A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jrp_pedal

Montreal to Melbourne and Brisbane via Vancouver and Sydney

Day 29

all seasons in one day

Saturday 7 Jan 2012

(What happened to Friday?)

In spite of what we had been told at check-in, our Air Canada flight left Montreal on time. In Vancouver we had no time for anything except finding the departure lounge for our next flight. It was a full flight with lots of babies and children among the passengers. Our seats were in the last row, 44. Air Canada’s seating allocation again left something to be desired – I was asked to swap seats so a woman could be next to her daughter.

We spent the 15 hours between Vancouver and Sydney sleeping, chatting and watching movies, including a couple of art house movies (the Station Agent and the Australian Griff the Invisible) and a Korean tear-jerker The Champ. Thankfully, the babies were on the whole well-behaved and fairly quiet.

No problems coming through customs and quarantine, and a smooth transfer to the domestic terminal, where our paths diverged, Robyn going on to Brisbane, and me, to Melbourne.

It’s been a wonderful experience to travel with a friend, and to visit friends; to see so much snow and ice; and to experience the cultural differences between Canada and Australia.

Highlights were a white Christmas in the country with Colleen and Zoli, and New Year’s Eve in Quebec City. Best tour was Edible BC on Granville Island in Vancouver.

Biggest frustration – taxes and tipping. Taxes vary from province to province, and prices are quoted without tax, which can make budgeting a little uncertain unless you’re very good at mental maths (which I am not). Tipping is a hidden cost, and although not mandatory, it is customary, and we found the strategically placed jars and boxes for everyone from the coat check girl to the breakfast waitress and service staff in the hotels had a way of eating up our coins. Also found the assumption of 15% tip on restaurant bills slightly offensive, as if we would be unable to figure out what tip we wanted to pay for ourselves.

Robyn and I travelled very well together – my dependence on maps complemented her ability to ask for information when required.. No fights (though we were, occasionally, mildly irritated with each other - wouldn’t he human otherwise), and lots of laughs. The times we were each right and wrong about things worked out about 50/50.

Couldn’t have asked for a better travelling companion – thanks for asking me to accompany you on this trip, Robyn.

Posted by jrp_pedal 00:38 Archived in Canada Comments (3)

Montreal to Vancouver

Day 28

sunny -7 °C

Thursday 5 Jan 2012

Our last hours in Canada.

We decided to give the Novotel breakfast a miss and try a nearby creperie we had noticed on our way to dinner last night. Good choice – lovely savoury ham, cheese and egg crepe accompanied by a little salad. Robyn and I then parted company for a while, me to redeem a birthday gift voucher that my daughter Lisa had arranged at Bota Bota Spa sur l’Eau, and Robyn to take another look at the Metro.

It was such a lovely morning I decided to walk to Bota Bota which is located in the old port area of Montreal. It took me longer than it should have to get there because I missed a turn and ended up at the Town Hall – much too far east. Bota Bota is located in a converted boat and it’s all about relaxation. I opted for the water circuit so started with the dry sauna for 15 minutes. This is supposed to be followed by 30 seconds immersion in cold water – my dip was about 1 second long! Then I sat in the outdoor spa for a bit letting the jets play across my shoulders. I tried the deck chairs next but couldn’t relax there so decided to start the circuit again. After my 15 minutes in the sauna, I managed 15 seconds in the cold water. I found lying around the bottom of one of the huge portholes more relaxing than the deck chairs so stayed there for a while before moving one floor down to the café level for a refreshing fruit juice. It’s a lovely place with rules designed for maximum relaxation – no mobile phones, and silence or whispers only. You take your own bathers and ‘slippers’ (I took a little pair of purple scuffs decorated with sequinned daisies I had bought for a minimal price the day before), and lockers, towels and robes are provided. The only clocks are those near the steam room and the dry sauna and cold pool. Consequently, by the time I dragged myself away from this pampering, the afternoon was getting away and I knew we had a checkout deadline at 3pm.

Back at the hotel, I found Robyn had used her time very well to make some lovely additions to her wardrobe, which she modelled for me. The items all suit her very well – colourful and feminine – and she was fortunate to find a store that stocked both her style and her size.

It was then a bit of a rush to get everything packed so we could checkout. We stowed our bags while we returned to the creperie to try something from their sweet menu – crepes with raspberries and double Belgian chocolate, with ice cream on the side. Our last meal in Montreal, and it was delicious.

The airport bus stop was very close to the hotel so we manhandled our luggage down the street, and the bus was loading just as we got there. Slight hiccup – we had provided ourselves with $8.00 each for the fare and had notes plus coins but needed coins only. After much scraping amongst our change, and the assistance of another passenger in exchanging a note for coins, we were able to pay our fares.

Self-check-in went smoothly but the next hiccup came at baggage drop. The Air Canada attendant advised us our flight was delayed by 3 hours. Quel horreur! We would miss all our connections. However, the airline must have made some major readjustments because next we knew, the originally scheduled time was showing on the board, but with a different departure gate, so we trust that all will be well.

Posted by jrp_pedal 16:05 Archived in Canada Tagged montreal_bota_bota Comments (0)


Day 27

snow -11 °C
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Wednesday 4 Jan 2012

We decided to give the Novotel breakfast a chance to impress us. It didn’t – the buffet was too expensive, and the trio (a selection of fruit, cereals, pastries and drinks) had too many ‘ors’ and not enough ‘ands’.

We were booked on a city tour at 10am so slipped and slid our way over to the Tourist Information Centre, from where the bus was leaving. The lass inside the office pointed outside, telling us the bus was there – we were a bit confused as there was more than one bus to choose from. However, we were drafted aboard the right one and Angelo, our guide, began his spiel, speaking French and then English and sometimes vice versa, both heavily accented in a way that indicated that neither was his ‘mother’ tongue.

First stop was the Basilica of Notre Dame – spectacular inside and worth the $5.00 entry fee, however, I still maintain that the Basilica of St Anne de Beaupré is more beautiful. Notre Dame has some incredibly detailed wood carving in the decorations and some beautiful stained glass but seems gloomy and heavy. St Anne’s has a lightness about it that I found more appealing.

Our route took us past the buildings from the summer Olympics held in 1976. The buildings now host a variety of other enterprises such as the Sports Medicine Centre, and the Olympic village now houses old people.

We were able to see the outside of the Oratory of St Joseph which occupies an elevated position accessible by stairs that the penitents go up on their knees, praying as they go. Our guide said at least 2 hours is required to make a proper visit so we could ‘click, click’ but sadly no time to go inside.

Next photo stop was Mount Royal park – excellent views on a clear day, however, not quite so good today with some snow showers about. The park’s lake, Beaver Lake, freezes in winter and becomes a skating rink. We could also see an area used for tobogganing – the landing area was lined with hay bales – not sure that would make for the softest landing. Beside the park is the largest cemetery I have ever seen – impressive.

Back in the city we followed up on something Angelo had mentioned – the ‘underground’. This is much like the +15 system in Calgary. We went down, and had a happy time wandering around below ground. Load of shops, eateries, and the Metro. Robyn is still scratching her head and wondering if you call the conveyance a bus or a train – it has wheels like a bus, but is contained between rails, more like a train.
We had to be back at the hotel for a 6pm rendezvous with Ozlem whom I knew from my semester abroad at University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming, USA a couple of years ago. She has transferred to University of Montreal and it was a real pleasure to see her again. She knew of a good Indian restaurant just around the corner from the Novotel so we went for a leisurely and tasty meal. Ozlem had bought us each souvenirs to remind us of our trip to Canada – a lovely evening for our last in Canada.

Posted by jrp_pedal 14:46 Archived in Canada Tagged montreal Comments (1)

Quebec City to Montreal

Day 26

sunny -14 °C
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Tuesday 3 Jan 2012

We were up before the upstairs foot traffic and furniture movement disturbed us because we had a train to catch. Mighty cold this morning at -11 °C, so we took a taxi to the train station, rather than walking to and from bus stops. Bonus on the train this time was that we could book our big bags through instead of manhandling them up into the carriage as we’ve had to on previous occasions. It was a different style of carriage, a bit more luxurious, perhaps more for long distance travel.

It was a clear day so we had great views of the icy fields and rivers.

Colder again in Montreal at -13 °C so another taxi to the Novotel Montreal, our last accommodation before heading home. We needed to go to the Tourist Information Centre to change one of our vouchers for tickets for a tour tomorrow and walked the 500m to get there – made sure our ears and chins were covered but my eyes still watered.

The Novotel is close to Rue Saint Catherine which is the shopping district, so we spent a couple of hours cruising the shops. We went in the Eaton Centre and found it much like the Wintergarden in Brisbane – all chains and repeats of stores in the street. Plenty of cheap clothes but they are all made in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The Novotel seems very big and impersonal compared to Chateau Bellevue. There is no kettle/jug for tea making and we had a little difficulty making ourselves understood when we asked for one. What we got was a vacuum flask that is supposed to keep the water hot for 8 hours.
Because the temperature remained so low and it was a bit of a walk to the bus, we took another taxi to our dinner restaurant – a steakhouse in the old part of the city (Restaurant Du Vieux Port Montreal). The service was exemplary and the food delicious. An added bonus was our view of the street and the strange goings on in Rue St-Paul Est. First some young people in kilts ran by, then some others dressed in Viking helmets and running along inside makeshift Viking boats, then others in different costumes – Native American/Canadian, Irish green, Mexican, and white drapery with smurf-shaped hats. It seems the university students have a celebration before the next term begins, and we were seeing some of it. We felt sorry for all the bare-legged, and occasionally bare-chested, participants capering about in the cold.

Posted by jrp_pedal 06:26 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Quebec City

Day 25

snow 2 °C
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Monday 2 Jan 2012

Again a sleep-in would have been nice however noises above carry directly down to us. People knocking the snow off their shoes sounds like someone doing a tap dance. The chairs scraping on the dining room sound like a badly tuned trumpet. However the breakfast was good and we wound up swapping stories with an Aussie couple from Sydney who had arrived late the day before.

It was a very mild day, just above freezing and snowing a bit, which made it very slushy for walking but not uncomfortable to be outside. We went down towards the boardwalk along the edge of the cliff and found a toboggan run (rather like the luge in the Olympics) had been cleaned of snow and was getting plenty of use. You hire the toboggan, drag it up to the top, settle yourself, and launch, and there’s a bed of gravel at the end to stop you if you haven’t slowed down by then. There were three channels so minimal wait to have a turn. Robyn and I thought we didn’t have time to try that one because we were booked on another tour for the afternoon.

A ‘Fabulous Country Tour’ took us outside the city and into the fertile de Beaupré coast area first settled by Europeans (French) in the 1600s. We crossed the mighty St Laurence river to the picturesque Île d’Orléans, another heritage listed area. Our first stop was a chocolaterie, which Robyn and I were both looking forward to; however, it was closed – quel dommage. The houses on the island are lovely examples of early architecture.

Next stop was the Montmorency Falls – narrower than Niagara but a longer drop. We were in two minds about taking the cable car to the top but decided it couldn’t be any worse than the ride up Sulphur Mountain. The falls are quite spectacular, and I was impressed by the fact that the pool at the bottom is almost entirely frozen. Some amazing icicles lined the path along the hillside to the viewing platform.
From there we continued through the rural area to ‘Albert Gilles’ – a copper art museum and gallery. What a dazzling display! The workmanship in some of the pieces is just stunning. It’s a family business and Albert’s descendants carry on the work he started. The boutique sells decorative pieces (plaques, trays, jewellery and more) to suit all tastes and budgets. In the museum, through a pair of doors covered with decorated copper, are a series of plaques telling the story of Jesus Christ – amazing artistry.

Next stop was a farmhouse called ‘Chez Marie’ where we could purchase slices of homemade bread and maple butter for $1.50 – yummy. All sorts of maple products were on sale plus handicrafts such as thick knitted socks and slippers.

Our final stop was the Basilica of St Anne de Beaupré. The original building burnt down in 1922 and construction of its replacement began in 1923 and took 30 years to complete. It is the most beautiful religious house I have even seen (and I have seen Notre Dame in Paris and the cathedral of St Nektarios in Greece). The mosaic work on the ceiling at the main entry is so detailed and in the main chapel the ceiling has bible scenes painted in gold. The floor also has colourful mosaic tiles. One shrine is faced with slabs of dark green marble. The main doors are covered with sheets of copper decorated by Albert Gilles –truly awesome.

By the time we were heading back to the city, the sky had cleared and the temperature was dropping. We decided to look for a restaurant before getting comfortable at our hotel again. D’Orsay – a ‘European pub restaurant’ – looked busy and inviting and displayed a reasonably priced menu. It was so cold when we came out – but we stopped for a few minutes, admiring the light show on one of the nearby historic buildings. It was the tragic story of the little match girl – a voice broadcast complemented the pictures.

Posted by jrp_pedal 08:56 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

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