax & Nova Scotia : Take-off | Stansfield International | Barrington Steakhouse & Oyster Bar | Cambridge Suites Hotel | Citadel Hill | En Route to Peggy’s Cove | Five Fisherman Restaurant | Halifax Distilling Company | Halifax Waterfront | The Lookoff | Maritime Museum of the Atlantic | Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Photo Gallery | Museum of Natural History | Peggy’s Cove | Road Trips from Peggy’s Cove to Wolfville and The Lookoff
Contents for Montréal : Trudeau International | Getting Around and the 747 Bus | The Metro System | Angela Pizzeria and Restaurant | Boulangerie Première Moisson | Downtown | Montréal’s Gare Station | Giorgio | Habitat 67 | À la Folie – Pâtisseries Audacieuses | Le Chat Noir | Le Meridien Versailles | McGill University | The Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal | Musée Photo Galleries of Avenue du Musée, The Desmarais Pavilion, the Collections and Splendore a Venezia Exhibit | Thierry Mugler : Couturissime Exhibition | Noël Eternel | Palais des Congrès de Montréal | Pharmacie Jean Coutu | Pointe-à-Callière Museum | Le Plateau-Mont-Royal | SteakHouse | Université de Montréal | Vieux-Montréal
Contents for Quebec City : Fairmont Le Château Frontenac | Gare-du-Palais | The Côte du Palais & Rue Saint-Jean Photo Series | Hotches Chocolat Chaud & Cafe | Hotel du Parlement | Saint-Patrick de Québec
Contents for Toronto : Arriving in Pearson International Airport | Union-Pearson Express | Art Gallery of Ontario | Blue Banana | Cafe Crepe | Chihuly Exhibition | CN Tower | Downtown | En Route to the Royal Ontario Museum | Orange Alert | Queens Park | Rick’s Cafe | Royal Ontario Museum | Union Station | Westin Harbour Castle
“My dream is for people around the world to look up and to see Canada like a little jewel sitting at the top of the continent.” ― Tommy Douglas
Halifax. With the gorgeous colors of Autumn hovering on the horizon, we were struck with wanderlust and traveled to our northern friend that is Canada. Air Canada was our means of transport and although we had to connect through Montréal, the flight was smooth and the customer service excellent.
Arriving in Stansfield International. Halifax’s airport is small, a godsend as it is a breeze to navigate. Since you will have already cleared Customs in either Montréal or Toronto, and all flights originating from the East Coast connect accordingly, proceed from Baggage Claim directly to Ground Transportation. The airport is about 40km to the downtown area and taxis can be pricey. Your best bet, therefore, is to make reservations via Maritime, the local company providing both bus and shuttle service. Because their respective timetables differ, check the schedules carefully as they each feature predetermined stops at many hotels. We used the bus service to arrive at our hotel, for example, but their shuttle service to travel back to the airport. The buses themselves are clean, prompt and feature wi-fi.
Visiting The Barrington Steakhouse & Oyster Bar was one of those happy accidents that occurred as we meandered down the street that inspired the restaurant’s name. We found ourselves stopping to admire the Barrington’s gorgeous facade; the interior was just as striking.
The effort paid off handsomely as we sat at the bar and enjoyed the bartender’s and sommelier’s extensive knowledge of their spirits and wines, ordering small plates to share :
― Beef, Bacon & Bleu. Pepper port reduction, candied onions, maple balsamic.
― Crab Hushpuppies. Chili lime butter, bread and butter pickles.
― Steak Bread. Charred Atlantic beef, candied onion, goat cheese, white cheddar, raspberry coulis, maple balsamic.
The portions were generous, beautifully presented and delicious.
There are myriad choices in Halifax when it comes to accommodations, ranging from stylish B & Bs to mid-level hotels to name-brand chains. We decided on Cambridge Suites Hotel and its location could not be more ideal as the famous Citadel Hill is across the street. Pubs and restaurants are within walking distance as are rental car companies. The hotel features a complimentary breakfast with hot and cold items; gym, jacuzzi and sauna; on site parking; and spacious living and sleeping areas in the rooms. The hotel itself is stylish, functional and well designed. Most importantly, the staff members are very friendly and provide excellent customer service.
Cambridge Suites also features great drinks and company at their Canvas lounge and restaurant. Their bartenders serve fantastic cocktails at the end of the day when it’s time to recharge. Ensure you order their signature basket of fries with spicy aioli mayo on the side, too.
The city is famous for its gorgeous vistas, many of which can be seen and experienced from Citadel Hill which contains a number of fortifications dating back to the year Halifax was founded.
Fully restored to its original construction and design during the Victorian era, the Hill can occupy your time and attention easily for an entire day. The scope and size cannot be appreciated from street level where there is little indication of just how extensive the buildings and grounds are. There are actors dressed in period costumes; an army museum; the daily firing of a gun at noon; guided tours; the Halifax Citadel Pipe Band; and re-enactment events throughout the year.
Citadel Hill | Photo Gallery :
En Route to Peggy’s Cove | Photo Gallery :
We asked several locals where the best restaurant was to showcase Nova Scotia fishing and local culinary artistry. The answer consistently was The Five Fisherman. The staff at Cambridge Suites made reservations for us and upon entering the restaurant, it was clear this was no ordinary seafood establishment.
We sat upstairs and our server, Ben, could not have been nicer or more professional, taking time to review the bar specials and dinner menu. He earns high marks for recommending the rum made by the local Nova Scotia Distillery Company. Their Fishermen’s Helper White Rum is, unequivocally, the finest and smoothest we have enjoyed, so much so, one can drink it straight. It’s like drinking silk, and it was serendipitous the owner of the distillery just happened to be dining at the restaurant, too.
We started off with their Oysters Rockefeller and Fall Tomato & Squash Soup, the latter of which was much-needed as the night air was way past the point of being chilly. We then ordered :
― The Five Fish. Asparagus risotto, lobster, salmon, scallops, shrimp and swordfish.
― Seared Scallops. Cauliflower puree, harvest ratatouille, roasted almonds and taro chips.
The dishes were a study in delicacy and restraint; the fish, tender and well seasoned. If the owners’ goal was to be the best seafood restaurant in Halifax, their humility is to be admired, but they succeeded in far greater ways as this wasn’t just the best seafood meal we had enjoyed. It was one of the best dining experiences we have ever had. In a series of trips across the North Atlantic and northern Europe, Five Fishermen joined a list of spectacular restaurants we have patronized, i.e., Tapas in Reykjavik; the Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow; and Angel Share in Edinburgh.
After a day spent along the waterfront and the Maritime Museum, we needed to relax so we stopped by Halifax Distilling Company, located on Water Street. The establishment features locally distilled spirits, food, live music, tastings and their own rum cream―an excellent choice for holiday gifts―and rum cakes. The weather was the definition of perfect so we sat at the front of the bar where the windows were thrown wide open and ordered Kopanisti Dip, Roasted Mushroom & Onion Flatbread, Smoked Mackerel Dip, and Spinach & Artichoke Dip. The bar’s atmosphere, with warm woods and lighting, invites kicking back and relaxing and the service is excellent.
Not for the faint of heart, The Lookoff is located at the top of the North Mountain. The view is stunning and offers unobstructed views of the entire Annapolis Valley from one horizon to the other. The slope is steep and dizzying but well worth the effort.
Taking advantage of its location and stunning views, the city has redeveloped its Waterfront. Extensive pedestrian walk ways meander past boat tours, docks, galleries, pubs, shops, the Canadian Museum of Immigration, the Farmer’s Market, the Halifax Distilling Company and the must-see Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which features exhibitions devoted to the sinking of the Titanic.
To fully appreciate the strategic location and history of Halifax, ensure you visit her Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The city sent rescue and recovery ships when the Titanic sank and had the unenviable reputation as the site of autopsies and identification of the bodies. So many are buried here, you will be hard pressed to find a cemetery in the city which doesn’t have victims of the tragedy. It’s permanent collection of remaining artifacts is impressive and without parallel.
The museum also features the definitive chronicle of the famous Halifax Harbour Explosion, another tragedy that nearly wiped the city off the map and resulted in 2,000 deaths and over 9,000 injured. Adults will learn a great deal and children will love the large-scale model boats featured throughout the museum’s floors. Some exhibitions are interactive and immersive, too.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic | Photo Gallery :
Peggy’s Cove, a small fishing village west of Halifax on the eastern shore of St. Margaret’s Bay, is famous for its lighthouse, exquisite at sunrise and sunset, and the large rocks, reminiscent of Iceland’s glacial lakes, which surround it. The journey there from Halifax is as beautiful and impressive as the destination.
Maritime Pasty Co. Lobster Rolls is an absolute must once you are ready for a break.
This iconic little place has only three items on the menu, i.e., classic lobster rolls, lobster salad and Maine lobster rolls. The debate as to which is better, classic or Maine, is an eternal one. The former features fresh lobster lightly tossed with mayo and served in a buttered bun; the latter dispenses with mayo completely and instead features a light drizzle of butter over the meat. Both are served with chips, pickles and slaw. The solution to the dilemma ? Order and enjoy both. Arrive at Maritime as early as you can because once they run out of their daily catch, they close for the day.
Halifax’s Museum of Natural History may be small, but that is its advantage. One can navigate it over the course of a few hours without becoming exhausted and experiencing museum fatigue. Showcasing the natural sciences and significance of Halifax’s location and history, the museum prides itself on its many hands-on exhibitions. The children’s section is particularly engaging and just as interesting to adults.
Peggy’s Cove, a small fishing village, is located on the eastern shore of St. Margaret’s Bay and is famous for its lighthouse.
One of the most famous and picturesque in the world, the Peggy’s Point Lighthouse is a great source of Canadian pride. Its octagonal structure juts onto waters that are deceivingly rough, and with winds that are biting and fierce.
“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” ― Erol Ozan
Road Trips. One of the reasons to visit Nova Scotia is the myriad road trips that can be undertaken, especially during Autumn where the leaves form glorious tapestries of changing colors across entire vistas and the low-setting sun creates perfect light. When we left Peggy’s Cove, for example, we decided to drive towards Eastern Passage and then shift northwest to Wolfville and The Lookoff.
En route, we stopped to take pictures of a charming church, St. Andrew’s Indian Harbour, when the choir director arrived and gave us a private tour.
From there we continued onward and did a double-take at an A & W sign off the Bedford Highway. It’s an establishment known for its great root beer and burgers. We stopped, enjoyed a great lunch (the onion rings were amazing) and met the manager who had worked there for years and knew all her regular customers. We gave her some t-shirts and chocolate from the U.S. and she returned the kindness with a bag of A & W signature lollipops.
Road Trip | St. Andrew’s Indian Harbour :
Road Trip | Leaving Cole Harbour :
Road Trip | En Route to Cora :
Road Trip | A & W Bedford Highway :
Road Trip | En Route to Wolfville :
“The freedom of the open road is seductive, serendipitous and absolutely liberating.” ― Aaron Lauritsen
Road Trip | The Lookoff :
Road Trip | Leaving The Lookoff :
Road Trip | Returning to Halifax :
Montreal. Arriving in the city and navigating Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International is effortless as it’s one of the best designed airports in the world.
A bold statement, eh ? Perhaps, but it’s based on a simple yet effective litmus test :
― How efficiently can someone navigate it, clear customs, claim their luggage and locate ground transportation ?
― Is the signage clear to speakers of other languages ?
― How intuitive is the entire process ?
Trudeau easily passes and it has another winning aspect to it : the 747 Bus which travels to downtown to the Gare d’autocars de Montréal terminal / Berri-UQAM métro station and back, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Along the way, the buses stop at a dozen locations, all of which are within walking distance to the city’s major hotels.
One-way tickets cost C$ 9.00, significantly less than a taxi, and can be obtained at automated kiosks at Ground Transportation. A 3-day pass, however, costs C$ 18.00 and can be used on the 747 bus; it also provides unlimited access to the city’s bus and subway system, a huge cost savings over purchasing tickets ad hoc every time you use the Metro.
The city’s extensive Métro System, composed of myriad bus lines and nearly 70 subway stations, is easily navigable and allows travel throughout Montreal with minimal effort.
Located at 1662 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, near the Guy Concordia metro station on Rue Saint Mathieu, is Angela Pizzeria, a charming neighborhood restaurant with very good food at affordable prices. More importantly, it is a Montreal institution, having opened more than 40 years ago.
We dine there each time we visit and are consistently impressed with the quality of their pasta dishes and pizzas which are made fresh and with exceptional ingredients. I also appreciate the infectious camaraderie among the staff members.
It was a brisk morning while walking near the Mont-Royal stop and I was immediately greeted by a large retriever with a waving tail, always a welcomed sign. Dogs are usually this happy when a.) their owners are nearby; b.) when there’s food; and c.) when their owners are nearby―with food. Clearly, this was serendipitous as I needed coffee, something warm to eat and treats to bring home. This enthusiastic puppy was checking off all the proverbial boxes as she lead me to the entrance of Boulangerie Premiere Moisson, specializing in baked goods, gourmet specialties, pastries and take-away. They have locations throughout the city, but this is no chain establishment. More importantly, what they serve is anything but chain food. I ordered a large vanilla cappuccino and jambon et fromage croissant and loved them.
The Downtown area is in a constant stage of reinvention as the old and classic architecture of this city sits side-by-side with the new.
“Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because…I don’t know how to say it. A day is long and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station…when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.” – Pablo Neruda
There is no better way to enjoy the Canadian landscape and immerse oneself into the charm of Québec City, than to hop on a train at a moment’s notice. Reservations on the country’s rail system can easily be made via Rail Canada’s website although tickets can also be purchased in person at Montreal’s Gare Station, near the Metro’s Station Bonaventure, and the trip itself is only a couple of hours.
Thankfully, the Canadians approach train travel the way the Europeans do, i.e., the journey is as important as the destination. The trains, therefore, are more than just a means of transport. VIA Rail Canada’s trains are comfortable, stylish and should you choose to upgrade to business class, packed with amenities. Meals and snacks, for example, are served on dinnerware and beverages are poured into glasses. Yes, glasses.
Giorgio Gruppo Roma is located at 440 Rue Peel and as I walked past the store front I was struck by the meticulously displayed men’s shirts in its windows. Someone took a great deal of time and even greater pride in arranging them. The store’s owner has a warm greeting and is clearly impassioned with his products. He didn’t simply grab an item off a rack or a shelf. He caressed the fabric with a gentle touch, similar to the way a furniture maker slides his or her hand over newly sanded wood. That experience cannot be matched by the generic, assembly line look of much of men’s clothing sold in larger stores. One is an example of craftmanship; the other, mere salesmanship.
Although it does not possess a skyline of iconic buildings–like New York’s Chrysler or Empire State buildings, or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge–Montréal has numerous architectural gems tucked into her city environs, some of which are the very definition of understated elegance, i.e., Palais des Congrès. Then there are those which are as blunt and forceful as a hockey player’s stick.
Take, for example, Habitat 67. Designed by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, who brings a Middle Eastern design aesthetic to the challenge of a housing community, Habitat is the last building one expects to find near Montréal’s Saint Lawrence River. Therein likes its timeless brilliance.
Is it possible to love someone to death, or at minimum, to the point of madness ? Such a play on words is displayed brilliantly at À la Folie – Pâtisseries audacieuses.
Located at 1126 Avenue du Mont-Royal E, near the Mont-Royal Metro station, À la Folie is not so much a pâtisserie as it is an immersive experience in the art and seduction of desserts, particularly cream puffs and macarons.
The confections are displayed beautifully in a setting more suited to a gallery or a museum. The owners are clearly having fun with the notion of what a pâtisserie can be and it would seem like a joke that could easily backfire–but for the fact their creations are dazzling and delicious.
The floor is made from the original floor boards; stage lights hang from an industrial ceiling; the guard rail on the second level is made from metal forming dual peace signs; and Robert Doisneau photographs hang on walls of exposed brick. Welcome to Le Chat Noir, located at 39 Notre-Dame St W in Vieux-Montréal. The menu features a variety of well-made omelets, pizzas, sandwiches, soups and specials. I recommend the pizza Siciliana which has the right amount of spicy meats and cheese. On the weekends, they have an extended brunch menu and the mushroom and asparagus omelette is fantastic.
In Montréal, my hotel of choice is Le Meridien Versailles, located on Rue Sherbrooke, a few blocks from Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the main commercial streets in the city. The hotel has easily become my home away from home with the credit belonging to the staff, from those who work at the front desk, to housekeeping, to the valet, Robert. The hotel’s location is ideal as it’s a few short blocks from one of the 747 Bus’ predetermined stops, and Guy Concordia’s metro station is right around the corner on Rue Saint Mathieu.
A second major renovation has paid off handsomely at Le Meridien (the first was completed in 2016 by Starwood, now a part of Marriott.) Contemporary carpeting, fabrics, furniture, lighting fixtures and wallpaper, along with a muted but sophisticated color palette, have given the hotel’s guest rooms a brand new look. One of the features I appreciate the most is the extra-large desk which runs along an entire wall. It has plenty of surface area for a laptop, multiple electrical outlets, storage space and USB ports.
As you would expect from Le Meridien, their Heavenly Series® of bed and bath linens is without equal.
The most significant change, however, is obvious as soon as you enter the hotel. The artwork on the walls behind the front desk and the ceiling, which changes colours depending on the time of day, mirror the street configurations that comprise this great, cosmopolitan city.
The front desk has been repositioned and the wall behind its former location removed, making the newly designed restaurant, Maiolo, stand out.
The combined lobby and restaurant entrance feature sitting areas that invite relaxing and chatting with friends, all while enjoying the excellent food, drink and service the staff provide.
In particular, Maiolo owners Vito and Giovanni are dedicated, engaging and effortlessly had the patrons dining together and enjoying their meals as one large family rather than groups of strangers―not a small accomplishment considering the myriad nationalities involved, i.e., Argentine, Brazilian, Italian and Japanese.
As you travel southeast from the hotel’s entrance, you will find yourself in a charming residential area, perfect for an early morning stroll; northeast along Sherbrooke, you will discover a number of cafes, retail stores, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and McGill University.
McGill University / Strolling Through the Campus :
Located in a historic section of Rue Sherbrooke known as the Golden Square Mile, the Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal, or Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is the city’s largest and one of the most widely regarded in Canada, if not all of North America.
The museum’s campus is composed of a number of pavilions, each one dedicated to a specific discipline―ancient art; archaeology; decorative arts and design; modern and contemporary art; and Quebec and Canadian art. A glorious tribute to Beaux Arts design, the original building is known formally as the the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion and is devoted to the museum’s highly esteemed international art collection. Adjacent to the building is the Avenue du Musée, a public street that is sometimes the site of large-scale art installations.
Avenue du Musée | Photo Gallery :
The Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, the large building directly across the street, showcases the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection.
Her light-filled, soaring atrium, understated glass staircase and hallway connecting underground to the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion across the street are a tribute to modernism.
The Desmarais Pavilion | Photo Gallery :
The Collections | Photo Gallery :
Splendore a Venezia Exhibit | Photo Gallery :
Thierry Mugler : Couturissime Exhibition. The groundbreaking work of Thierry Mugler was on full display in an experience that was the first of its kind.
“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Mugler was acutely aware fashion, music, photography and video all converged at some point and from there bloomed into something greater than art itself. The museum pulled out all the stops in this retrospective of his amazing talents.
Photo Gallery :
Spanning more than 4 decades, Couturissime showcases Mugler’s prêt-à-porter and haute couture designs. Iconic work by the fashion photographers Richard Avedon, Dominique Issermann, David LaChapelle, Sarah Moon, Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts were featured, along with unpublished archival documents and sketches.
Although the front of the Noël Eternel Christmas Store in Vieux-Montréal gives the illusion of a small establishment, once you enter you will be surprised and enthralled with how much space there actually is. The collection of Christmas decorations, figurines, music boxes and ornaments is impressive.
For fans of Department 56’s Christmas, Snow and Halloween village series, be prepared to be blown away as Noel’s inventory is almost unparalleled.
Photo Gallery :
The Palais des Congres is Montreal’s convention center, located north of Vieux-Montréal in the borough of Ville-Marie.
“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.” ― John Ruskin
Photo Gallery :
Less like CVS stores, which seem to be literally on every block in urban areas throughout the United States, and instead more like mini versions of Target, Montreal’s very own Pharmacie Jean Coutu is the go-to place for–drum roll–cookies. Their own line of baked European cookies, known as PJC Delices, is affordable, impressively packaged and most importantly, delicious. My two favorites are the Le Framboisier, raspberry jelly cookies coated with dark chocolate, and the Le Sabayon, light biscuits topped with milk chocolate and filled with creamy zabaglione. The cookies are so good, and they’re priced between C$ 2.49 and C$ 4.49 / box, I bring back half a dozen boxes for family and friends. You heard it here first.
Located at the foot of Mount Royal, from which Montréal is named, is the neighborhood of Le Plateau-Mont Royal. Accessible via the Orange line at the Mont Royal stop, the neighborhood is charming and features flower and fruit stands, galleries, restaurants, pubs and shops.
It’s the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon, enjoying excellent brunches, outdoor seating and people-watching.
Located in The Village on Ste Catherine Est, Steakhouse is frequented almost exclusively by locals, always a good sign. The restaurant concept is simple but brilliant. All meals are accompanied by locally-made bread, salad, vegetable of the day and unlimited frites which are brought to the table hot and freshly prepared. You simply choose a meat entrée. I have had the petits filets on a couple of occasions but the duck confit is my favorite as the meat is always tender and cooked to perfection. The restaurant does not serve alcohol, instead allowing you to bring your own wine. It does not charge its patrons a corkage fee, however, which, in some establishments, can be anywhere from US$ 25 – 35.00. Your meal, therefore, can be extremely reasonable as there are a number of stores in the area where you can purchase wine and simply bring it with you into the restaurant. Fantastic.
Université de Montréal : A Photo Series
Vieux-Montréal, or Old Montreal, is the city’s oldest section, having been declared a historic district by the Ministère des Affaires Culturelle’s du Québec in the early 1960’s.
The neighborhood, accessible from the Place-d’Armes metro station, is characterized by steep hills and its cobblestoned streets will challenge even the most avid of walkers. Do not let that deter you as its main attractions―Bonsecours Market, Cirque du Soleil, Notre-Dame Basilica and myriad restaurants and shops―will easily occupy an entire day, if not more.
Photo gallery :
An incredibly difficult picture to stage as I had to ask several tour buses to move, and the restaurants on the right to try to keep patrons from leaving for a few moments. The goal was to create the illusion of desolation on a busy morning.
Quebec City, the capital of the Quebec province, is one of the oldest European settlements in North America.
Contents : Fairmont Le Château Frontenac | Gare-du-Palais | The Côte du Palais / Rue Saint-Jean Photo Series | Hotches Chocolat Chaud & Cafe | Hotel du Parlement | Saint-Patrick de Québec
“Quebec City is the most European of any city in North America; they speak French all the time. There is a part of town called Old Quebec which is really like being in France. The architecture is just gorgeous, food, shopping. I’d say Quebec City is the most beautiful city in North America I’ve seen.” ― Sebastian Bach
As foreboding as The Overlook in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “The Shining,” Québec City’s castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac sits atop a steep rock formation overlooking the Saint Lawrence River.
Recognized as the most photographed hotel in the world, its château style allows for nothing but great pictures.
Although small, Québec City’s Gare-du-Palais is proof that charm and beauty come in all sizes…
The Côte du Palais / Rue Saint-Jean Photo Gallery :
It was bitterly cold and since the city is located on the water, the wind was particularly biting. What better way to warm up then to duck into a cafe to with a hot beverage.
The travel gods were clearly shining down on me. I walked into Hotches Chocolat Chaud & Cafe and experienced one of the best cups of hot chocolate I have ever tasted.
The Hôtel du Parlement, located at 1045, rue des Parlementaires, is not just home to the city’s parliament. The building itself is one of the largest in Québec City and it sits in stately fashion son a beautifully designed campus that is open to the public. There isn’t a bad view to be had.
The building, which dates back to 1886, features nearly two dozen statues around its perimeter, all of whom played an important part in the city’s history.
From left to right :
– Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville was the founder of the French colony of Louisiana.
– Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye was a French Canadian military officer who, along with his sons, opened up the area near Lake Superior.
– Father Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit, founded Michigan’s first European settlement.
– Louis Jolliet was known for his discoveries in North America
Saint-Patrick de Québec. What a wonderful world it can be. The French-speaking city, which had been recently blanketed by snow, celebrates their version of St. Patrick’s day a couple of weeks after we do in the United States. In and of itself, this might not be noteworthy. What is, however, is the list of groups which march in the Irish parade.
I traveled to Canada to a French-speaking province; attended an Irish parade; and it featured members of the police force from our very own New York City. When the Emerald Society’s bagpipes began playing, as the flag-bearers of Canada, Ireland, Irish-Americans and the United States passed, the crowds on both sides of the street erupted into an almost-deafening round of cheers and applause.
“What is a Canadian? A Canadian is a fellow wearing English tweeds, a Hong Kong shirt and Spanish shoes, who sips Brazilian coffee sweetened with Philippine sugar from a Bavarian cup while nibbling Swiss cheese, sitting at a Danish desk over a Persian rug, after coming home in a German car from an Italian movie… and then writes his Member of Parliament with a Japanese ballpoint pen on French paper, demanding that he do something about foreigners taking away our Canadian jobs.”
If Montreal and Quebec City can best be described as charming with distinctive accents, then Toronto‘s most obvious attribute is bravado. In the past few years, the capital of the province of Ontario has seen her skyline transformed with non-stop construction in an attempt to surround its iconic CN Tower with slivers of bold architecture, glass and steel.
Contents : Arriving in Pearson International Airport | Union-Pearson Express (UP) | Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) | Blue Banana Market | Chihuly Exhibition | CN Tower | Downtown | En Route to the Royal Ontario Museum | OCAD University | Orange Alert | Queens Park | Rick’s Cafe | Royal Ontario Museum | Union Station | Westin Harbour Castle
Arriving in Toronto’s Pearson-International Airport. What will strike you is the stunning skyline Toronto has adopted and the magnificent view as you land. What will impress you is how easy it is to navigate the airport and travel downtown at very little cost.
After you retrieve your luggage, follow the signs for the Union-Pearson Express (UP,) the city’s rail service from the airport to the downtown area’s Union Station. Tickets can be purchased from automated kiosks and the cost is C$ 12.00, or C$ 9.00 with the city’s Presto card which allows seamless travel across the city’s transportation systems. The trains punctually depart every 15 minutes and arrive at Union Station in under 30 minutes. The service is clean, efficient, features ample leg room, storage areas for your bags and wi-fi.
Making an architectural statement before one even enters its galleries, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), or Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario, is one of the largest in North America, featuring art from the Baroque and Renaissance eras, contemporary and modern pieces, drawings, photography and prints. The Frank Gehry-designed expansion resulted in transforming the building in an elegant, understated manner. The new gallery space (close to 500,000 sq. ft) is so extensive I barely scratched the proverbial surface and I was there 3 days in succession.
Quirkiness is completely redefined at Blue Banana Market, a Toronto institution that is equal parts food emporium, jewelry and cool clothing. Located at 250 Augusta Avenue, it should be on your must-see list. Enter with no preconceived notions and be prepared to leave with bags full of items and gifts.
Cafe Crepe. On Queen Street, the nexus of the city’s dining and shopping districts, the weather was cold and I needed to grab a bite to eat. What better place than Cafe Crepe which caught my eye because of the large windows where you can watch the restaurant’s chefs prepare meals. The place was crowded but not loud and it was clear the diners were enjoying their meals. I sat at a table near the back and was impressed with the menu which featured traditional crepes, both savory and sweet, as well as Cafe’s signature dishes. Based on the recommendations from the server, I ordered the Some Like it Hot, filled with feta, spinach, sweet onion aioli, tabasco and tomato. It packed a necessary punch. The vegetables were crisp, the pastry was delicate and flavorful and the tabasco was exactly what I needed to warm up. The quality of the meal was matched by the excellence of the service. I returned a couple of days later to try their Montreal Smoked Beef which included Dijon mustard and mushrooms. It was as good…
The brilliant work of artist Dale Chihuly, known for his blown glass, was featured at the Royal Ontario Museum. The luminous, translucent quality of his sculptures was showcased in the Chihuly Exhibition, “From Sand, From Fire, Comes Beauty.”
New York City has its Empire State Building; San Francisco, its Transamerica Building. What singularly defines Toronto’s skyline is her CN Tower, a structure that becomes increasingly more impressive the closer you approach it. To fully appreciate the building, one of the tallest in the world, you only need to ride its elevators which are located on the outside, and then tour the observation deck. It’s not for the faint of heart but the payoff is spectacular.
The tower was declared one of the modern “Seven Wonders of the World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Aside from its trademark feature, the iconic SkyPod which adorns the top, the building is characterized by the tripod supports surrounding its hexagonal center. And the floors of the elevators are made of glass, allowing you to experience the ground dropping from under you as you travel to the top. This is just the prelude to the observation deck which features unobstructed views for kilometers in all directions.
The Downtown Area. Canadians have the reputation of being extremely polite, diplomatic and understated. Caution is thrown to the wind, however, when it comes to the capital of Ontario. Toronto’s skyline is many things but low key is not one of them. Full of swagger, the downtown area is a full-on assault of the senses with non-stop construction, architecture, color, glass and steel.
En Route to the Royal Ontario Museum :
You may not know anything about OCAD University, or Ontario College of Art and Design, but you will instantly recognize it as an institution dedicated to design―and a striking one at that. The public university’s most noteworthy building is nicknamed “The Tabletop.” Located in Grange Park near the Art Gallery of Ontario, the structure sits atop multicolored supports, meant to resemble pencils randomly scattered, perhaps?
When you finished touring the Art Gallery of Ontario, and it will be a fulfilling if exhaustive experience, you will need respite. Stop by Orange Alert, located on Dundas Street across from the museum. Characterized by an eclectic decor and laid back style, it features very good coffee beverages, take-away and pastries. If the weather outside is chilly, ask for the orange cider and relax in one of their large chairs.
Dating back to 1860, Queens Park is gorgeous and located in the middle of the city.
The Kensington / Chinatown neighborhoods should be on your must-see list when visiting. Authentic Asian stores, cafes, food stalls, open air markets and restaurants define the area. Considered a historic site, the blocks are filled with unique shopping, too. No visit would be complete without stopping by Rick’s Cafe for an afternoon coffee and pastry. The establishment is a local favourite, known for their espresso drinks and made-to-order smoothies. Even if you’re not hungry, order a BLT. An exhausting day of shopping and sightseeing can easily be recharged by bacon and the sandwiches they make at Rick’s are not to be missed.
One of the largest museums in North America, the Royal Ontario Museum, or Musée royal de l’Ontario, makes a bold statement with her Daniel Libeskind-designed entrance, nicknamed “The Crystal.” The addition was part of a larger effort to upgrade the building and expand the exhibition spaces which are devoted to dinosaurs, Eastern and African art, European history, fossils and minerals.
Union Station. Beaux-Art style defines Toronto’s Union Station, one of the most beautiful and busiest in North America. The centrally located station is the figurative and literal hub of transportation in the city, providing services for both Amtrak and Via Rail; the local rail service, Go; streetcar and subway systems; and the Union-Pearson Express. The building currently is a Rubik’s Cube of construction and renovation, making her interiors a maze of corridors and redirected hallways. Don’t let that stop you from taking pictures of both the exterior and interiors.