I began writing this post using a top ten motif, but decided there were more than ten experiences worth talking about on the family vacation which we just completed.
We did a grand circle, beginning in the Boston area, then heading north to Freeport, Maine, onward for three days stays in Quebec City and Montreal, and then returning back home via Vermont and New Hampshire. This was an expensive year for a driving vacation, especially one to Canada, but we'd decided it was time for our kids to get a more diverse summer vacation experience, including one with cultural and languages differences. It was expensive, yes, but our experiences were also rich.
What follows is a sampling of our best experiences on the trip, roughly in the order they happened. We had fun and learned a lot. It is presented here in table form, but one can think of it as a geodesic guide, as the experiences built and overlapped upon each other. I've written about other parts of this trip here and here. Bon Voyage!
|All||Biking - People riding bikes were everywhere on our vacation, though notably in Montreal and Burlington, VT. Most riders were fit and all were saving money. This meshed well with the green friendly theme which was a subtle undercurrent everywhere we visited, from LL Bean in Freeport, Maine onto the cities which followed.|
|Maine||Just off of interstate 95, on Route 201, we found Sandy's Kitchen. Sandy's is a classic diner, but with individual touches such as hand-painted sunflowers on the walls. Our waitress Donna was quick with a smile and a friendly word, and very popular among the men who visited the diner. The food was scrumptious. My wife and I shared a Reuben, pastrami piled high on thick, homemade bread. Thus fortified, we were ready to tackle the long drive to Quebec City.|
|Quebec City||Dining Out - Dinner was expensive in Quebec City, but the quality was outstanding. On our first night in QC, we ate at Bistro sous le Fort in the lower part of the old city. The service was attentive and the bistro fare both diverse and tasty, with dishes such as an appetizer plate with pate, Caembert, and Brie, duck served three ways and fresh seafood. We hoped for economy at Verla the next night; instead we got a top end Italian dining experience via the Table d'hote menu, with fresh greens in either Insalate Verde or Caesar salad, carrot soup to cleanse the pallette and excellent pastas or veal for the main course. The following night, Le Cochon Dingue struck a better balance of quality and economy. Our waitress was friendly and energetic and the food outstanding. I had two bowls of mussels as my main dish, served with marinades of mustard and smoked salmon, while my family ate the barbecqued ribs. Nobody left hungry.|
|Quebec City||Musee de le Civilization - This museum was outstanding and had appeal for our entire family. Highlights for us were the exhibit on the history of Gold and Urbanopolis, a fact-filled journey into the design of cities past, present and future. Later, we visited the outdoor Visionaries Garden, a unique exhibit composed of row upon ascending row of plants: herbs, vegetables and flowers, accompanied by windsongs played on chimes.|
|Quebec City||Marche du Vieux-Port - We weren't sure what this was, but walked in and voila, a farmer's market under a white tented roof. Everywhere, there were fresh goods, ranging from strawberries, blueberries and other fruits, onto more exotic items such as hemp seeds and products. Our family bought candies, maple tarts, and fresh strawberries for the next day's breakfast, but there was much, much more.|
|Montreal/QC||Driving and Parking in the City - Taking the car was difficult in Quebec City and painful in Montreal. We spent at least $15 per day if we used the car, just on parking.|
|Montreal||Biosphere - This is the globe shaped building built on St. Helene Island for Expo 67 (see below). The museum is dedicated to a one world eco-view, but manages to be both fun and educational. We played at Water Genie, learned from the master at Planet Bucky (aka Buckminster Fuller) and stretched out on the climbing wall in the Great Lakes exhibit.|
|Montreal||Atwater Market - When the cost of food gets too high, it's time to go to this bastion of fresh food. I learned about the market when staying with local friends and it offers a wide variety of farm fresh goods. We stocked up on breakfast necessaries (croissants, juice, yogurt and a melange of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries) and yummies for lunch (lemonade, a long and broad fresh bread called le Parisien, pate compagne (aka country pate), goat cheese and proscuitto).|
|Montreal||Chinatown - This little gem south of Rue Rene-Levesque offers authentic Chinese dining and good buys on Chinese goods such as soup bowls and bracelets. We had an excellent dinner at a fair price at Maison Kam Fung, found on the 2nd story of an office building on St. Urbain. Highlights of the dinner included copious portions of a fine wonton soup, steamed shrimp dumplings and a wonderful dish of the tender white fish grouper, accompanied by lightly steamed green beans and carrots.|
|Montreal||Beauty's - Ah, it is so good when reality exceeds memory. On an early visit to the city, a friend took me to this classic eatery just to the east of Parc Mont Royal. Beauty's offers all of the essentials of breakfast in a small room replete with booths and a soda fountain bar for informal eating. Our slender, dark haired waitress greeted us with friendly words and quickly supplied us with coffee, juice and hot chocolate. Our eyes were drawn immediately to the Beauty's special, except for my youngest, who wanted the chocolate pancakes. About ten minutes later, the special arrived: a toasted bagel brimming over with freshly whipped cream cheese, and layers of salmon lox, lettuce, red onion, tomatoes and capers. Our waitress supplied extra napkins, saying it was difficult to eat graciously when eating the special. She was absolutely right -- we all needed our utensils to down this bit of heaven. Our waitress kept us supplied with hot cups of coffee. We walked away with full stomachs and a fine end to our Montreal trip.|
|Burlington||Downtown - We arrived in Burlington on our way home, just to stop for lunch. On this warm summer day, the town was very busy. We walked through an outdoor farmer's market on the town green, vowing to come back, then continued to Church Street. This street is set up as a pedestrian mall, and is loaded with shops and open air cafe's, with the usual sideshows of street jugglers and busker musicians. My oldest quickly made an allusion to the energy of Quebec City, which seemed to fit. We walked about and found the cafe seats were full even at 2:00 pm. We finally settled in at a place called Ken's pizza, but were able to order a variety of goodies including a lobster roll (pour moi), pastrami sandwiches and, of course, pizza. Our waitress was friendly and quick to share her thoughts on the town. She is a student at the University of Vermont and clearly loves the city and the school. The farmer's market had been put away by the time we returned to the green, but we went on to view the waterfront and drive about the campus of UVM. Summer in the city along Lake Champlain -- it doesn't get much better than this.|
|Vermont||Rest Areas - Vermont wins plaudits for its rest areas on the highways. The attendants were friendly, the Green Mountain coffee was free and so was the WiFi.|