Exploring French Canada

We didn't have a vacation for a long time since February but we couldn't fly far this time. so we decided to go to Canada by car. We've been in Toronto,Canada once when we were getting our visas (2 years ago), so this time we wanted to visit french part of Canada, Quebec province. Actually we made plans for a long route from New Jersey to Ottawa then to Montreal and finally to Quebec. We took one week vacation in October,2001. The time wasn't very convenient because only a month passed from the tragedy on September 11 and the border control was very strict. We left in the afternoon and drove north till the Canadian border. We've been there at about 10pm in the evening and luckily the line to the border was short and we passed it in 20 mins.After 12 hours of travel we arrived to the downtown of Ottawa.

Luckily our hotel was very close to the downtown and we basically walked through it. First we visited the Parliament complex. The main Parliament building looked gorgeous. Everything reminded us about England, same style. We really liked the everlasting fire memorial that stands before the Parliament building, it shows the dates when every province joined the Canada union. It looks great at night shining with different colors. Unfortunately we didn't take a tour inside the building because Mike too much of photography equipment with him but I've been in the top of the main tower.The room up there was very small but we could see the city around us.

After that we walked along the Rideau Canal, near the Chateau Laurier Hotel. This hotel is build in the shape of middle-aged castle and it fits beautifully into the parliament's architecture nearby. The weather was kind of cold and windy that's why we didn't meet many bicyclist near the canal. Nevertheless we reached the hill where the statue of Samuel de Champlain stands. He is called "The Father of the New France" and he basically observes the city from this high point. At the foot of the monument stands a statue of Native Canadian who looks very alive. In whole there are many monuments in the Ottawa downtown. I think this is different from America.

We also have been on the artificial Chutes Rideau Falls that rock on the both sides of the small Green Island. A great view of Ottawa River and City of Hull opens from this point. Actually this is interesting. In the beginning we thought that Ottawa spreads on the both sides of the river but then on the next after reading a map we found out that City of Hull is located on the other side and it already belongs to Quebec province while Ottawa belongs to Ontario. So, the river marks an inter-provincial border between them. Without even knowing this we crossed the river by the Alexandra Bridge that has footpaths,lanes for bicyclist and car drivers. We walked around the grounds of Museum of Civilization. It has a best view of the Parliament Building and a Peace Tower. We've made a lot of picture of the surroundings. We've also watched exciting IMAX movie "Adventurous Caves". When we came out in the outdoor, the rain was just finishing, the beautiful huge rainbow spread across the sky. It was so colorful that everybody started making photos and then the second rainbow appeared less brightly. The view was so breathtaking, people say that it's rare event when two rainbows could be seen...

In the evening we visited the Chateau Laurel and had a dinner over there. The hotel is very luxury inside, it is very appropriate for the special occasions and celebrations. Mike said that we need to do a photo trip tonight to the Parliament Buildings and Champlain hill. So, we were sitting in the freezing wind on the top of the hill making pictures of the Parliament building...

On the next day we walked by Cathedrale Notre-Dame that is built in Gothic style and has inordinary silver spiral towers. It's situated near the National Gallery of Canada that was our target. We've looked through all the gallery. The early Canadian collections are not impressive as is some European or post-modern art. The best part is the halls of Group of Seven. They are Canadian painters who drew a beautiful scenes of Canadian wilderness in the impressionist style. All their paintings are drawn in the vivid bright colors that give the picture a fairy-tale feeling... At the end we visited the Inuit Art section. Inuits are Native Canadian people who live in the north, they recently established their own province "Nunavut". This art section contained some paintings and mostly sculptures of their artists. This sculptures are made of ivory, stone and bones.We really were impressed by their style.

After the gallery we visited our college who worked in our firm in Us before. He is a programmer also who immigrated to Canada around a year ago. He said that he likes Canada and Ottawa in particular. He mentioned that there are a lot of parks surrounding the area. So, this is a great place for hikers. He also explained that Ottawa hosts the annual Ice Sculpture exhibition every February and these works are really wonderful (we've seen the photos). So, folks, looks like February is the right time to visit Ottawa!

After saying good-bye to our friend we left Ottawa and drove to Montreal which is about 2 hours away. At the same time we entered Quebec province and everything became very different. All road signs were in French and we were kind of worried that we could lost our way there. Nevertheless we successfully found our Bed&Breakfast hotel. It actually needs a special description. We reserved a room there from New Jersey and when we arrived we found only a note saying we can pickup any room we like. We occupied a cute room on the top floor and went to sleep. What was so specific abut this Bed&Breakfast? A lot. First of all, its owner was a very intelligent Swedish woman who was a interesting character and knew at least 3 languages (maybe even more). We chatted with her every morning and she always prepared the best breakfast in town. Secondly, the restrooms were shared here and it was kind of novelty for us trying to occupy it first in the morning before other guests :-)). Thirdly, home decorations were very strange and interesting. Later we found out that our hostess lived in Africa for several years that's why the house had a lot of such masks and sculptures. Finally it was close to the downtown and to the metro station.

On the first day in Montreal we went to the two observation points. One was about half-hour from our hotel and the route was lying through the rich people district. We basically passed by the huge castles that overlooked the city. I guess the owners have the privilege of sitting on the balcony, drinking tea and looking at the city. We basically climbed all the way to that point... The second point is located in the top of the hill in the Parc Mont-royal. It's located closer to the downtown and has just one very high stairs to climb. We've seen the sportsmen who were climbing up and down on the stairs continuously! The park was beautiful at that time with all the bright yellow and red leaves lying on the ground like a huge carpet...

Montreal is famous for its Olympic Park complex that hosted Olympic Games in 1976. We've been on the top of Montreal Tower that is world's tallest inclined tower. A cable cars moves outside the tower and the view is kind of scary. The complex is a working sports center with a huge swimming pool. The best part of the complex is The Biodome. It's an indoor complex hosting 4 different climate zones. You basically go through the hot rainforest, the forests of the Laurentian mountains, the fish-filled St. Lawrence river eco-system, and the freezing Polar world. I think the best part was cute lively monkeys and parrots in the rainforest, as well as different types of penguins and poughins in the Polar regions. There are no nets like in zoo so you are really walk inside the climate zone.

After the couple days we've returned to this area and visited Jardin Botanique de Montreal. These are really huge gardens. We visited the most interesting parts such as Chinese Gardens, for example. There was some kind of Chinese culture celebration, so the garden itself was decorated with the Chinese lights and looked even more beautiful with them. After that we walked through the small Japanese garden and looked at the bonsai trees in the main pavilion. We also walked through the Native Canadian forest and sit inside the Indian wigwam. At the end we visited into Insectarium that was very crowded with the dozens of talking and screaming children. It exhibited hundreds of butterflies, beetles and spiders. Scaryyyyyyyyy...

One evening we went to the expensive French restaurant called "La Paris". It had a warm atmosphere and the food was delicious. The menu was completely in French and the waiter had to explain the menu in English for us. We were kind of embarrassed that we didn't know a bit of French. In whole it wasn't so bad because many people spoke English as well, maybe not so good but enough to communicate with us. It was worse in France :-)

It was end of October and the weather wasn't attractive during our stay. So, the riverwalk was completely empty and the old city didn't look good either. We've seen only couple of tourists and many gift shops. Despite this we found a small Creperie and had delicious crepes there. We've been dreaming about the crepes since we returned from France.

The next couple of days we visited Oratoire St. Joseph which has very modern architecture inside, walked by Cathedrale Marie-Reine-Monde, Hotel de Ville and Marche Bonsecours. Basilique Notre-Dame was the greatest church we visited in Canada. It's richly decorated inside and has a colorful interior. The stained glass windows are very bright. We actually watched a laser show there about the history of Montreal and this church in particular.

On the last day we went to the Underground City. Gosh! It's so big we've never seen such large underground complex before. Basically it's network of metro stations, restaurants, small boutiques, movie theatres and malls under the ground. Theatres and hotels are also connected to this network. One need a map to navigate there because one can go between the different places in the downtown staying always underground. Honestly, we were lost there couple of times.

Finally we had a generous 5-course dinner in the small French restaurant called Quartier St. Luis. (4723 Rue St. Denis) Our hostess recommend it to us and I advice everybody to go there if you are staying in Montreal. The food is delicious and you can have 5 courses for 26$CAN. WOW! Just bring your wine and enjoy!

Next morning we left Montreal and drove to the Quebec City. The drive was horrible because of the so hard rain that many cars were just pulling beside the road to wait till it finishes. After we arrive there we found our Bed&Breakfast with difficulties because it stands on the small diagonal street.As we later found out the location was actually good just beside the wall of the Old City. Our new host was friendly French who prepared great breakfast with croissants, muffins and thin crepes. We were enjoying his crepes all 3 mornings. In 10 mins we were in the heart of the Old Quebec. Old Quebec is the only North American city enclosed in the wall. It still has old cannons standing around the Old City.

Huge Chateau Frontenac Hotel stands on the top of the hill. It looks like a real castle in the day and night. It was tempting to stay there but very expensive. We decided that look is enough for us. So, we walked through the Old City several times, after 3 days we knew it very well :*) We've seen all the churches and old houses. Actually the major part of the houses was recently restored that's why they look very colorful. We've walked on Rue Trezor and Rue du Petit Champlain. We found two walls that was painted with the different sceneries. One wall looks upon a big open square and it shows off a real street with different historic characters. The street and people painted on it looked very realistic.Tourists were making photos near the painted bookshop or a man playing guitar. Musee de la Civilization stands there. We didn't have enough time to explore it but visited the diamond exhibition that explained how the diamonds are found and made and showed jewelry pieces of famous world rulers.What I really liked about old city are the numerous boutiques in the low level of the Old City. One can buy expensive paintings, hand-made glass sculptures, Inuit sculptures or just different gifts for themselves or their friends.

Once we've looked on the restaurant menu and saw the frog's legs. At this moment I decided I want to try them because we didn't find such meal in Paris. So, we had a dinner in "Gambrinus" restaurant that looked very classy. To our disappointment the frogs were interesting but the food in whole wasn't delicious at all that actually confirmed the theory - expensive doesn't always mean good :-( Next day we found a small Creperie besides the Chateau Frontenac. It wasn't as good as the one in Montreal but still we were crepes again.

One afternoon we've taken a tour through La Citadelle which is still a home to a French Canadian military regiment. This fort is situated high on the hill and looks just right on the St. Lawrence river. Our tour guide said that probably the regiment will leave these grounds in the next couple year and it will be given to the National Park service. In such case tourists will have more access to the internal compartments inside the fortifications and officer's buildings.

Last day we drove outside the Quebec City to the Montmorency Falls park. This falls are higher than Niagara Falls but more narrow. If you stand on the top of it the view is scary. The nice feature of this park that you can go down by stairs close to the falls, walk to the aerial car, ride this car to the top and then walk over the falls by the suspension bridge. How did people build this bridge? It was a challenge. After making photos of the falls from all possible angles we drove to the Sainte-anne-de-Beaupre church. It's big white church greatly decorated inside. It's visited by many pilgrims in July. The large cyclorama stands besides the church. This cyclorama is the largest in the world and was created in the 19-th century. It basically tells the story of Jesus Christ's life. One can appreciate the work of people who built this site but the view itself isn't very exciting.

On the early Sunday morning we eat our last crepes and left Quebec. Our road was going back to Montreal and then to the American border and back to New Jersey. Fortunately we reached the border fast and passed it without standing in the lines. After 8 more hours we reached our sweet sweet home...

In conclusion I'd like to say that our trip was really interesting and visited very many places and liked all 3 cities. Although we'd like to name Montreal the best because it has so many attractions and the food is so delicious. We should definitely return there sometimes!

Created on December 26, 2001