Canada, Montréal, Québec

Introduction to Montréal Day 2

June 15 – 20, 2019 

To start off our second day in Montréal, we had breakfast at Tim Horton’s – obviously! This is a very popular chain, comparable to Dunkin’ Donuts in the northeastern United States. They used to have some locations in mid and southern Maine but just about all of them have closed. I don’t know what it’s comparable to in other parts of the US, but basically, it’s a fast food coffee/breakfast food type shop. Nothing that exciting and to write home about, but they are notorious for their “iced capps” (iced cappacino) which are delish. When I lived in northern Maine (which is close to the Canadian border so they have Tim’s there still), my coworkers and I had a weekly (or, uh… biweekly sometimes) iced capp date to decompress. Anyway, long story short, Tim’s is a must-do if you go to Canada.

Even though we drove to Montréal, we primarily used public transportation to avoid a few things: parking issues, traffic, and driving in a congested area that we’re not familiar with and signs not in our language. We drove over to Tim’s because it was right down the street, but then we went back to our Air BNB, parked, and walked about five minutes down to the Du College orange line subway station to take the 30-minute train ride downtown to get started on our adventures for the day!

If you are traveling in a city with public transportation, I highly highly highly (did I say highly?) suggest downloading the Citymapper app. You can also utilize it as a website, but I’m not familiar with using that feature. I’m know there are some apps/websites that are similar, but this one has helped me for years without fail. Not every single city is on there, but just about everywhere I’ve been to has had it, including out of country locations. You enter where you want to go, and it guides you step-by-step on how to get there. If you are utilizing public transportation, it tells you what station or bus stop to go to, where and when to transfer, how many stops, etc. It literally has saved me. I wouldn’t have survived living in Boston without it. (Okay, Citymapper, I hope you’re listening; I want some funding for promoting you).

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We started downtown at the Tourist Information Centre of Montréal. This is in the Old Montréal area. I typically like to start my trips with a bus tour to get an overview of the city, some history, and my bearings on my location. While these tend to be pretty touristy and don’t show you everything, it’s a good start. We overlapped our bus tour with the Montréal Passport, which gives you access to quite a few major attractions in Montréal. Again, these are pretty touristy, so it’s important to explore other things as well. This is something I’m constantly learning – how to get “off the path” so to speak and see more of the city and a better sense of life and culture. You tend to mostly see the “hub” of things and major sites but not the neighborhoods and things like that. But, I certainly enjoy a lot of the common touristy things to start off.

We bought bus tour tickets for the Gray Line 48-hour hop-on hop-off tour. So this is deceiving. It’s not actually 48 hours. It’s two days. So if you buy it on a Monday afternoon, you’re only covered for the rest of Monday and then Tuesday. This was fine because we only planned on taking a few rides. We started by doing a full loop of the bus tour (rather than hopping off, hopping on) and hearing some interesting history from the guide. This was in English, although most things in Montréal are offered in English and French or just French. With this being a common tourist bus tour, it made sense they offered it primarily in English, but I believe they also had bilingual tours. The bus tour was about $44 USD for each person, coming to a total of about $85 USD (or approximately $112 CAD). Before we hopped on the bus, we took in a few beautiful sites around the Tourist Information Centre.

I can’t find a map online that has a visual depiction of the route that the bus takes, but it stops at the following locations:

  • Dorchester Square
  • Old Montreal
  • Place Jacques Cartier
  • Old Port
  • Square Victoria
  • Place Ville Marie
  • Chinatown
  • Village
  • Latin Quarter
  • Quartier des Spectacles
  • Downtown
  • Fine Arts Museum
  • McCord Museum
  • McGill University
  • Saint Joseph’s Oratory
  • Mount-Royal Park

While we were at the Tourist Information Centre, we also bought the Montréal Passport, which gives you access to a few dozen attractions/sites. Unlike the bus tour, this is actually for a full 48 or 72 hours from the time that you first use it. We got the 72 hour pass figuring this would cover most of the sites we would see over the first few days. It was fairly pricey, about $98 a person (for a total of $195 USD) or approximately $255 CAD. While it is a bit pricey, it covers quite a lot:

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After taking our bus tour, our next stops for the day were the Observatoire Place Ville Marie and the Parc Olympique (Olympic Park). Check out the next blog post to read more!

Canada, Montréal, Québec

Montréal: Day 1

June 15 – 20, 2019 

While I’ve had many recent travels to Canada, I had yet to go to Montréal! This was an impromptu trip with no real plans ahead of time, and I was excited to go on this adventure with my partner, Brady! This was his first time in the great land of Canada, so that was another exciting part of the trip.

Montréal is the most populated city in Québec and second most populated in Canada. Its name comes from the large mountain in the city, Mount Royal. The city was originally named Ville Marie (“City of Mary”) when early settlers founded it in 1642 and was formally incorporated as a city in 1832. Montréal is actually an archipelago, with the heart of the city being on the Island of Montréal. It is between the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. The city has a population of approximately 1.7 million (2016) with a total of 4.1 million (2016) in the greater Montréal metropolitan area.

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We left early Saturday morning for the 220 mile (355 km) trek to Montréal! It took us about 5-6 hours with stops added in. First step was saying our goodbyes to our doggo, Sage! Then we were off!

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First stop was lunch at Friendly’s in North Conway, New Hampshire!

To be honest, I slept most of the way there, even though we were going to split up driving. Whoops. So, I can’t speak to much of the drive, but it went fairly smoothly! Border patrol is intimidating as always, but it’s pretty low-key at Canadian borders so I’m not sure why I get so tense everytime!

We arrived late afternoon and headed to our Air BNB to get settled in! This was my 6th stay in an Air BNB, and it was a great experience! Our host, Dominic, was super friendly and responsive, and the place was great (see listing here and pictures below).

Next stop was making plans for the evening! We decided to head downtown to the busier part of the city. One of the great things about our Air BNB was that it was literally a five minute walk to the Du College subway station (they refer to the subway as the Metro, and the bus as… the bus). This was surprisingly my first time ever taking Canadian public transportation!

It being a Saturday night, I wanted to check out the nightlife! We bought tickets to go to Newspeak Montréal and headed downtown! First things first, it was nearly impossible to find the place. It literally wasn’t labeled at all. This became a recurrent theme in Montréal like everywhere. We finally found the place after circling a few blocks, but then we ran into a pickle with not having our IDs on hand. So, the bar/club scene ended up being a no-go for the night, but we made the best of it!

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We walked around more in the “nightlife” area (which is primarily centered around Crescent Street and the surrounding streets). We stopped to have dinner at an Italian place called Da Giovanni. It was good, and then we headed back for the night to rest up for the next day!

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Canada, Chelsea, Gatineau, Ontario, Ottawa, Québec

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 4

August 24 – 27, 2018

On our last day (Monday), we decided to stop at one more site and then begin the trek back to Maine. When I was in Ottawa last, I had went to the Canadian War Museum and loved it (see blog post here). It covers war history from way back until modern day.

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Outside of the Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

This museum is one of Ottawa (and Canada’s) highlights.

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum regarding military history “from the first recorded instances of death by armed violence in Canadian history several hundred years ago to the country’s most recent involvement in conflicts” (Wikipedia).

There are 3,000,000 artifacts and items in their collection and 500,000 annual visitors. The museum has its origins in 1880 where it was a collection of military artifacts. Its current location opened in 2005. “The Museum’s collections are among the finest military holdings in the world, including rare vehicles, artillery, uniforms, medals, personal memoirs” (About the Museum).

Admission was a little pricier than other museums in the area, but that’s relatively speaking. The cost was $17 CAD for adults and $13 CAD for students, including college students (about $13 USD and $10 USD respectively). One thing I love about Canada (and in England too) was that they offered a lot of student discounts. Even a few dollars here and there helps!

While my mom and I are certainly not history buffs, we still loved the museum! I would love to bring my dad here because he has huge interests in history and war history in particular.

There’s a lot of somber things at the Museum. For example, on the outside of the building, the words “Lest We Forget” are punched out in Morse code. When you walk into the Regeneration Hall, a recording of the wind going through the holes during the construction of the Hall. In the main lobby, there is a block of concrete suspended that holds the tomb of Canada’s Unknown Soldier. There’s also some artifacts such as a piece of the Berlin Wall, Adolf Hitler’s car, and a piece of one of the 9/11 airplanes (all pictured below).

The Regeneration Wall was awe-inspiring. “The highest point in the museum is called Regeneration Hall. This strikingly narrow space features angled walls that tower dramatically over visitors. Rising up with a tightly framed view of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, Regeneration Hall is a physical representation of hope for a better future” (CWM: The Regeneration Wall). I just love this. It was hard to get a picture of the Peace Tower through the window, but you can see it a little bit. This is one of those places that can’t really be shown through pictures. It gives you an idea, but you can’t really get it unless you are there.

After this, we began our trek home! We were pretty tired from such a busy trip! I surprisingly didn’t take any photos on the way home – probably because I was either driving or sleeping for basically all of it!

We did stop at a Subway half-way home, and there was absolutely nothing in English. That was really the only time during our trip where we experienced not being able to communicate. For the most part, everything was in both French and English. Particularly in Ottawa and Toronto, English is pretty dominant. Driving through Québec, French was the dominant language, but English was almost always provided.

It was a wonderful trip with lots of relaxation and site-seeing! It was also great to be able to experience this with my mom and have a fun trip! Until next time!

Canada, Chelsea, Gatineau, Ontario, Ottawa, Québec

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 3

August 24 – 27, 2018

We started our third day (Sunday) by going back to Le Nordik Spa-Nature for our massage. They were booked out our first day, but we decided to go back for that. We had originally thought we might spend two full days at the spa, but we decided to go for the massage and then head into Ottawa for some exploring on our last full day.

Le Nordik Spa-Nature

Obviously I don’t have photos of the massage or the inside of the room. The photo above of the massage room is a sample from their website. I wish I had some more photos, but I guess it’s not super necessary! Some things can just exist in memories! It was super relaxing and amazing, and I would do it everyday if I could! We joked around about our bougie selves because clearly this is not something we do on the regular. We arrived early and our massage was at 10:00 AM. We had separate rooms (didn’t do that whole couple-massage-in-the-same-room-type thing because uh #no), and my mom was super chatty with her masseuse which I thought was hilarious. I feel kind of awkward with someone touching me and being all mostly naked, but I take the mindset of, “I’ll never see you again.”

After that relaxing start to the day, we headed to downtown Ottawa!

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Here’s a brief snapshot of the stops we made:

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Supreme Court of Canada

After heading downtown, we stopped by the Supreme Court and took some photos. When we went in, there wasn’t a tour for a little while, so we walked on over to a few other sites before heading back for a tour.

Bank of Canada Museum

The Bank of Canada Museum is literally a two minute walk from the Supreme Court – one block down and across the street. This is one place I went back in May (see blog post here), and it’s pretty cool. It’s on the ground floor of the Bank of Canada, and it opened up in the 1980s. It’s a free museum with lots and lots of technology and interactive exhibits. We took a short visit through just to see what it was all about and then headed over to Parliament Hill!

Parliament

Parliament was super cool! We didn’t do an inside tour (but I did last time, see blog post here). It was cool to just walk around and see Parliament Hill (or colloquially The Hill). There are three blocks. The Centre Block contains the Senate and the Commons chambers. The Peace Tower, a 306.5 foot clock tower, in the middle truly sets the building apart. The Library of Parliament is also in this building, and it is the only remaining part of the original Parliament that wasn’t destroyed after a 1916 fire.

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Me and my mom in front of Centre Block.

The East and West Blocks contain offices for ministers and senators and general meeting and administrative places.

In front of the Centre Block is the The Centennial Flame, which commemorates Canada’s 100th anniversary as a Confederation.

Supreme Court of Canada (Take 2)

We headed back on over to the Supreme Court of Canada for our tour. It was super fun and informative, and while I also checked this out last time, I feel like I learned new things and the experience was still unique!

They have three levels: the trial courts, the Federal Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The SCC also offers free tours (check on the dates and times because some require a reservation) which was great. We learned a lot about the history of the SCC, its creation in 1875, and how it functions today.

Royal Canadian Mint

Next stop was the Royal Canadian Mint! There are mints located in both Ottawa and Winnipeg. The Ottawa Mint makes collection coins and investment coins, while the Winnipeg Mint makes circulation coins and oversees the production of bills. While they do change the inside as technology changes, the outside is preserved in its castle-like form. I was only allowed to take photos outside and in the gift shop, so I don’t have a lot to show! The tour was really interesting and lasted about 45 minutes. It only cost $6 CAD (about $4.65 USD), which was also really great. This is definitely a tour I recommend! This was the second time I did it, but it was good this time around, too!

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Holding 28 pounds of gold, worth $650,000.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa. Construction began way back in 1841 and was completed in 1846. My last time visiting this church was actually because I stumbled upon it getting lost trying to find the Mint! At least this time, I knew where we were going and could guide us!

At this point, we had had quite the full day and decided to head back after visiting Notre-Dame to our Air BNB to rest up for our last day in Québec/Ontario and our trip home! We watched some Netlix, had some dinner (and a few drinks), some laughs, and hit the hay early!

Canada, Chelsea, Gatineau, Ontario, Ottawa, Québec

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 2

August 24 – 27, 2018

After settling in to our Air BNB the evening prior and having our trip to the lake, day two was for getting to the core of our trip: Le Nordik Spa Nature! This is a beautiful nature spa just over the Québec border in Chelsea about 30 minutes or so outside of Ottawa, Ontario. I went here when I visited Ottawa back in May (see blog post here), and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to go back and wanted a road trip, and my mom was interested, so here we are!

Here’s a little bit of a run-down about the spa and how it works.

The big thing about Le Nordik is their thermal cycle. This is where you start in hot (such a one of the saunas or hot tubs) for about 5-15 minutes, and then in a cold pool for about 15 minutes, and then a period of rest. 

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Courtesy of https://chelsea.lenordik.com/

To see more photos and learn more about the basics, go to their website here. For more info on prices, go here. I can’t quite remember how much we spent this time around, but it was very similar, if not the same, as to the prices I paid back in May 2018. The all-day spa access was around $70 CAD (about $50 USD), and we decided to get a massage, which was about $108 CAD (about $75 USD). We also spent around $15 USD on drinks, but we brought our own food to keep in the locker for mid-day snacks (which is against their rules so you gotta be stealthy). The food there was super pricey, and we were trying to be reasonable with prices, so that’s why we bought groceries and had breakfast at home and lunch on the go.

When we went the first day, I was insistent on getting there as early as possible because I’ve heard they’ve gotten full before. I had gone on a weekday back in May, and I was nervous with it being a Saturday that increased attendance may foil our plans! We got there before it opened and waited in quite a long line, but we made it in and my worries were unnecessary (per usual). Their massages were actually booked out for the day, though, as people can register for those in advance. We decided we wanted to try that out because obviously it’s not something we do on the regular (or ever), so we booked a massage for early the next morning. But Saturday was our day to enjoy the spa access with all the pools, saunas, hot-tubs, aromatherapy, and relaxation!

Arriving and waiting!

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In the central part of the spa. One of the hot-tubs, waterfalls, and saunas in the background.
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Me and mom at the end of the day! Feeling fresh and relaxed! One of my favorite photos from the trip and in general!

Next, we were on our way back to the Air BNB for the night. We got take-out dinner and got supplies to make drinks. It was quite the adventure trying to find alcohol, and we went to quite a few different places! We had tried the night before, too, but everything was closed. Who would’ve thought! The best part is we forgot a shot glass, and there weren’t measuring cups that would’ve worked. So, mom suggested using the the cap to the cooking spray as it was a similar size. It was super funny, but it worked! And now that cap is in our shot glass display case 😉

Next, we were off to bed and ready to hit up Le Nordik in the morning for our massage, and then onto Ottawa to explore some sites!

Canada, Chelsea, Gatineau, Ontario, Ottawa, Québec

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 1

August 24 – 27, 2018

When I went to Ottawa in May 2018, I fell absolutely in love with the Le Nordik Spa-Nature (blog post here). I was interested in taking a trip back because I loved the area, and I wanted to do a short trip with others (I often travel alone, but I like both). My mom was quick to jump on the idea, and we planned a weekend trip for three months later! We tried to get a few others on board, but to no avail. But we were excited for a mother-daughter trip! The trip was scheduled for Friday, August 24, through Monday, August 27, just in time to finish up the summer and head back to college!  I had also just finished a long and tiring summer internship, so this was a wonderful end to that and something to look forward!

The core of our trip was going to the spa and having a road trip to Canada, but we also left time to do some other exploring. My mom’s parents are Canadian (as is my dad’s mother), and while their never completed their citizenship paperwork, I still like to identify myself as a pseudo-Canadian 😉 So I deemed this adventure “The Road Trip to the Homeland.”

It’s hard to say where we went because it was three different places in two different provinces! Hence why there are six tags on this post! So here’s the short answer – we went to Gatineau, Québec, for our Air BNB. This is the fourth largest city in the province of Québec, and it is directly across from Ottawa over the Ottawa River, so it is right on the border of Québec and Ontario. I visited Gatineau last time I was in the area because it’s the location of the Canadian Museum of History (blog post here). We went to Chelsea, Québec, to go to the spa, which is about 10 miles/17 kilometers or so from Gatineau.

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I can’t remember exactly what route we took. We adjusted it slightly so we could drive through the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We left super early after my mom got home from her third shift. The plan was to let her sleep for a few hours and get up and drive. Well, she couldn’t sleep so we ended up just switching off quicker than expected. She did more driving than I did (on the way there at least), but I was helpful a little bit 😉

 

The trip was about six hours and 350 miles/563 kilometers. At some point, we stopped for lunch and groceries (pro tip: pack lunches to save $ while traveling, also breakfast is a super easy meal to make from wherever you’re staying, even if it doesn’t have a kitchen!). We reached the Canadian border around noon. We had a sassy border patrol guy who was mad about us missing a stop sign, but eh, wasn’t labeled well. But you don’t want to piss off border control, so we just had to grin and bear it. We crossed the border in Vermont at the Stanstead Port of Entry in Québec.

 

We drove through Québec for a while, then through Ontario for a little bit, and then back into Québec. We arrived in Gatineau to stop and settle into our Air BNB first!

 

Photos courtesy of Air BNB host. Listing can be found here.

That evening, we went to do a little exploring. We went to Dow’s Lake, which I visited when I went to Ottawa back in May (blog post here). I have recently found an enjoyment for kayaking, and so we rented a two-person kayak and were on our way! We only stayed for about an hour or two, but it was nice. I enjoy the mindful component of kayaking and just watching the waves and water and feeling energy. You can actually go all the way to downtown Ottawa via the river attached to Dow’s Lake! That would be quite the adventure but also would’ve taken a while. Maybe next time? 😉

I didn’t actually take any photos of the lake or going out! I left my phone in the car, so this adventure will exist in our memories! Here are some photos from May 2018 to give an idea of what it looks like.

 

Next, we went back to our Air BNB to rest up for the next day!

Canada, Chelsea, Ontario, Ottawa, Québec

Le Nordik Spa-Nature

On Friday, I took a trip from Ottawa, Ontario, over the provincial border to Québec to go to Le Nordik Spa-Nature because it was recommended to me by several people, and I felt like a day of relaxation and mindfulness was in order! I first tried to go to Gatineau Park but due to rain, I went directly to Chelsea for Le Nordik. This was by far the most expensive day of the vacation, around $250 USD I would estimate. I got the all-day spa access and decided to splurge on a massage. That came to around $160 CAD ($123 USD) and then I had to buy a swimsuit, rent a bathrobe ($12 CAD), and also enjoyed some food and drinks ($35 CAD). So, an expensive day, but I think it was worth it and was a really great experience. One of the great things about Ottawa is how many of the attractions and sites are free or extremely affordable during the majority of my week. The most expensive ticket I paid the whole trip was $13 USD. Others like Parliament were free, the Mint was only $6 USD, and so forth.

The rate to go to the spa all day (called spa access), including the nine saunas and ten temperature pools and hot tubs is $65 CAD ($50 USD) weekends, holidays, and high season, and $55 CAD ($42 USD)  Monday-Thursday. They are open from 9 AM – 11 PM (12 AM on Fridays and Saturdays). Your spa access allows you to stay all day as long as you’d like. Massages (with a choice of 60 or 90 minutes and regular or specialty massages) ranged from $105-$160 CAD ($81-$123 USD). Mine was a traditional 60-minute regular massage which came to $105 CAD ($81 USD).

Lunch at one of the restaurants on site, the Mëzz Café. It’s a mango smoothie and Québec cheese platter.

The big thing about Le Nordik is their thermal cycle. This is where you start in hot (such a one of the saunas or hot tubs) for about 5-15 minutes, and then in a cold pool for about 15 minutes, and then a period of rest.

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Courtesy of https://chelsea.lenordik.com/

I didn’t follow the steps exactly. I was okay with short periods in the sauna but couldn’t make it long, and the cold pools were pretty cold! But I did the best I could and found it interesting the health benefits.

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The spa is beautiful and is integrated into nature, with some of the pools being in natural rock formations and waterfalls.

 

 

Photos courtesy of https://chelsea.lenordik.com/

Downfalls of the day: I got a sunburn!! This was especially crappy because I had just gotten sunscreen! Second downfall, I took a Lyft from Ottawa to Gatineau, but when I went to request a ride back, both Uber and Lyft said they were unavailable in Quebec! So, that was some tough stress to handle! After about 10 phone calls, I finally found a cross-provincial taxi that was around the cost of a ride-share.

This place was so great that I’m actually going back with my mom and a few friends in August! I would definitely recommend setting aside a day to do something relaxing and enjoying this unique spa! I suggest going during a weekday because it’s particularly busy Fridays-Sundays. Also earlier in the day (10 AM – 2 PM) was slower then it got later in the afternoon. I recommend trying to see the place at night because I hear it’s beautiful, but I wasn’t able to stay late enough for the sun to set and see it lit up.

 

Canada, Gatineau, Ontario, Ottawa, Québec

Canadian Museum of History

After crossing the Ottawa River from Ontario, and entering Gatineau, Quebec, I took my first stop at the Canadian Museum of History. This place was huge, which makes sense as Canada’s natural history museum. The museum used to called the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and its purpose, past and present, has been to collect and study objects regarding the history of Canada and its cultural diversity.

 

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Courtesy of Canadian Museum of History

 

Special Exhibitions 

 

 

Canadian History Hall 

 

 

 

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Lower Level and Outside