Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Our Amazing Adventure: Part 9 A Whistle Stop in Montreal

We had about 65 minutes in Montreal between trains. Totally enough time for another challenge! This was styled after the Amazing Race after all... 65 minutes is tons of time! And who knows? Maybe my hockey superstar son will be a Montreal Canadian some day? Knowing where to find the Bell Centre could come in handy!

Our Amazing Adventure: Part 8 The Food

I have a rule when I travel. No chain restaurants if at all possible. Oh, but I know that's a major challenge when travelling with children.... someone always wants the comfort or familiarity of Subway, and they ARE on every corner in every town. But it IS possible.

I simply feel you have a more "local" and authentic travel experience when you think outside the chain. I was very proud of my son for not even asking for a mc-something at all on this trip.

In Quebec City he chose a place called "Les Trois Garcon" for breakfast. It was great! I loved their decor. We did our best to order in French. I believe, translated directly, my son asked for "an egg of the chicken, a small pig and bread that is blank." Charming, in a grade 6 french class kind of way.

Rue Saint Jean becomes a pedestrian only street each evening.
My favourite memory from the trip was our sunset dinner on Rue Saint Jean at Sapristi. It was simply the moment. My son and I laughed and debriefed the events of the day. We had no time constraints and were just hanging out. Hanging out with fabulous food, on a fabulous summer night, on a patio in a fabulous city! Our server was a warm and gracious host. We ordered dessert just to linger in the moment. Our own little french postcard memory, if you will.

I won't pretend to be a foodie or tell you what to eat. My only advice is to budget 20% more for dining than you normally would. Not because food is more expensive in Quebec, but because you will want the moment to last. You'll splurge on dessert and another drink just so you can stay a while longer.  And you'll be so glad you did!

Fast Five: My Travel Motives

5 Reasons I travel as much as possible.

1. I can't wait until retirement. I don't know if "retirement" is even an option for my generation.

2. My mom always preached "some day". Her world changed before she turned 60. A stroke changed the whole ball game. I don't think she ever left Canada except for the time I tricked her into a road trip to Texas to see her friend. I was 18. Maybe 19. That's not yesterday.

3. I love to read and research. Then I like to see things for myself. I want to stand in the gardens at Bellagio. I want to surf in Hawaii. I want to see why Grace Bay is always listed in the top 5 beaches on earth. I want to see pink sand on the beaches of Bermuda.  Ok, I should say, "wanted". Tee hee! Been there, done that. Working on a new list!!

4. Points. I get these "points" everywhere & I just have to spend them! No free flight should ever go to waste!

5. I want to show my kids the world. Make no mistake, I did not say "give" them the world. These boys will have jobs and loans and their own goals. But until then, whilst they are young and portable, I want to show them how and where other people live. I want them to have the courage and experience to talk to all people and make friends anywhere. The sooner my kids learn how to cross a border, book a hotel, tip a cabbie etc, the better prepared they will be to be NHL superstars. ;)

6. (The bonus reason!)  It's my reward for working hard. Owning a restaurant you work every weekend. You miss concerts, birthdays, lake time etc.  Jetting off on a Tuesday, kinda makes up for it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fast Five: Reasons Tourism Thrives in Quebec City

1. Rich history, as evidenced through architecture, museums and heritage sites.

2. Interactive tourism website. You can start learning and planning long before you arrive.
(Take the quiz and learn which street suits you! I got Saint Jean. I went and I LOVED it!)

3. The food! From cafes to fresh vegetable stands you will be impressed by the quality.

4. Shopping! Boutiques line the pedestrian only streets. Goods and cafe patios spill out onto the sidewalks and invite you to take a look.

5. Old Quebec/Downtown Quebec City is an easy city to navigate. There are horse drawn carriages, guided walking tours, bus tours and bike rentals, but the most popular way to get around and see it all is your sneakers! Grab a guide map and start walking! Your new favourite restaurant might be around the next corner!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Our Amazing Adventure: Part 7 Quebec City

There is even more to Old Quebec City than just the Chateau Frontenac. I could go on and on about its beauty, its history, its tourism industry or its shopping, but I will simply let the photos speak for themselves. To read more and to plan your own trip, I'd highly recommend starting here with their official tourism site. 

Our Amazing Adventure: Part 6 Le Chateau Frontenac

The morning started with a new formal challenge for Ry. He opened the Amazing Race style envelope to reveal his quest. "Find the most photographed hotel in the world. Then have your own photograph taken with it." A few taps into his iPad would reveal Le Chateau Frontenac as the answer and google maps would point to it just 1.6 kilometres away from us.

As he was grabbing his gear and heading for the door he spied a second envelope on the floor. It was labelled ROADBLOCK.  This envelope said "Stop. Your adventure can't continue until you find a crepe and a cappuccino for you mother. Seriously!" 

He was fiercely determined. "C'mon Mom! Let's go. We have to get you your coffee and stuff! Let's GO!"  Such a competitive kid he is. I knew he would be into this race concept.

An hour or so later, and after a long brisk uphill walk, we found the Chateau Frontenac. It took my breath away. I was standing there with my mouth gaping just staring at it.

A jewel in the Fairmont Hotel Chain. The magnificent Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City

I was not alone. I'm sure there were 400 or so tourists in the immediate area doing exactly the same thing that Tuesday morning. IT IS MAGNIFICENT!  The location, the architecture, the craftsmanship, the presence, the history and the enormity.... magnificent. There is no wonder at all why it is the most photographed hotel in the world! (Below are just a minor sample of the photos I personally took of this hotel. I could probably make my own mini-album just of the Chateau Frontenac.)

For me, there was a second reason for including it in our amazing adventure. My parents had honeymooned at this very hotel. This was a splurge for them in a very modest time. They were on their way to a new home in Ottawa and had stopped there for a couple nights.

The hotel itself is flanked on two sides by public boardwalks. There is also a garden out front which designates it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Parks Canada also has a heritage tour which is located at, and UNDERGROUND at the boardwalk of the Chateau. Very cool. (Watch for that chapter of this review. Best $6 we spent!) The hotel takes up at least a city block. I can only imagine how many people it employs and how many guests it serves annually.

I haven't even mentioned the icing on the cake yet. It has its own Starbucks! Yes indeed there is a large, extremely busy Starbucks location on-site. Ry treated me to an iced coffee and purchased a smoothie for himself. We sat on a bench with our drinks and lingered a while staring at the hotel. Though he may have been thinking "can we go now" he let me savour the moment. It was perfect. Simply perfect.

I would still rather a purse than a fanny-pack!

Love that gorgeous spire on its corner.

Our Amazing Adventure: Part 5 The Hotwire Hotel

I have used Hotwire/Expedia travel services several times for short hotel stays and I can always say that I am satisfied and receive good value for my dollar.  This time was the same, but with just a few minor hiccups.

Hotels in Old Quebec/Downtown Quebec City in the peak tourist season run between $200 and $425 per night. That, was out of my budget. If you've been following along, you know that this was a whirlwind-backpack and sneakers kind of trip. I cashed in my Air Miles for the flights and found a rock-bottom fare on the train. I was NOT going to be spending $350 per night, no matter how badly I wanted to stay at the Chateau Frontenac. (And yes, I really really really REALLY wanted to stay there. But alas was simply impossible.)

This made Hotwire.ca the perfect solution.  You choose the budget, and general location and Hotwire chooses the hotel. You don't know where you will stay, until it is 100% paid and booked. This works for me (and millions of others) because the rate is approximately 40-50% less.

In this case, I paid $95 per night for a 3star hotel. I got the Best Western City Centre. Reviews were good and the general consensus of previous users was that the hotel was good value, but a less convenient location (but still acceptable) to the main tourist areas.

I agree completely. The Trip Advisor reviews were right on. (I have ALWAYS found this an excellent source for relevant and timely hotel information.)

The hiccups at this hotel occurred with their service. When we checked in, I very cheerfully and politely presented my ID, my confirmation number and my credit card (for incidentals). I then politely asked if we indeed had a room with 2 double beds. The answer was no. The clerk then spoke with his supervisor who went off on an angry tirade in french about "those Hotwire people."

I guess I forgot to mention I might not speak fluently in french, but my comprehension is pretty darn good. "C'est la vie.... that's life." I wasn't going to worry about anyone's attitude as long as I had a clean and safe place to stay with my son. Which I did.

The view from our room. 
We were assigned a room with a king size bed and a view of the back alley. The room, and everything about the hotel was very modern and well kept, as you can see by the photos. The cafe was fabulous. The service there was outstanding. The barista made my coffee with love, smiled at my son's broken french and treated us very nicely. Their coffee selection was excellent and delicious.

The hotel pool was dark and small. The restaurant was not open for lunch. There was no free continental breakfast either. I thought most Best Westerns included some sort of breakfast, but that was not the case here. The maid service was non-existent. And though we asked the bell man twice for a cab, a cab never did come for us. We had to walk about 3/4 of a kilometre before we hit the tourist areas, and it was uphill (Don't laugh, not a joke. It was!) but it was all fine by us.

In summary, I think we did alright in this category. We received half the service, but also paid half the regular rate. The hotel was a good home base for our sneakers and backpack vacation. We were out exploring the city from sun up to sun down anyway. AND, best of all, it was in budget.

Overall I would rate it a 7 out of 10. My son would give it an 8. He liked the free WiFi. He says it would have been better with a bigger pool and/or a waterslide, and a free breakfast. I of course agree with him. Smart kid!

The hotel cafe was open to 11pm and also served light snacks.

Cappuccino, made with love.