We had some extra airline mileage that we needed to use or lose, so we decided to go to Canada since I had never been and my husband hadn’t been since he was a young child. We flew to Toronto, stayed a couple of nights and then took a six hour train ride to Montreal. Toronto is a big city, much like New York. It was really late when we arrived, so we stayed in a Best Western near the airport and took a taxi into town the next morning. We stayed at the Westin in the heart of the city and a 20 minute walk to the train station. The weather was definitely Fall like requiring a coat, a refreshing change from the stifling 100 degree weather we had back home. Since we only had one day in Toronto, we didn’t really get to experience many sites other than what was within walking distance from our hotel. We did come across some large and modern Malls with some high end stores and eating establishments.
Our train ride to Montreal the next morning was early and our seats were in Business class which was very comfortable. We were served a substantial breakfast of omelette, croissants & fruit and a lunch. By the time we arrived in Montreal and got to our hotel, another Westin in downtown Montreal, it was the late afternoon. We rested up and then walked around our neighborhood. Montreal is more French looking than Toronto and quite the culinary hotspot. I had made reservations at Joe Beef, a restaurant, I learned about from Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations, about Montreal. Our reservations were for a Friday night at 9:30 pm at the bar. We love to walk all over new cities whenever we travel, so we decided to walk to Joe Beef, even though it looked pretty far on the city map. We set out at 7:00 pm to give ourselves plenty of time to get there. The neighborhood we were going to was called Little Burgundy. We walked through some charming areas of the city, much like some of the neighborhoods in New York, like SoHo or Greenwich Village. We finally arrived at 9:00 pm and were told that our seats would be ready in about 20 minutes, so we walked around the neighborhood which had many great looking and busy restaurants and bars. When we were seated at the bar, we were greeted by Lawrence, the bar host who took our drink order and then our dinner order.
One of the distinctions of Joe Beef is their generous servings of Foi Gras, something I can’t get anymore in Los Angeles since it has been banned. I went for a dish that was dripping in the stuff. It was called Duck ala Royale. It consisted of a Roasted Duck Confit that had the meat shredded off the bone and combined with Foi Gras and topped with a piece of roasted Foi Gras and surrounded with a very rich Demiglace and Caramelized roasted carrots.
It was heaven and extremely rich. I couldn’t finish the dish, unusual for me, but that didn’t stop me from ordering dessert which was their signature Marjolaine cake topped with a quenelle of whipped cream. Another dish that Joe Beef has on their menu is Chevalier or Horse. Someone at the bar ordered it and said it tasted like a cross between Veal and Beef. Sitting at the bar was great fun because our bar host, Lawrence was entertaining and other people at the bar are friendly and talkative. The couple sitting next to us asked us where we were going and we mentioned that we were staying in Montreal for another night and then we were headed to Quebec for a couple of nights. They gave us recommendations for some good meals for the rest of our stay in Montreal and in Quebec.
The next day in Montreal, we decided to skip breakfast, still full from our Joe Beef extravaganza, and visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and then head over to Beautie’s luncheonette. One of the oldest diners in Montreal and the best place to have a Smoked Salmon sandwich on one of Montreal’s distinctive bagels which is what I ordered while my husband ordered a Beautie’s Signature Sandwich which was grilled cheese, fried egg and ham stuffed with fresh tomato on a homemade Brioche bread. My husband said it was one of the best sandwiches he ever had.
We spent the rest of the day walking around town and came across a demonstration of City Employees protesting against having their pensions being cut by 50%. Good to know America is not the only one dealing with these kinds of changes. We had a good dinner at a restaurant called Bonaparte, another 9:30 pm meal but a close walk from our hotel. The next morning we took the train to Quebec which is about 2 hours North of Montreal. We walked to our hotel from the train station through old Quebec which is very much like walking through the streets of Paris. There are many small boutique hotels, called auberges and fine art, clothing, antique stores and restaurants. We stayed in a very nice Auberge where we had a large Suite room.
We immediately sought out a place for brunch at one of the restaurants recommended by the couple at Joe Beef, Cafe Monde. It has patio dining overlooking the St. Lawrence river.
We visited Hotel Frontenac, a hotel my Husband remembered visiting with his Father when he was 10. It is an impressive 1,000 room property that has a lot of history and strikes an imposing view from the river.
The Frontenac is a real highlight of Quebec but there are also interesting Museums to visit, boat rides to the outer islands and a ferry that takes you across the river to a mostly residential area where many Quebecians live. But just walking around the city is a delight. I was wearing my Fitbit this trip and because we did so much walking, it was easy to hit my daily goal of 10,000 steps.
After our two nights in Quebec, we rented a car and took three days to get back to Toronto without an agenda. We decided to visit the Eastern Townships, between Quebec and Montreal, an area of quaint villages that were supposed to be more French than other parts of Eastern Canada. We decided to spend the night in a town called Magog. My husband had made a reservation while in Quebec at a B & B called Au Sait du Lit which has 5 rooms and run by a very nice couple.
We arrived around 3:00 pm and they directed us to a hiking trail that had a wooden plank walkway around the lake. We walked for about 2 hours and saw incredible Fall colors of Crimson, golden yellow and various shades of green. The next morning after a rather large and delicious breakfast, we set off for Niagara Falls, a place that was still on my bucket list.
The city of Niagara on the Canadian side is trying to become like Las Vegas, with big hotels, casinos and chain restaurants. Everything Is super expensive and the food is just so so.
But the actual Falls is definitely worth visiting.
We took the Mist of the Maiden boat right up to the Falls and then the Journey behind the Falls. Both were thrilling. I was pleasantly surprised because we had been to Iguazu Falls in Argentina and in Brazil which is about 3 times wider than Niagara, so I thought it would be anticlimactic but it was an amazing sight to see how the Falls are situated on the American side and the Canadian side and the incredible power of the water. It was a real highlight of our trip.
Canada is a country of great beauty, very easy to get to and you feel like you are traveling in a foreign country without giving up too many comforts of home.