Canada, to me, is primarily about incredible natural beauty. But Canada also has some pretty awesome cities that made great destinations on our trip.
After our month based in the Twin Cities, we headed off through the fall foliage back toward eastern Canada. Before we even left Minnesota, we happened upon the Franconia Sculpture Garden, where a good friend of mine had worked last year. Then it was across northern Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The UP was a beautiful scenic blend of Superior lakeshore and forest alive with reds, oranges, and yellows. After stopping in Marquette for a UP classic pasty we camped for the night at Au Train Lake. It was a bit cold and ended up being our last camping night so far.
The next morning we returned to the road and crossed back into Ontario at Sault Ste Marie. It was another beautiful fall day, and the fall colors we saw in Michigan and Ontario have still not been beaten. (In fact, things mostly got greener rather than oranger or redder.) We were driving across the southwestern extents of the Canadian Shield, deciduous forests dotted with lakes and rocky escarpments. We stopped for the night in North Bay, spent the night in our first motel and had our night of cooking on our camp stove out of the trunk of our car. The next morning we continued south to Ottawa.
Ottawa is small and beautiful city, essentially founded to house the Canadian national government, having been a sleepy logging town strategically situated on bluffs at the confluence of two rivers in a region of both Anglophone and Francophone Canadians. The architecture of the governmental buildings is primarily gothic revival, providing a stark contrast to Greek columns of Washington, D.C., both visually and in terms of the cultural heritage being invoked.
Our first day we took a stroll through the Bywater Market, past the Chateau Laurier, over the Rideau Canal, and up to the area of the Parliament building, with its flaming fountain and extensive lawn. Then we wandered a bit through neighborhoods, and back along the river with views us to the government buildings and across to Quebec.
The next day we started with a tour of the Parliament building. The Canadian national government is largely patterned on the British system (who’s the Queen of Canada? Elizabeth, the very same), but with some Canadian twists, such as separate doors for the English- and French-speaking parliamentarians.
Then we had a very mediocre Morrocan lunch, wandered around the Bywater Market area. After that, we caught a bus out to visit Parkdale market. Afterward, we bussed back in and walked along the Canal. Supposedly, in the winter ice skating along the Canal is a common way of commuting in Ottawa. That evening, we tried our first poutine, a classic Canadian dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, and then went to many of the Irish pubs that grace Bywater.
The next morning we headed out in the mist and rain toward Montreal. We arrived at our rented apartment, unpacked and set out to take a walking tour in the rain. After happening upon a farmers’ market, our first major stop was at Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen for smoked meat. I don’t normally eat beef, but a made a few exceptions in Canada, and boy am I glad I did! (Read on for a sense of how glad.) Our walking tour continued through the cold to a great market, a chocolatier, a coffee roaster, a homewares store, and past countless places of interest. Then we came back, warmed up in our apartment and waited the long hours until our 10 pm dinner reservations (in order to get access to the reduced price menu) at Lemeac. (You can read more about our food experiences in Montreal on Bowen’s blog here.)
The next morning we set out to see more of the city on foot. We stopped to get Fairmont Bagels, and then walked the few miles into Old Montreal, then up to McGill University, a stop for lunch at Soupe Soup, and then through Mont Royal park and back to our apartment in Mile End. That evening we went for a few beers at Dieu du Ciel and then back to Schwartz’s for more smoked meat. (Yes, it was that good; we even bought vacuum sealed meat to bring to our friends in New Haven.) In the morning we grabbed bagels at St. Viateur and had coffee at Café Olympico, headed to Jean Talon market and hit the highway for Quebec City.
We took the Chemin du Roy (the King’s Road!) much of the way from Montreal to Quebec City through some little towns and villages. Quebec is the only walled city in North America north of Mexico, and it still has it’s beautiful old walls. Interestingly, the walls were primarily build by the Brits to keep out the Americans, not by the French. Which brings us to the War of 1812, which is evidently a much bigger deal in Canada than in the US. So much so, that the Canadian government put out this video.
It’s an incredibly beautiful and scenic city. Bowen and I stayed in a little B&B where, if I smushed my face against the window, I could see a bit of the roof of the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac in one eye. We spent our first evening wandering the old town and the walls. Then we had some classed-up poutine and a salad while sitting looking up at the Chateau and listening to a street performer play jazz. Not bad.
The next day we headed to L’Île d’Orleans, a big island just downstream of the city with a wealth of agricultural and culinary delights. Highlights included a sugar shack where we tasted the most incredible maple syrup either of us had ever encountered, a duck and goose farm where we tasted pâte, a cidery, and black currant winery.
Then we headed back for more wandering in the city and the best meal we had in Canada: duck and rabbit for two at Le Lapin Sauté. We finished the night by getting a drink at the Chateau and watching the moon reflect in the St. Lawrence River.