Tagged: canada

a weekend trip to montreal

In January, Brad and I, along with our friends Mike and Carrie, drove up to Toronto for an adventure that all started because Brad wanted to try some delicious poutine. We found something tasty, but we have been informed by every Canadian we know (or don’t know!) that Montreal is the home of poutine, and they don’t do it right anywhere else.

driving through the green mountain state

Since I’m interning in the Boston area, that corner of Canada is closer than it’ll ever be. It was time for Brad and I to go on another Canada adventure.

Thursday, August 16

whale tail friends

Driving through Vermont was absolutely gorgeous. Jim Dale narrated the Prisoner of Azkaban for us as we drove, and we had plenty of snacks and good company. The glorious winds of Fate also carried us to a gas station that served maple soft serve – “creamees” to Vermonters – but more on that later.

bienvenue a quebec!

Finally, we were welcomed to Quebec, and after driving through scenic French-Canadian farmland, we reached Montreal.

giant ceilings and awesome carved wooden statues at st. joseph oratoire, montreal

Our first stop was the Oratoire Saint-Joseph. This place was amazing. It was absolutely enormous, with a huge green dome, and the whole thing was built into the side of the mountain. I loved all of it. There were two churches inside the building, and an outside walking path with big statues for the Stations of the Cross.

the view of montreal from the terrace of st. joseph oratoire

From the terrace, we could see half of Montreal and beyond.

chapel at st. joseph oratoire, montreal

The whole place was first envisioned by Brother Andre, a beloved priest in Montreal at the turn of the century. This charming little Disneyland-looking building was his original chapel, and it got full so he built the giant church. I’m thinking maybe he exaggerated a bit with how much more space he needed… but it was an amazing sight to see.

australian meat pie with mashed potatoes at ta-pies, montreal

By the time we’d explored the entire oratory, we had worked up an appetite so we headed to ta for Australian meat pies and mashed potatoes. Mine was butter chicken, and Brad’s was steak, bacon, and cheese. His was better, but they both verified my belief that just about anything is better empanado: wrapped in bread or dough.

bright orange spiral fire escape

We did some exploring and found the most delightful orange spiral fire escape. It turns out they have spiral fire escapes everywhere, but this first one was a very exciting discovery.

Friday, August 17

We woke up bright and early for the big day: Poutine Day.

We had Tim Horton’s for breakfast, of course. Then we set out for the Basilique Notre-Dame to finish up our Montreal church tour. It was a gorgeous church, with ornate detailing and beautiful interior architecture. Not mind-blowing like the oratory, and there was an admission fee, but it was very pretty and worth visiting.

We set forth a “No Snacks Until Poutine” rule because poutine tastes even better in a really hungry belly… then we immediately broke the rule upon encountering a food truck that sold gourmet ice cream sandwiches. This led to a brutal seagull attack on poor Bradley, and the ice cream sandwich wasn’t even that great – but I guess that’s what happens when you break the rules!

We wandered the Old Port and found an art gallery filled with Inuit sculptures. They were, for lack of a better word, AWESOME. Dancing bears, wide-eyed owls… if I ever own expensive art, one of those will be first on my list.

I also saw a narwhal tusk. From a real narwhal. That someone had carved as art. I was sad. Moving on.

plazatex fabrics storefront, montreal

We ventured closer to our poutine destination, but first we took my typical detour and stopped in this fabric store: Plazatex.

the good kind of fabric store

It was “the good kind” – filled to the brim with fabrics so all sounds were damped. I love those stores because they always feel like they hold hidden treasures.

The fabrics were a little pricey, but they had some good ones. I bought some plaid wool to make a quick-and-easy scarf. The owner was friendly and chatted with Brad about antiques.

rix-rax buttons, montreal

We also stopped by RixRax, a button store, and it had lots of buttons. It was a perfect store for anyone looking for buttons for a particular project, but we know I have plenty of buttons! So I bought a dollar’s worth of tiny plastic buckles and was on my way.

delicious poutine and hot dogs at la banquise, montreal

Finally, the time had arrived. Poutine time.

As advised by a trusted commenter (thank you stephanie!), we made La Banquise our official poutine destination. We were not disappointed.

We ordered a classic poutine out of necessity, as well as “la dan dan” – the standard french fries with gravy and cheese curds, further laden with onions, bacon, and pepperoni. Oh my. Just looking at that picture makes me want to drive back there. It was good.

With full, happy bellies we spent the rest of the late afternoon exploring. We had an unlimited day pass for the metro, so we took the long way home: we hopped off the train at multiple random stops, walked around a bit, then hopped back on.

rainbow shadows at Palais des congrès de Montréal

Among the randomly encountered attractions was the Palais des congrès de Montréal, an event venue with the most brilliant colored windows.

rainbow floor at Palais des congrès de Montréal

The late afternoon sun filled the room with rainbows.

we like green and orange.

I like orange. He likes green.

We stopped by two microbreweries on the way back for little samples: Les 3 Brausseurs and Brutopia. Les 3 Brausseurs wasn’t anything special (perhaps even less than that), but Brutopia had some decent offerings.

After even more exploring, including a crazy Ford Racing street event, it was time to call an end to our busy, adventure-filled day.

Saturday, August 18

colorful graffiti, marking brad's ability to snap quick pictures out the window

Day 3 began with more Tim Horton’s, as well as Brad’s other favorite Canadian breakfast treat: Yop drinkable yogurts. With a name like Yop, what’s not to love?

We also discovered the most incredible Canadian delicacy: maple sandwich cookies. Think Golden Oreo with a hint of heavenly maple flavor. You can bet that first pack was gone before we reached the US border.

The Mothership: parc olympique in montreal

Our main Saturday attraction, before heading back to the good ol’ United States, was le Parc Olympique. The 1976 Olympics were played in this giant mothership of a concrete building, and it serves as an athletic facility today. Earlier in the week, according to the signs, they had hosted an international women’s water polo championship.

orange chairs at le parc olympique, montreal

Besides the crazy architecture, and the Olympic diving pool, there wasn’t much to see here… but I did love the orange chairs.

We stopped for lunch at a little strip mall in the suburbs, and this was the first time we encountered a non-anglophone. Throughout the trip, French was spoken everywhere, but most people were happy (or at least, civil) to speak English with us, even if it was their second choice.

Finally we began our return journey. And now it is time to tell you about maple creamees.

I don’t like maple syrup. I don’t like it on my pancakes or waffles or anything – pure maple syrup is just too strong. But apparently, as my time in Vermont and Canada has recently taught me, I love maple-enhanced things.

So when I tried a maple creamee on the way there, my life was changed forever. And on the return journey, we just had to find it again. But it had just been a random exit, a detour taken to an unknown gas station when it was time to get gas “somewhere in Vermont”. Who knew if we’d ever find the magical maple creamees again.

brad is very happy with his maple creamee.

Oh, those glorious winds of fate.

Not far from Montpelier, we had the tingling sense of being close to that magical place. And yes, we found them.

Later, Brad looked at the above photo and said, regarding his photographed self, “oh, I am happy.”

brad and i, eating our maple creamees sitting on the edge of my wonderful station wagon

We sat on the edge of the trunk, enjoying our creamees in the slanting sunlight. Then we continued through the mountain roads, having crossed another adventure off our ever-growing list.

driving through the mountains in vermont

(thank you so much to my Canadian readers for all your help and advice! your lists of things to do and see and places to go really helped me plan this adventure to a place i had never been, with a language i don’t know. it’s true what they say about Canadians, you guys are the nicest!)

hellooo-oh, canada!

sam finds a giant thimble in toronto's fashion district. the trip has been made worthwhile.

Two weekends ago, a number of events occurred. Brad had just received his passport, and it was anxiously awaiting use. I was feeling antsy, since I hadn’t been on a trip in awhile. Brad read about Poutine, a Canadian dish involving french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. And Mike got a new campus job.

So I said, “hey, we should go to Canada.”

And then, we did. A week of planning, lots of international hotel calls (yay google voice – free to canada!), some scurrying and homework-finishing, a five-hour drive, and then – we were over the border.

brad, mike, and carrie on the way home from big smoke burger's poutine

Friday night, we arrived at our Toronto hotel and headed to our first stop: Big Smoke Burger, allegedly home to the best burgers in Toronto and some fantastic poutine. I say allegedly because I have not tried any other burgers in Toronto – but I don’t doubt that theirs are close to the best. And poutine, as weird as it sounds, was incredibly delicious.

st. lawrence market in toronto - what amazing cabbages!

The next morning, we got up early and ate a box of Tim Horton’s Timbits, like true Canadians. Then we acquired our day-long subway passes and began exploring. We started at the St. Lawrence Market, and were amazed at the selection of produce – where does Canada grow all these things?

We bought Kinder Surprise eggs, which are apparently considered contraband in the U.S. But we ate them all (except the surprises!) before crossing the border again.

the historic roundhouse that houses the steamwhistle brewery, toronto

After further meandering, we headed toward the harbor for a tour of Toronto’s Steamwhistle Brewery. The small brewery is located on the historical grounds of an old roundhouse – you know, the place where the trains go on the circle and get spun into their different garages? I had never seen one in real life, so my 8-year-old Brio-loving self was thrilled to see a roundhouse in real life. It was so cool!

steamwhistle brewery in toronto: the bottling line, in brilliant green

The best part of this brewery tour was the brilliant green that Steamwhistle uses for their packaging. It was everywhere!

pizza pizza - a toronto chain with cute trashcans.

After the tour, we headed toward Chinatown for an afternoon lunch. We dashed into an art store, where I bought 13 sheets of the most adorable paper of all time. Then we all had the classic Sam Janis foreign country experience: finding a new fabric store.

king's textiles, toronto

Toronto’s King’s Textiles was located near Chinatown, in what is called the Fashion District. The location is a little bit run down, with lots of (awesome) graffiti. But the fabric store was just my type, with a filled-up warehouse feel and creaky floors that you can’t hear because all the sounds are so well-damped by the cloth.

king's textiles, toronto: filled to the brim with fabric

It was large, but not enormous – however, due to the towers of fabric and the eerie stillness of the air, it would be easy to get lost forever. Mike loved that he and Carrie could stand on opposite ends of the aisle pictured, nearly shouting, unable to hear each other.

The only downside of this store was the pricing – fabrics were more than I like to spend. But I was on vacation, and we were in a big city, so what could I expect? I bought a cute turquoise knit and plan to make a henley of some kind.

While in the Fashion District, we happened upon the giant thimble at the top of this post. That discovery and its photographic proof justify my trip entirely.

The Fashion District isn’t like the Garment Districts in Paris or New York – the area was mostly dedicated to clothing stores, although I did find a few stores selling buttons. And with two boys in tow, my shopping freedom was limited.

colorful graffiti

brad and mike on the toronto subway, excited about the accordion walls and moving floor

Everything in Toronto closes early, presumably because it’s so cold. So we took the long way home, stopped at some stores and ate more poutine, then took the subway back to the hotel. The subway was one long, continuous car with accordion joints and moving floors to accomodate twists in the track: Brad and Mike insisted on riding where the floor moved.

We got in the car and drove to our Saturday night hotel near Niagara Falls, and ate grilled cheeses at a strange diner that looked like a spaceship.

niagara falls

After Church Sunday morning, another Tim Horton’s breakfast, and an exploration of Canadian Wal-Mart to find milk that comes in bags, we headed out to look at Niagara Falls. I have decided two things: 1. It is a large waterfall and 2. It is a very cold place to be in early February.

We were hoping for something louder, more menacing perhaps – but the rushing water was, instead, almost of the peaceful sort. Near the falls, the mist was falling down on us as snow flurries, which was way cool – but a further reminder that February is not the best time for a visit.

the obligatory group picture: four adventurers at niagara falls

We froze, I took lots of pictures, Mike ate yet more Tim Horton’s, and then we headed back to school. Our work was waiting where we left it, but we felt good – especially me. Who picks up and goes to another country for the weekend? I like the idea of being that person – again.