Canada

Many moons ago, back in November, Greg and I went on a week-long trip to Montreal and Quebec City.  It was the first real vacation we’ve taken together, and the first time we’d had consecutive days off together in a year and a half.  Life had been getting stressful, we felt like there was no time to get anything done (much less do anything fun), and I was still limping around from my running injury.  The weather was getting colder and I was worried about getting lost, not speaking French, and coordinating plans with Murray’s dog-sitters.  Suddenly Canada seemed like a ridiculous place to want to go.  Turns out it was just the break we needed.  The weather cooperated, with sunshine nearly every day, and even when temperatures fell below 20 degrees, everything felt magical.  We slept in every day (til 8:30!), drank delicious beer, ate tons of poutine and maple syrup, and did a ridiculous amount of walking.

The vacation started with a night spent at Daphne’s brother’s house in York, Maine, and cruising around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the next morning to cheer her on at the half marathon.  Then it was off to Montreal!  We arrived in the city after an hour of idling in line at customs, where the puffy-faced customs officer took his job too seriously and peppered us with snippy questions.  (“Are you going to be doing work of any kind while in Canada?  No?  I’m gonna ask you again, are you doing work of any kind here?  What’s in your trunk?  You have all this luggage in your backseat, what do you have in your trunk?”)

We had decided to try out Airbnb for places to stay and had reserved a room in an apartment close to downtown, with our host Alessandro.  (A quick plug for Aibnb:  it is the best.  It’s cheap and you get to meet lovely people and stay in an actual house.)  When we arrived, Alessandro immediately offered us a beer and a map and sat us down at his kitchen table to chat.  He is from a small town in Italy, lived a few years in Paris, and is working on his doctorate in computer science.  Throughout the week, he talked with us about music, food, and politics and told us all the good places to go.  One morning, we woke up to croissants for us in the kitchen.  On our last night there, Greg and I were cooking dinner right as Alessandro got home from work.  We insisted that he join us, and he eventually agreed.  Afterward, he said, “I’m going to run and get us some ice cream!” and came back with a pint of gelato.  We each got a spoon and sat around eating it straight out of the carton.  Basically, Alessandro was one of the best parts of Montreal.  Here’s the rest of Montreal, in pictures:

After five days of city activities, we were ready for a more rustic experience in Quebec City.  Let me just note that there is a lot to be said for vacationing in the off-season.  It was obvious that Quebec City was the kind of place that is jam-packed with tourists during the summer and in January (for their annual winter festival), but it was quiet and peaceful when we arrived.  Our host this time was Guillaume, and although he was not as present or chatty as Alessandro, he was very nice and had a beautiful apartment.  Guillaume is a wood-worker and had clearly made almost every piece of furniture in his apartment, adding to the overall quaint feel Quebec gave off.

While Montreal was grungy and hip, QC was old-fashioned and charming.  It is a hilly city built on multiple levels, so if we were walking around on an upper level, we were able to see views of the city below us.  It’s also located near the mountains and the St. Lawrence river, so beautiful vistas surrounded us.  In QC, we mainly did a lot of walking, browsing in stores, and eating traditional Quebecois meals.  We also toured the historic Citadelle, an active fort that was built in the 17th century.  On our last day there (and the coldest yet), we went hiking in Jacques-Cartier National Park, and were rewarded with views of mountains and lakes, with hardly any other people in sight.

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