Sunday, July 10, 2022

Montreal and Quebec City 2022

These last two years of the pandemic have been very stressful and certainly have had their ups and downs. With vaccines becoming available in 2021, I was happy to be able to have things open up again and begin to travel. However, there still have been many restrictions and much anxiety since COVID cases are still constantly going up and down. Since we seem to be just functioning with Covid at this point, I decided I would book an international trip, but maybe start somewhere a little safe and still a little close to home. 

I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio, which is on Lake Erie. Basically across Lake Erie is Canada. I have been to Toronto a couple of times growing up since it was just a quick drive through NY. Montreal and Quebec, however, have always been on my list of places to check out. (I also have Banff and Calgary on my list still as well!)

When I was looking to do a "safe" and "close" international trip to dip back into travel during this pandemic, Montreal and Quebec City seemed to be a great option. People often ask where I get my information to find the places that I check out and I think I may have mentioned in my Spring Break post from this year that I read a lot of blogs on Pinterest (just search for the city/place you are wanting to travel on Pinterest and all kinds of blogs will pop up!), Trip Advisor, and Atlas Obscura for some more wacky things to try.

I usually research ahead of time and make a Google doc or list of the places I definitely and also maybe want to see and then once I get to the place or look at a map, I map out the places that make the most sense to see together. Being a teacher and traveling solo help me as well because teaching makes me have to have a plan but also be flexible. And traveling solo means I can get up and go and spend as much time as I want at places!

Here is the itinerary I ended up with in the end- equal parts planning and letting the city(ies) speak to me while I was there! I could've spent more time in each city, but this was my first international trip solo! And I find that 5-7 days is kind of as much time as this introvert can handle on the road alone for right now. 

Day1: Richmond to Montreal

I had kind of a later flight out of Richmond on Sunday because I am a musician and had two Masses scheduled to play Sunday AM. If I would've flown out earlier that day, I probably would've gotten to explore Montreal a little at night, but by the time I got into the Montreal airport that evening, I just took an uber straight to my air b n b. 

I had asked my Air B n B host the best way to get to their place that first night from the airport. He suggested taxi or uber, and this probably was the best option for a tourist getting in at night. I got back to the airport a different way, though, which is much more cost effective! Uber was a little expensive, but I expected as much for late on a Sunday night and was just happy to get to my stay safe. 

I really like staying in Air B n Bs because you get to be in a neighborhood and a more "real" perspective of a place, in my opinion. The place I stayed in Montreal was not one of the more posh or funky places, but it was perfect and simple for what I needed the next 2-3 days. 

Day 2- Montreal

My air b n b was in the University/Hospital area part of downtown. The Guy-Concordia stop of the Metro station to be exact. Having lived in the DC area for so many years, I LOVE using the metro and find it really easy to use. Montreal's metro system was a definite win for me this week. I went to the metro station and bought a 3 day pass which was perfect for my 3 days there! I used that sucker well beyond it's value (which is cheap, btw. It was $21 Canadian dollars which was like $15 US. Getting to go up down and all around the city for $5 a day?? Amazing!)

I was not prepared, for whatever reason, for the hills of Montreal. I brought my usual cute, European travel outfits that I bring for hopping on and off tour buses and walking casually around cities. I should have brought my workout wear for the amount of hills and walking there is to be done in Montreal! (Realizing as I was there that Montreal means...Mont Royal. Royal MOUNTAIN. Quebec City- also built on a hill/mountain, but we will get to that). 

Even though, I am very good at navigating metro, I am NOT good at navigating maps, even Google Maps when it talks to me apparently. My first outing was meant to take me to the metro by my air b n b, but I ended up hiking up to St. Joseph's Oratory instead (the complete opposite of my metro stop...I would get a handle on the metro later that day). 

The walk was definitely UP HILL but through a nice, suburban area and it was actually the perfect place to start my Montreal trip as a Catholic. I didn't have any expectations of this Church, which is perhaps why it exceeded any and all that I could have had. This Church is a COMPLEX. But definitely worth the trip even if you aren't a Catholic, in my opinion. It is way more modern than a lot of the other Churches in Quebec and it happens to be the home of St. Andre Bessette which I had heard about, but didn't realize that this was the spot where he had lived and was buried! I was so stoked and happy to find that out. I spent much of the morning my first day there. 

Inside St. Joseph's
I literally got lost in this place...there was SO much to see! I ended up going to Mass in the Crypt Church which was a treat and can see St. Andre's HEART on display! Oh Catholics...we're weird.
There is a great view at the top of the Oratory!
St. Joseph's from below

I took a shuttle down from the Church to the street and walked to the metro and took it to the Mont Royal neighborhood. Maps were starting to fail me so I kind of wandered around not sure what I was looking for a minute but then decided to find a brunch place I had wanted to try, L'Avenue. That place had a long line and I wasn't wanting to wait that long for food. This would be a theme for many of my meals in Montreal. Luckily, there is so much good food in this city that you can find a lot of good options everywhere. I ended up going to a spot right next to L'Avenue and trying an avocado "toast" with a Montreal bagel. Bagels are a thing in Montreal and I had a couple. I'm not sure that they lived up to the hype for me, but I'm glad that I got to try. 

meal #1 in Montreal: brunch at Notre Boeuf de Grace in Le Plateau Mont Royal

I kind of wandered around the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood most of the day. The Library (Biblioteque, which turns out is closed on Mondays) was also on my list, so I eventually took the metro to Place de Arts and found out that there was an International Jazz Festival in Montreal that week. I would return to this festival the next day!

One of the things recommended on Trip Advisor was the Barbie Expo. I was never a huge Barbie Girl (heh) but I thought it was worth checking out so I metroed AGAIN to the Peel station and after wandering a bit AGAIN, found the Barbie Expo inside the mall next to the Peel Metro. It's definitely worth the trip. I enjoyed seeing all the different variety of Barbie through the years and some of the famous iterations of her.

There really were soooo many Barbies to see! Too many to possibly post here!

After walking and wandering and metroing around the first half of my day, I went back to my Air b n b to regroup and recharge. After a respite, I returned back to the Mont Royal/Saint Laurent neighborhoods for some more walking and this time, mural exploring. There are SO MANY on Saint Laurent Boulevard. It's worth just talking a long walk up Saint Laurent to check them out. 

Just a small sample of murals on Saint Laurent. I recommend metroing to Sherbrooke and walking to Saint Louis Square and then you can also see these classic Plauteau Mont Royale houses on your way towards Saint Laurent Boulevard. Make sure to cut over on Prince Arthur for cute restaurants as well!

I did so much walking that first day. I ended up getting dinner in the Mile End neighborhood at an amazing, authentic ramen restaurant- Tsukuyomi Ramen. I then decided to call it a night and metro back to my air b n b to  have a chill night watching The Great Canadian Baking Show which was available in Canada on Netflix! :)

Day 3: Montreal Part 2

Something that I had booked ahead before I got to Montreal, was a water circuit treatment at Bota Bota Spa in Old Port Montreal. I HIGHLY recommend this for a couple hours, especially after a full day or two of walking around Montreal! Our cell phones weren't allowed inside the spa, but there were hot tubs and cool water pools and saunas...I'd been to a place like this in Philly, but nowhere near the beautiful garden setting that Bota Bota has. There are 4 levels of water circuits! 2 of the 4 ask that you remain silent for true calm and relaxation. You can also book massages and other treatments, but I opted just for the water circuit was still very Zen and relaxing. There were so many cool little spots to sit and just chill. I highly recommend!

To get to Bota Bota, I metroed to Victoria Square which is a good stop for a lot of the "Old Port/Old Montreal" spots as is the Place de Arms Metro stop. On my way down to Bota Bota, I swung past the Underground City in Montreal to get some breakfast (the Underground City is just like that- kind of an underground mall and walk ways for when temps get frigid in winter!) and also stopped at the Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal. I was a little disappointed that you had to pay to get in and book a ticket, but I suppose they see this spot as more of a museum and it does have a lot of history to it, though, not all of the statues and stained glass windows to white colonizers seemed like the best history to honor in my opinion...

The wood work and the lighting they use inside the Church is very cool. It is very different than some of the other Churches I have seen and Notre Dame is such a fixture of Old Montreal. It is still worth seeing, I think, despite its cost and statues/windows to colonizers...

After my blissed out time at the spa, I wandered down Old Port towards the Grand Roue de Montreal which looked fun even though it was raining. This would be a great spot for kids and families. 

Me blissed out after water circuits at Bota Bota in front of ferris wheel in Old Port/Grand Roue de Montreal. Below, a church spotted from Old Port that I had to check out. St. Margarite Bourgeoys is buried there- Notre Dame de Bon Secours (not to be confused with the Notre Dame Basilica. Notre Dame is just Our Lady in French and there are a lot of titles for Our Lady!)

I spent some time in Old Montreal and really enjoyed sitting in Place Jacques Cartier which was a square that felt to me the most like Europe. I got dinner in the plaza and then headed back to my Air B n B (I splurged for an uber to take me back) to get ready for my big night out at the Jazz Fest!

During my wanderings the day before, I came across the set up for the International Jazz Fest at the Place de Arts part of Montreal and saw that a couple of artists I wouldn't mind seeing were playing. Some of the shows were free and on outdoor stages, but I splurged again and booked a ticket for inside the Salle-Wilfrid Pelletier theater to see Pink Martini- a jazz band that I have been following on Instagram (well, I follow their lead singer China Forbes, who is amazing!)

The Salle Wilfrid Pelletier theater is beautiful and the show was amazing! Afterwards, I caught some of the free shows outside one of which was Nathaniel Ratliffe and the Nightsweats whom I've seen here in the States!

I called it a night after hearing quite a few amazing acts that night. Such a great night out in Montreal!

Day 4: Montreal to Quebec City

Another one of the things that I booked ahead of time before my trip was a train from Montreal to Quebec City. I had heard how much like Europe Quebec City was, so I had put it on my list. The VIA Rail system in Canada is great and I was easily able to purchase a reasonably priced ticket to Quebec City. 

I checked out of my Air B n B and metroed down to Victoria Square again to have breakfast (the place I wanted to go had a line- Olive et Gourmando) so again, I found an easy breakfast spot that was kind enough to keep my suitcase while I ate and then I took a last look at Old Montreal before getting back on the metro to the Bonaventure station which would take me to Gran Centrale station of Montreal to get my train. 

(gotta love when they make public transportation so easy! The Bonaventure station is part of the Underground City and I literally just went underground from the metro to Gran Cetnrale). 

The train ride to Quebec City is a little over 3 hours but the train was comfortable and had an amazing cheese plate that truly was delicious. The server on my way back said they always sell out of them and I could see why!

The amazing VIA Rail cheese plate on my train to Quebec City!
The Gare du Palais aka the Train station in Quebec City which was adorable in and of itself
The street to my Air B n B!

I stayed in another air b n b for my first 2 nights in Quebec City. As I mentioned, my air b n b in Montreal was in the city and just a typical, simple apt. The one I stayed in Quebec City was quite a find! It was in the basement of these older buildings right outside the "walls" of Quebec City. 

Quebec City is adorable and also at the top of a hill. My air b n b was kind of at the bottom, but Quebec City is so precious that I didn't mind enduring the half a mile walk up the hill past the walls of the city every day. 

I want to say my air b n b was in the Saint-Roch part of the city? But it was close to the train station and like I said, the walls of the city and inside the walls are where a lot of the main sites of Quebec City lie. 

So I marched up to the walls of the city that evening and just took it all in: Chateau Frontenac, St. John's Gate, Parc de artillerie. It wouldn't be my first time wandering these sites. The Chateau Frontenac is the main fixture, in my opinion, that had street performers outside it and access to buses and other things I will get to!

View from St. John's Gate in Quebec City!

I loved that locals seem to gather at St. John's Gate for a meal and wine...I opted for the restaurant below which was not far from Chateau Frontenac and offered a three course meal plus wine for $50 CA dollars which was such a deal in my mind!

I instantly fell in love with Quebec City that night! So glad I had a couple of more days to explore!

Day 5: Montmorency Falls, St. Anne de Beaupre, Ile de Orleans and more of Quebec City

The Ile de Orleans is an island just about 15 miles away from Quebec City. It's supposed to be a big wine and food destination, so it was definitely on my list to try. The question was the best way to get there. It was possible to uber or taxi, but a friend had also suggested that I go to Montmorency Falls and St. Anne's and I found a tour bus that was going to do stops to all three!

I booked the bus tour online and met the bus outside Chateau Frontenac. There are a bunch of tour buses that meet there every day and a tourist center across from the Chateau in which you can book tours in as well. 

The first stop on the bus tour was the Church of St. Anne's. Some of the early settlers built a church and colony here to honor St. Anne, the patron of sailors. The basilica that now stands there is beautiful and the pope is actually going to be visiting later this month! I just missed him!

St. Anne de Beaupre

Original St. Anne's Church that was also re-stored due to a fire, I believe
There was a little cantine behind the basilica where I got a soup and sandwich from a sweet old owner
The second stop on the bus tour was a copper demonstration at a copper art gallery. It ended up being more interesting than I thought. I find a lot of bus tours team up with a company and include them as part of their tours. It was pottery when I was in Greece, glass when I was in Venice, metal work when I was in Spain, rugs in get the picture.

Third stop were the falls! We didn't have time to do the suspension bridge or cable cars as we were only there an hour, but you could walk up some of the stairs to get a little closer to the falls. After all the walking and ill-prepared outfits I had, I opted just to stay at a distance. 
Our last stop was Ile de Orleans which was the reason I booked the tour. I had no idea how big the island is and you really would need a car to get around to all of the farms and wineries. Our bus just stopped at the chocolatier that did have amazing chocolate!

After I got back from the bus tour, I was dropped off right back at Chateau Frontenac which is also by the Funicular- a tram of sorts that takes you down to the Old Port of Quebec City. It's $4 CA one way. I hadn't needed cash up until this point- the Funicular only took cash, but luckily there was an ATM inside the Chateau (I usually pay with card when I travel if I can help it!)

You can walk up and down to the Old Port (which I would have to do the next day) but this is more fun.

So I took the Funicular down to Place Royal and caught an exhibit of "Bad Art" which was pretty funny. I think it was just a temporary exhibit. 

Place Royal and below is Our Lady of Victory Church- one of the first churches in Quebec City.

Was really excited to catch this temporary exhibit. Below is a fave piece of "bad art" :)
I walked around the lower level of Old Quebec by the port and then took the Funicular back up to Chateau Frontenac and the main streets. I got my first dinner of poutine that evening as well! A great end to another full day in Quebec City. 

There were a couple of types of poutine to select from this menu, but I went with the poutine with pulled pork which was kind of amazing!

Day 6: Quebec City and Levis

Another thing that I had booked ahead of time was a stay at the St. Augustine Monastery which was one of the things to see on the blogs and Trip Advisory site I had used to research. Having lived in a convent myself, I was intrigued. The monastery is now a health and wellness type of retreat center/hotel. There is museum that has preserved some of the sisters' legacy and the rooms have been converted into hotel/retreat spaces. You can also book massages and do yoga there and the chapel is still open for Mass. I ran into a nun while I was there! 

So I started my day by dropping off my suitcase from my air b n b to the Monastery (hiked up the hill, but it wasn't a far walk, luckily!). Check in wasn't until later, but they held my bags for me. I explored the monastery grounds which were open to guests and the museum which is open to the public. It definitely brought back memories of my convent days!

Part of the exhibit in the Monastery museum...check out those habits!

I knew I was going to be returning back to the monastery later, but was glad I spent the AM checking out the things like the museum that may not have been open by the time I returned. 

I then headed out to cross another thing off my list: The Plains of Abraham. It was on a lot of the blogs as a thing to check out, but it wasn't clear to me what it was. I walked from the monastery to the Plains of Abraham Museum, which was about a mile. The Plains are outside the city walls, but just barely. 

Quebec City was also setting up for a music festival on the Plains so a lot of the plains were set up like this while I was there..

Set up for Music Festival on Plains of Abraham. 

When I went into the Museum at the Plains of Abraham, she said I could take a bus tour in about an hour to explore the plains that way. I still wasn't sure what they were, so I thought it would be a good option to receive more information. I also bought a ticket to explore the museum as well. Since the tour didn't start for an hour, I thought I would check out a local lunch spot near by that a friend had recommended with hot dogs wrapped in pastry! It was pretty delicious and a short walk from the museum.

Hot dog wrapped in pastry from Inox brasserie and brewery- close to Plains of Abraham museum. This whole neighborhood had some cute restaurants. 

I was glad that I took the bus tour and bought a ticket to the Plains of Abraham museum. It took you through the history of the Seven Year War that was fought between the First Nations, French, and English in the 1700s and explained the back and forth between the French and English that the city has had. 

I didn't take a lot of pictures, but here is a pic of early settler Abraham waiting for the bus..

I spent a good 2 hours at the Museum with the bus tour. Then I headed back into the city walls all the way back to Old Port (over a mile and I didn't have any more cash for the Funicular, so had to walk down and up the stairs this time. They actually weren't as bad as I thought) to catch a ferry to Levis which the same friend who recommended Inox also shared with me. 

I was glad to take the ferry. It was a beautiful day and I had seen the ferris wheel across the river from Chateau Frontenac. The Levis ferry was under $10 both ways and gave great views from the river. 

View of Chateau Frontenac and mountains from St. Lawrence River

I got ice cream and hung out at the park next to where you catch the ferry in Levis. I probably could've explored a little more, but it looked like you may have needed a car and I had already walked so much that day/week!

I took the ferry back across the river after maybe an hour in Levis and then walked back to the Monastery which was a trek, but doable. I checked into my "cell" and got ready for my last night out on the town. 

The room definitely reminded me of my room in the convent...the hallway is a little more museum like and fancy.

I wanted to just spend my last night taking in the city, so I had dinner on a side street that ended up being one of the top rated places in the city- Chez Temporal. I had some amazing sangria and a duck salad. 

Then I walked one last time to Chateau Frontenac and watched one of the street performers. There are always street performers in this part of the city and they actually have bleachers so you can watch them. 

After walking around and taking everything in, I made my way back to the monastery. At first I questioned my decision to spend my last night in silent, secluded place, but it was kind of nice to rest and take in and reflect on my trip as I needed to get an early start to travel the last day. 

Day 7: Quebec City to Montreal to US

I started my day early, checking out of the monastery around 6:30/7am. I walked to the train station which was really close. I took the VIA Rail back to Montreal and then took my favorite metro to the Lionel-Groulx station to get the 747 bus that takes you to the airport. It's like $10 and you buy the ticket at the Lionel-Groulx station.

I took the bus to the airport and checked in for my 1 of 2 flights. Everything went super smoothly and I hope that I have convinced you to make this trip to Montreal and Quebec City!