Our Excellent Eastern Canada Adventure – Final

This weekend marks the final stretch of our Excellent Eastern Canada Adventure as today (day 16) is technically a long weekend for most everyone but of course a long weekend has little meaning when you are on vacation. We left Quebec City this morning and have moved on to the town of Knowlton which is located on the south tip of Lac Brome (Brome Lake) in the Cantons de l’Est (Eastern Townships) region of Quebec.
In most cases I like to use the correct, local terminology for places (in this cases Cantons de l’Est) but I cannot help but use Eastern Townships as that is a name that is burned into my memory when I was growing up in Montreal. While I have personally never been to Knowlton before, nearby towns like Granby and Chambly are those that I have been to several times in my youth. Of course, that was all several decades ago and I expect that I will remember little of what they look like today.The area where we are in now in Knowlton was more from Peter’s background as he had worked in the neighbouring towns for several years in his early 20’s. He has been the first to admit how much things have changed from what he has recollected.I was familiar with the name Lac Brome long before we left Vancouver as it is famous for the ducks that are found here and Lac Brome ducks are available in most grocery stores in Vancouver although usually in frozen form only.

The Money Shot

When we were talking about coming to the Eastern Townships throughout the course of our trip, Peter and I have been talking about coming here to get the money shot. This term is what we have been calling the one killer photograph that will be taken on this trip and that years later we will look at and be the defining memory for the entire 22 days that we have spent here. Our expectations of the money shot are very specific: it involves a gorgeous background of trees in spectacular fall colours (with the bright sunshine perfectly at our backs) and ideally in front of a lake that is completely still and mirror-like which will reflect the trees in the water. This photograph will then only be complete if we could find a person paddling a canoe in the middle of the lake.I know, we have unrealistic expectations and disappointment is almost certain given that we had only today and tomorrow to capture this picture and the weather for tomorrow is expected to be rain. The money shot rarely includes rain. As such, we had about 2 -3 hours this afternoon with the sun shining to find a lake and the perfect fall colours in the trees. We settled on the person in the canoe being a bit unlikely. The following is the best that I could come up with given the circumstances:
(click on image to see full size photo)

I guess, all things considered, I can probably live with this picture.Barb and I spent our final day in the Knowlton area driving around the countryside going to some of the local wineries and cideries where we bought some wine and apple cider. Apple orchards could be seen along the road of many of the places that we were to drive and without exception, all of the trees were rich with perfectly ripe red apples. We were tempted to buy lots of apples to take home with us but we figured that apples would not survive a plane ride very well and would likely arrive in Vancouver all bruised.

And Finally, Montreal

It’s day 19 and today we have left Knowlton and are on the road again to our final destination of Montreal. It’s been a long trip and the thought that we will only have to pack up our suitcase one more time has a certain appeal. By our estimates, we will have driven about 4500 km if we include all of the side trips throughout our journey. By any measure, it’s been a lot of driving.

All of this notwithstanding, I was really looking forward to seeing Montreal again. It has been close to 8 years since I was last here (on business) and the last visit gave me very little opportunity to really see any of the city. The time before that was for my cousin’s wedding and that also didn’t really afford the chance to explore the city the way that I wanted to. This trip will really be the first chance in the 29 or so years since we moved away from Montreal that I will have the opportunity to really explore the city.

We got into the Montreal area around 11AM as it was a relatively short drive from the Knowlton area. We knew that the room at our hotel was probably not going to be ready until later in the afternoon so we decided to consume up some hours by checking out some of the homes that we have lived in throughout the Montreal area and to also visit with our one remaining aunt who lives in Montreal. By the time we were heading into downtown Montreal to our hotel, it was getting close to 4PM and the traffic was becoming quite heavy but we were able to make it to our hotel before 5:00.

We are staying right on Sherbrooke street which is centrally localed right in the heart of downtown Montreal. By the time that we had settled in it was about 6:30 by the time that we were heading out to take our first look at Montreal together.

We were walking along Ste. Catherine street which was just a couple of blocks south of Sherbrooke and we happened to come across a place called Reuben’s Deli that I remembered from my last trip here that offered good smoked meat sandwiches.

I should explain that there are two types of food that are famous in Montreal and that are bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. Having both of these should be considered required eating if you are to visit here. Reuben’s is not the most famous of the Montreal deli’s that serve up smoked meat sandwiches but they have a good reputation and given that we were tired and hungry, we figured that we couldn’t go wrong.

While we were waiting for our meal, I was recalling the last time that I had eaten smoked meat and that was at Siegel’s Bagels in Vancouver. In fact the past 10 times that I had eaten smoked meat was at Siegel’s. In my opinion, Siegel’s has some of the best smoked meat and bagels in any city – which I realize is sacrilege to say that a food that is always called Montreal style smoked meat (in Vancouver) could be as good as the original.

Sadly, (in my opinion) I cannot say that the smoked meat sandwich that we ate at Reuben’s yesterday night was particularly good and I’m certain that this was not the best that can be found in Montreal. The search for the best Montreal smoked meat continues.

It’s day 20 today and that means that we only have 3 more days left in Montreal including today. After breakfast, we took the Metro subway and head out towards Vieux (ie: old) Montreal. I had actually never been to old Montreal ever before so for me it was a unique experience. Vieux Montreal (as well as Vieux Quebec), have the appearance of a European town with the 18th and 19th century look to most of the buildings. As it is located right in the middle of a large metropolitan city, it offers a charming view of the city’s past. However I have to stress the word appearance as I cannot help but feel that Vieux Montreal exists primarily as a place for tourists. There seems to be a lack of any sign of people who live in these historic areas and mostly seem to be comprised of restaurants, shops and galleries.

Please don’t get me wrong, Vieux Montreal is certainly worth visiting of you happen to come to Montreal. Just don’t confuse this with Europe.

On our way out of Vieux Montreal, we walked by the Notre-Dame Basilica. From the outside, the basilica is not particularly imposing but on the inside it is quite a different matter. Notre-Dame is quite spectacular and ranks quite highly even when compared to many cathedrals in Europe (it probably ranks in the top 20 churches that I have ever seen).

After spending some time at the basilica, we were getting a bit of an appetite and found a nice restaurant called Crêperie Chez Suzette on Rue. St-Paul where we stopped for lunch. All of us had a delicious savory crêpe and Barb had the Crêpes Suzettes (pictured above) as a follow-on for desert. We had to help Barb finish the Crêpes Suzettes and I can confirm that they were as good as they look. Crêpes Suzettes are made with orange juice and Grand Marnier liquor – both of which account for it’s unique and wonderful taste.

Outdoor Markets and Underground Shopping

Day 21 started off with us heading out to the Marché Jean Talon (Jean Talon public market) by Metro and spent a few hours there exploring the produce fresh from the farm.

Barb and I have spent our fair share in farmer’s markets in Vancouver and by and large there are similar types of things in most markets. However, it’s interesting that when you’re in a different city and in a market that everything seems to look and smell so different and seems so much better tasting!

Barb and I went for lunch separately from Peter and Liz and we happened to stumble across this small bistro called Le Grand Comptoir located in Place Phillips.

Given that it was about 12:30 on a weekday, we weren’t surprised to see that the restaurant was nearly full with people – likely those who work downtown on their lunch hour. The place was buzzing with conversation and excitement and we were lucky to find a single table empty where we were able to squeeze into just inches away from the adjacent tables.

I remember dining at restaurants in Paris where the tables were almost right next to each other and contrary to how it sounds it is actually a very pleasant dining experience as you are almost sharing the meal with your neighbours. Of course they are having their own conversations but it’s all very casual and open.

Barb and I both had salads and both came with a plate of a delicious carrot soup. To enjoy the meal a bit better, we both shared a carafe of sangria which I must add was particularly good and just the thing to have at lunch … well, when one is on holidays anyway.

Barb and I spent the rest of the day shopping downtown. Along Rue. Ste. Catherine there are large number of small stores in addition to several department stores. One in particular that stood out is called Ogilvy. Ogilvy is one of those high-end department stores that one has heard about for generations. In my case, I have heard about it since I was growing up as I remember that my mother used to shop at Ogilvy’s (the store had the ‘s in those days).

The Last Full Wet Day

With all of the relatively good weather that we have been having over the past three weeks, it is not unexpected that we should expect at least one really bad day and today was it. We had seen the forecast for today and knew to expect the 8 degrees and steady rain most of the morning.

Undeterred, we drove up to Mount Royal and visited L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal (St. Joseph’s Oratory). The Oratory was something that I had always heard about while living in Montreal but had never visited so it was a good opportunity to do so today. I read that the dome of the oratory is actually the 2nd tallest in the world only taller than the one at St. Peter’s basilica at the Vatican.

Compared to virtually every other church of it’s size that I have ever visited, the Oratory is surprisingly modern and stark inside but considering that it was completed in the 1960’s the modern style makes sense. Apparently the stairs leading up to the front of St. Joseph’s are used by devout pilgrims and they climb the stairs on their knees. Barb and I climbed the stairs the normal way and it was enough of a workout that way.

We drove around Mount Royal and stopped by Lac aux Castors (Beaver Lake) which is a beautiful lake set in the trees at the top of the mountain. Under better weather conditions it would have been a great time to be there and stroll around the park but as it stood it was really cold and starting to rain hard so we left after about 20 minutes.

By the time we were leaving the top of Mount Royal we were thinking about lunch and decided to give Montreal smoked meat another try. This time we would be going to the place that according to all of our research had reported to have the best smoked meat in Montreal: Schwartz’s Deli.

Although we arrived at Schwartz’s at around 1:30, there was still a lineup of about 20 people in front of the store (located on Boul. Saint-Laurent). It only took about 15 minutes to get seated but it was all worth it. Schwartz’s was the real deal.

We started our meal with a drink that was said to be “the usual” thing to drink with smoked meat sandwiches: Cott’s Black Cherry soda. I remember the Cott brand from my youth with their slogan It’s Cott to be good. The smoked meat sandwiches were really quite unique and had a distinctive (spiced) taste that was really the best part of the meal.

As the deli was packed and every seat filled to capacity, you sat elbow to elbow with your neighbour at the next table. It was well known that once you had eaten your meal you were not expected to chit-chat but to pay your bill and leave so the next group (likely standing on the street waiting) could be seated. Schwartz’s has been around since 1928 so I figure that their formula for great food, good prices and whatever customer service they may want to give you works quite well.

Schwartz’s is one of those dining institutions that the experience of eating there is half the enjoyment. This is definitely a must-see if you visit Montreal.

Delivering the Goods

Sidebar: I wanted to add some words on the subject of photography as it is a significant subject for me and always has an impact onto the day to day workings of our Adventures.

In addition to “the money shot”, there is a second phrase that I bandy about when I’m talking to Barb about our trip planning and that is delivering the goods. This term refers to the ability of my camera to produce great photos under a variety of situations that I may come across on our vacations.

Photography has been a passion of mine for over 20 years and as a hobby it goes hand in hand with our shared passion for travel. As we have travelled to a number of places over the years, we have enjoyed being able to view the pictures from those trips for years later and remember all of the things that we have experienced. Of course, this blog that I write also helps a lot in that area as well.

For me, just taking a bunch of random pictures when I’m travelling just isn’t enough and as such the camera that I use gets a lot of thought about if it is meeting my needs or not.

Since we have been travelling together, I have gone through four different cameras. Barb will probably say that “gone though” means abandoning a perfectly good camera and replacing it an expensive new one. 🙂 Of course, I never attempt to get into this no-win discussion as the subtleties of camera technology are usually difficult to explain. Suffice to say that every time I have changed cameras I have done so for a good reason.

About two months before leaving for this trip that we’re on now, I bought a new Nikon D80 digital SLR camera. Under ideal conditions, buying a new camera this soon before a vacation isn’t the best option but I felt that it would be enough time for me to learn most of the features. In hind sight, I’m glad that I made the purchase because many of the pictures that I’ve been able to get with the D80 would just not be possible with any other camera that I had (except my original Nikon film camera). A good example of this is the picture at the top of this page with Barb, Peter and Liz looking at a map. I saw them in this position across the street from where I was and was able to switch on my camera, zoom in and shoot the picture (in between two passing cars) all in about 2 seconds.

With any luck, the D80 that I am using now should be one that I use for a while but especially on our trip to Africa next year this camera will be really be put through the paces. Judging from the pictures from this trip that I have been previewing on my laptop, this camera has definitely delivered the goods. Now, there’s just the issue of that new zoom lens that I need to get

All Things Must Come to an End …

Just about every night for the past three weeks I have looked at the pictures that Peter, Barb and I have taken on the laptop computer that I am carrying with me. I should add that between the three of us we have taken about 2000 pictures. Of course, all three of us carrying digital cameras means that there are lots of duplicates of every scene so the number of “real” pictures will be much less. It seems that owning a digital camera encourage you to take 3-4 pictures for any scene knowing that you can delete them later at no costs.

When I look back at the first part of the trip in Halifax and then other parts of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, it all seems such a long time ago – almost like it was on another, separate trip. I think that this is indicative of the fact that we have seen so much and driven so far (almost 4500 kilometres in total) since we started three weeks ago today.

Today is day 22 and it’s the last full day of our Excellent Eastern Canada Adventure. Tomorrow we leave for home and as usual, that thought has a mixture of sadness and anticipation. It’s sad that the trip will be coming to an end but it’s also (for me) good to know that after tomorrow I won’t be living out of a suitcase anymore. Much more than any other Excellent Adventure, this trip has stood out in the fact that we have have lots of one night stop-overs and relatively few days in one spot. As a general rule Barb and I have found that we like to stay in about 4 different places on a 3 week trip. That gives us plenty of time to get familiar with a given destination before moving on to the next leg of a trip. On this vacation, we had six one-night stops.

Out of all of the many different places that we have visited on this Adventure, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé area (especially Percé) will bring the most memories for me when I will think about this trip in the future. Having spent so many years travelling to other countries, I’m really glad that we took the time out to see a large part of our own country. I really encourage everyone to come here and visit the these provinces as there’s so much to see and the people in every place that we have been to could not have been more friendly.

Our Excellent Eastern Canada Adventure has come to a close and as most readers know Barb and I are planning our Excellent Africa Adventure for the fall of 2008. Who knows, we may even be able to sneak in a short trip somewhere else some time before that.

Until then.