June 21 through June 30 was my (AJ) first complete vacation, in a very long while. I have taken several long weekend trips, where I would add a Friday and a Monday or a few days to a weekend and bring technology to take calls and check emails along the way. Last Summer’s birthday weekend to Martha’s Vineyard was dampened by a conference call, on the ferry home, and began a time in my life where working and playing at the same time will not be happening. This vacation, was a true vacation, including plans made by Spencer and his sister Paige, driving by me, music by Paige, Spencer and Steven Dorsey and fun and thrills enjoyed by ALL! When I say vacation, I mean it. We started our group vacation with a pre-vacation dinner at Ciao Bella in Worcester, team shopping at Walmart and a sleep over at Stanley Kunitz’s house.
As is my usual flair, I’ll help you through the itinerary one bite at a time. Ciao Bella, in Worcester, MA on Grove Street, does not disappoint. The food was delicious, the service was on par and Steven and Paige’s first experience left a great taste in their mouths. Paige had a wrap that she handled with the greatest of ease (LOL!) while its overflowing ingredients lived up to their name. Steven ordered buffalo tenders, which were amply supplied, so much so that they were a snack (almost half the served portion) for Spencer, Paige and himself while we waited to cross the Canadian Border, the next day. Spencer had a salad that, was impressive in size and flavor, with plenty of feta, which he adores. My dinner was a Salmon special with Dijon topping and wild rice; it was a seafood tarantella on the taste buds!! We intended on stopping for iced cream later, but we were pleasantly filled by the delicious meal. This picture shows the “take home” portion of buffalo tenders.
So then, we hit the road for our three part journey north, west and then south… promptly at 8:00am or so, the next morning.
First stop, the AAA office in New Hampshire to load some cash onto our “AAA AMEX cards,” affording us no charge and no fee purchasing as well as roadside assistance throughout Canada. Thank you, AAA and the MAMAs!
Got Money and Time, now we’re off!!
Next on our itinerary was New Brunswick, Canada to experience Sussex, Moncton, and Hopewell Rocks with a small side trip to Parlee Beach/Wharf for some swimming. Sussex served up a quaint village with little stimulation beyond painted buildings/murals [it’s the Mural Capital of Atlantic Canada] and our first introductory class of “Speaking Canadian: 101” we learned “soareee” and “a-boot”. Our instructor was also a waitress at Maple Avenue Restobar where the menu included everything from ~$20 entrees to a Friday night pizza and pitcher special. We chanced some BOGO apps and took our exit. Paige had a bit of a pinch that night, as we learned that in order to be an adult in New Brunswick, one must be 19. This became a point of laughter for the remainder of our adventure. “You have to be 19 for that…” was a common conversation starter, or better, a segue into a new conversation.
We were kindly and generously accommodated by Amsterdam Inn & Suites with a beautiful, clean and comfortable room and a breakfast buffet which included delicious toast, bagels and English muffins, a variety of cereals, fruit, muffins, juices, teas, hard boiled eggs in a crock pot and coffee. Canadian coffee was good throughout the trip. In final discussions, we rate this our second favorite ‘place to stay.’
The first full day in New Brunswick took us to Hopewell Rock, part of the Canadian National Parks, to see not only the Bay of Fundy, where the tide rises so high and fast that the ocean floor is 6 or 7 flights down and when the tide is out, you can walk right out onto the ocean floor. When the tide comes in, the “Chocolate River” is filled with highly agitated brown water. Like night and day, a very impressive experience. It was freaky to stand at the middle of a stairway with waves crashing at my feet on a perfectly clear day. This video will help you with the WOW-factor of Hopewell Rocks and the Bay of Fundy.
The afternoon was spent walking, shopping and lunching in downtown Moncton. The Old Triangle was our lunch spot, after two places enforced the dreaded “19 rule.” Paige had the Belfast Burger and Spencer had the JD Steak Wrap. I had the 40 Shades of Green Salad with grilled chicken and Steven had the Lemon Basil Spaghettini, a deliciously spicy dish that he battled triumphantly.
Our remarkable side trip to Parlee Beach Wharf for a swim was a chance to experience a young boy’s attempt to overcome the approximate 10 foot jump off the stone wharf into the water. He quietly deliberated, sought silent encouragement from his mother and teetered back and forth revving himself for the challenge. Surrounding adults were captivated by the scene. All the while, child peers casually plunged in, over and over. Once he did take the giant leap and returned to the top off the wall, he was met with hearty applause.
There were a few slightly older children splashing about, as well.
New Brunswick was an enjoyable way to start out this vacation. We enjoyed hanging out, good sleep and great sights. Not an adventure course for city lovers, but for those who enjoy miles of farmland, beautiful riverside vistas and plenty of Moose cautions.
We developed many sketch improvisations about Prudence, the moose, and her risque lifestyle.
The second leg of our trip was to Quebec City – Old Quebec, for some – where we had much much fun! We started our adventure at Les Trois Garcons where we met Annabel, the sweetest and most beautiful waitress we experienced during our travels. The food was just as good as the service. We sat inside the open front wall of the restaurant and enjoyed hamburgers, bison, salmon, hand cut fries and delicious harvest salads. Spencer’s Tartare 1084 was the headliner of this eating experience. We not only found ourselves in awe with spectacular plating, but we found our taste buds in a frenzy. We forced ourselves not to go the next night. I certainly know what I would have ordered, well one of three that tickled my taste buds.
The Hotel Ambassadeur, Beauport – just across the river (The Saint Lawrence River) had a gorgeous interior garden and pool with hot tub and very comfortable seating and relaxing area, in addition to a comfortable room for us.
The next day was Cora for breakfast and Spag & Tini for dinner. We simply didn’t have room for lunch, in our schedules or stomachs. We did a lot of walking and shopping all around the hills, cobble stoned streets and excitingly gorgeous shoppes. The days in Quebec City were a buffet of color for all senses. Up. Down. Left. Right. Historic. Waterfront. People. Stairs. Fantasy. Reality. These are some photos, or as some would say, a few thousand words framed for your understanding.
Chez Cora offered Eggs Benedict, french crepes filled with eggs, meat and/or fresh fruit. Either healthy or straight-out dessert, it was all available.
Spag & Tini, known for terrace dining was delicious and beautiful. Situated at the foot of the embankment topped by Le Château Frontenac and surrounded by fairy tale streets and shops, the dining was a full sensory experience. I’m a huge fan of Beet and Chevre salads and the equal portion of beets, chevre and greens made this meal the stand out star!!
This window display (photo at right) is suspect, but while the business was closed, the shop window entertained well.
The area of Old Quebec continually, as mentioned, WOWed all of us. We definitely will be returning to visit, as Spencer and I have added it to our list of places we could live. My sincere thanks to the people of Quebec City for preserving a beautiful jewel of tourism and life, which maintains and instilled in this traveler that joie de vivre usually only dreamed.
The next leg of our trip was to Montreal, where we enjoyed some team stress management, fast, on our feet decision making and hotel swapping direct from the scariest-psycho-movie-horror-motel HMotel (sic) I’ve seen in my life. The property was dilapidated at best and the clientele was truly undesirable. I did not leave the car and the reports from my companions included dirt, smell and disgust…just the keywords. I truly hope that the management takes some time to refurbish their property because it was frightening and gross. The 89.99 per night was a sincere overcharge. We landed at the Hotel Le Cantlie Suites, downtown Montreal, thanks to Steven’s quick work on www.expedia.ca and I posted this review the other night.
We enjoyed walking all over the area and took in the sights at the Museum of Fine Arts, Cabaret Mado and Eaton Center, all within a 5-15 minute walk. We were four twirling tourists gawking, snapping photos, pointing, stopping and rushing ahead. Everywhere we looked, there was something for our eyes to soak up.
Before I get into the sights, my job is to share with you the bites. On our first night, after rejoicing and doing many happy dances all over our room, we walked left from our hotel’s grand lobby to the Le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. The exterior exhibits were enough for us to jointly and immediately decide to spend the next morning viewing the permanent collection. Upon exiting the reception and information area of the museum, we stopped for some local culture information from a kind lady who was brimming will welcoming smiles.
We had a few questions:
1. How is English introduced to Canadians, in that most flip back and forth between French and English, in the way that we breathe.
2. Which were her favorite restaurants in the area?
3. Did she want to join us?
#3 was politely declined, as she was escorting notable and tardy friends through the Chihuly exhibit. #1 yielded a kind explanation that was beautifully detailed with small tidbits about her parents and life in Montreal. “It’s just that in order to make it, you have to do it.” #2 provided us with a list of restaurants, 2-3 in the mid range and high range and it took our best efforts to find most of them. First, we had dinner at m:brgr. I had the Seared Tuna Salad, which was delicious and fresh, very fresh. My three companions built their own burgers and shared the Fry basket. There was brief debate, but no one opted for the $100 brgr. We headed to Ste Catherine Street for the show at Cabaret Mado. This was Paige and Steven’s first drag show. We were sitting on the corner of stage left and when the Mistress of Ceremonies, Miss Butterfly, was informed that we spoke English, she snapped right into our understanding and had us in stitches. The incredible show included American pop songs and a pair of talented, bodacious dancers.
The next day began with breakfast at Universel Peel Street where we were inundated by the smell of freshly pressed oranges, a menu that created an inner struggle and a server who genuinely was happy to have us visit. The space is heavily mirrored and very creatively lit. I felt as though we were sitting outside when looking left and right, but inside an art deco, glimmering palace in other directions. I had a breakfast burrito that was made entirely of fresh ingredients, Spencer enjoyed poached egg and smoked salmon, Paige Benedict sampled more hollandaise and Steven had a Belgian waffle that was gone in just about one minute of slight moans and small shouts of delicious joy!
The day was packed by a morning visit to the Musée des beaux-arts, a nap break, a walk through Ste Laurent’s shopping district, another visit to Ste Catherine Street and a subway ride to Eaton Center. Eaton Center is a huge underground shopping center that literally runs laps around itself. If you are in Montreal, go to there! Very interesting, great shops and much to do and see. Weather turned a little cool and we physically outdid ourselves, so we chose to return to Universel for dinner. Pizza for Spencer and me, with salad, a burger for Paige and Steven had Fettucine Alfredo.
Notes about Canada:
Nearly every restaurant, happily, asked if we wanted one bill or four. Almost always expecting to present separated bills.
If you are pleasant and try to help the french speaker, you will get miles along with kindness.
Carrying fruit over the border is a big deal.
It seems, based on our experience, that most of Canada accepts American Currency. Some charge a small surcharge, like the Starbucks at Chateau Frontenac.
There’s an apartment for rent in Quebec City, a short walk from the Fudgerie, for just $880 CAD/month.
Canadians do not eat ice cream, only gelato.
(I made it 36 years thinking gelato was Italian.)
Gelato is never sugar-free or no sugar added.
On that note, the one chocolatier who had sugar free options, used whole nuts to distract from the sugarlessness. (AJ is allergic to sugar and nuts.)
We split the trip home by stopping over at the family run Black Bear Inn in Bolton Valley, VT and a lunch cruise on Lake Champlain out of Burlington’s Waterfront district. On our way to the Inn, we treated ourselves to the Factory Tour at Ben and Jerry’s in Waterbury. Our room at Black Bear was an end room with a balcony overlooking the outdoor pool and hot tub with a backdrop of the picturesque Green Mountains. Our last morning together was kicked off with a full breakfast included in our stay at the Inn – more delicious coffee and toast – and then off to shop and cruise the historic Burlington/Lake Champlain area. Our afternoon in Burlington ended with a street performance by a acrobatic juggler, who had us bent over laughing while we anticipated the downpour thunderstorm that ushered us, promptly, to the car.
Just 10 minutes down the road, sunshine and blue skies returned to accompany us for our drive home.
Photo Credits: Apple, Inc, Paige Hensel, Steven Dorsey and Ilia I. Phone.