Monday, 31 May 2010

Montreal, take two ....

Montreal from Parc du Mont Royal

It was with a reluctance that I headed back to Montreal after a wonderful 3 days in Quebec City.  However, with low expectations and a desire to really enjoy my last two days of holidays, I did have a good time.  The weather was stunning, so I spent a lot of time walking through the Parc du Mont Royal, a hill in the centre of Montreal.  The park was designed by the same landscape architect, Frederick Law, who designed Central Park.  It was filled with hundreds of small paths, which provides a welcome relief from the heat.  The view of the city was spectacular.

One of the many narrow and windy paths on Parc du Mont Royal

A peek through the trees towards the city

On my second day, I had a long, lazy brunch at a beautiful cafe in Old Montreal.  Croissants, tea, a good book - a great way to start my last day of holidays.  In the afternoon, I walked along the Lachine Canal to the Saint Amand paper mill, which is owned and operated by R's (my boss) cousin.  Here, I was lucky enough to have a tour of the mill and learn about how the paper is made - all from old material scraps and natural fibres such as linen and straw!  

Old Montreal

Habitat 67 - built in 1967 and designed by Moshe Safdie, a 24 architect originally from Palestine.  Apparently, it is a very popular place to live.

In the evenings, I strolled through the streets of Old Montreal, where the buildings are displayed beautifully with lights.  At this time of day, there is a great atmosphere with all the restaurants and bars bustling and competing for the pleasure of filling your stomach. 

Old Montreal at night

Although there is no chance of Montreal topping my 'favourite city' list, it was an enjoyable two days and it definitely pays to give a city a second chance!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Quebec City ....

After the disappointment of Montreal, my expectations were low as I boarded the train to Quebec City but as it turned out, Quebec City was everything I thought it would be and more.  The city, an ancient walled city now on the UNESCO World Heritage list, was simply gorgeous.

Le Petit Champlain, North America's narrowest street and also the centre of the continent's first business district

Le Chateau Frontenac, the world's most photographed hotel

Being a little museumed out, I decided to spend my time wandering the streets and taking it easy.  Early on in my visit, I gave up using the map and trying to orient myself, instead choosing to just wander, using the steep hills as my compass.  This way, I came across so many unexpected things - street performers in random places, cute little cafes and tiny art galleries filled with beautiful paintings.

One of the many street performers

Old Quebec

I did happen to visit two museums while I was in Quebec, albeit not your regular museums, but ones that certainly appealed to me and my love of food.  The first was the Chocolate Musuem just outside the city walls.  As you walk in the door, you are hit by a very pleasant chocolately aroma that is quite addictive.  Despite most of the displays being in French, I enjoyed looking at small museum, but the shop attached was also like a museum as it was filled with all things chocolate.  Of course, I had to make a purchase - I chose to have an iced chocolate with a small raspberry filled chocolate cupcake.  Yum!  The second museum I visited was the Maple Museum, which gave an excellent overview of how maple syrup is produced and what it can be made into.  It would have been rude not to try any of the products, so I sampled the maple tea, accompanied by a maple and fruit tart (delicious), the different grades of maple syrup and later in my stay, I enjoyed a maple icecream.

Blue skies and Canadian flags

Number 9 1/2

The hostel I stayed at was fabulous and had lots of day time activities on offer compared to many of the other hostels who only seem to organise pub crawls or clubbing tours.  I joined one of their tours where we went on the ferry to the other side of Quebec, Levis.  Seeing a city from the water give such a different perspective and Quebec is a beautiful city from the water.  Once in Levis, we visited a museum about Canada's first community bank, Caisse Populaire, founded by Alphonse Desjardins.  We were lucky enough to have a free tour of his house, including seeing where he kept the whole community's money - in a black briefcase in his office.

Quebec from the Saint Lawrence river

The other side of the river, Levis

Travelling by yourself is exhausting sometimes because you have to do all the decision making on your own.  You can't just say to your partner/friend/family member, 'You decide', so sometimes it is nice to just follow along behind others.  This is what I enjoyed about the ferry tour - I just followed along behind people and did what I was told, a welcome change for a little while.  I also got to meet some great people.  I met some lovely girls in my dorm, all single girls travelling on their own, and we had a lovely time going out for dinner together and chatting over breakfast.

Mural in Old Quebec

Le Petit Champlain again

Quebec was a lot more 'French' than Montreal and the people were much more friendly.  On every corner, there seemed to be a cute little patisserie or boulangerie, just calling out to me to sit down for a cup of tea and a croissant.  On holidays, I don't seem to be able to resist that temptation, so it is lucky that I  went running most mornings - a good challenge on Quebec's hilly streets.

Le Chateau Frontenac again

Rue St Jean, outside the walls

The main streets of Vieux Quebec (Old Quebec) were much more touristy that I had imagined, with souvenirs being sold in every second shop front.  So, it was nice to escape from this regularly and wander outside the city walls where I was able to get a glimpse of every day Quebec life.  Having my expectations met in Quebec City meant that I returned to Montreal with a more positive attitude, determined to enjoy my last two days in the area.

The sounds of the didgeridoo .....

Koonyum Sun, the new album

There is nothing like a bit of didgeridoo to make you connect to your Australian roots.  I was lucky enough to experience this last night when I went to see one of my favourite musicians, Xavier Rudd, play in Calgary.  I've been a long time fan of Xavier's music and I love his new album (you can listen to a sample here), so I was excited to learn that he was touring Canada.  The show was a lot 'rockier' than his usual stuff, which gave my boss, R, a shock as it sounded nothing like the album she had listened to, but at least it kept her awake in her jet lagged state!  If you have never seen (or heard) Xavier before, you need to check him out - he is amazing to watch, playing several didgeridoos, a guitar, harmonica, drums, often all at once.  He is truly a talented artist.  

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Returning to the snow ....

From this .... blue skies, sun, heat and humidity ....

Back to reality.  It's cold, it's snowing and I have to work on Monday.  It feels like forever ago since I was here in Calgary and working, it's amazing how much you can fit into an 18 day trip.  It was difficult to post quality blog entries whilst on the road without a laptop (I'm thrilled to be reunited with my Mac!) due to the continually reducing number of internet cafes and the cost of them, hence most posts were hastily put together.  Over the next week or so, I'll continue to blog about what has been christened 'The Diane Bergeron Trip', thanks to Diane's trip suggestions and also the fact that all of the cities I visited, she has either lived in or spent a lot of time in them.  In the meantime, I will dig out my winter woolies again!

.... to this .... cold and snowy

Monday, 24 May 2010


St James Hotel in Old Montreal

Expectations are not a good thing.  If they are too high, you are always going to be disappointed.  This was the case with Montreal.  There was just something about the city that just didn`t do it for me.  Sure, Old Montreal was quite pretty but now that I am in Quebec City (later blog posts), it doesn`t even compare.  But, I still explored and saw many sights.  On my first night in Montreal, I headed to Chinatown for a cheap and filling dinner, where I felt right at home with the sounds of the Chinese language surrounding me.

Park in Old Montreal

I began each morning with a run along the Port, which is a great way to see a city from a different angle.  On my first day, I wandered the streets of Old Montreal poking my head into the main beautiful art galleries along the way.  In the afternoon, I headed towards Parc Mont Royal for a lazy afternoon with my book.  Along the way, however, I got distracted by a sea of red, blue and white sporting jumpers all heading in the same direction.  It was like a Saturday crowd at the MCG.  Intrigued, I followed.  It turned out that Montreal was playing in the hockey (ice, not field) finals.  I found a cafe where I spent the afternoon drinking tea and watching Montreal lose with the Italian owners of the cafe.

Local art gallery

The Latin Quarter

I was more impressed by Montreal at night time, where I strolled through the streets of the hip and happening Latin Quarter.  The Latin Quarter is a place where you can be who you want to be, and apparently for a lot of people, that means having multiple facial piercings, dirty hair and a mean looking, manky dog accompanying you.  Nevertheless, the Latin Quarter had a great vibe - restaurants, bars cafes everywhere, many with live music.  The streets of Old Montreal were also beautifully lit up at night time.  The French part of Canada is known for its street performers and there were several out and about on the weekend in Montreal, all putting on very entertaining shows for the crowds.

Old Montreal at night time

The thing that I found most disappointing in Montreal was the people.  French Canadians do not have a good reputation amongst their fellow Canadians and I am sorry to report that my experiences have confirmed this.  Many of the people that I encountered in Montreal were rude and unfriendly which seems to send off a negative vibe that infiltrates the city.  But, my expectations were high and those high expectations have made up for it here in Quebec City.  When I return to Montreal on Wednesday night, I will arrive at the train station with much lower expectations and enjoy my last two days of travel.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Unexpected New York ....

Morning run in Central Park

Thanks to the woman who stole my wallet, I had an unexpected extra two days in New York.  With no plans, I was free to wander (and wait for my retrieved wallet to be returned to me).  This time, I stayed in the Upper West Side, just several blocks from Central Park.  Each morning, I fulfilled my wish to run in Central Park and it is a gorgeous place to run, the air is so free and it is so quiet.

Washington Square Park

Musicians in Washington Square Park

I visited Washington Square Park, where I spent a morning people watching, reading and listening to some young jazz musicians busking. The parks in New York are so well used, there are always people in them, especially people walking their dogs. I even discovered the dog parks - fenced off areas for dogs and their owners to socialise. The dogs were even sitting on the benches.

Madison Square Garden

Dog park in Madison Square Park

Despite the New York Public Library undergoing renovations (which means that the outside is covered in scaffolding), I went inside to have a peek.  The interior is absolutely stunning, it looks more like a museum than a library. 

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

Because I had no plans and I just wandered around New York, I came across things that I would otherwise not have noticed.  Just off Fifth Avenue, I found a tiny triangular shaped Portugese cemetry from the early 1800s.  I wonder how many people have walked past it and not even noticed it.  On the Upper West Side, I found several community gardens that were flourishing on previously vacant lots.

Community garden on the Upper West Side

John Lennon's house

The one thing on my 'to-do' list was to visit the Frick Collection.  As this was on the Upper East Side, I wandered through Central Park to get there.  I got lost along the way and ended up at the southern end but I had a lot of fun on the way.  It was a beautiful day, so there were many people out enjoying the sunshine.

Central Park

The Frick Collection

I wasn't sure what to expect when I visited the Frick Collection, so I was completely blown away  by what I saw.  I knew it was a collection of old Renaissance paintings, Rembrandt and the like but what I loved most of all about the collection was the house in which it lived.  Henry Frick sure was a wealthy man because every single room in the house was simply stunning, as well as the art on the wall.  Whilst I can appreciate these old paintings, I was more impressed by the quantity and the size of them.

Times Square

Of course, while I was in New York, I couldn't resist seeing a few more Broadway shows.  I managed to get a last minute, standing room ticket to FELA! for $27 and it was fabulous.  The African American music is great and they dance so well (plus, the half naked bodies of the men weren't bad either!).  The standing room ticket was great - centre of the stage, behind the orchestra and front mezzanine levels.  The next night, I splashed out a little more cash for West Side Story, which was also fabulous.  The choreography and the dancing were amazing.  Goodbye New York, I will miss you! (my bank balance won't though ... it's an expensive place!)

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A day at Harvard .....

A statue of John Harvard .... but it's not actually him because no one could remember what he looked like!

It has always been a dream of mine to go to Harvard, but I admit to being so ignorant of American geography that I didn't even know it was near Boston!  So, I was thrilled to find out that Cambridge is very close to Boston.  I walked across the Charles River, along streets lined with more beautiful buildings and into Harvard Square.

Freshman dorms

I decided to join a free walking tour, led by a current student.  It was a great way to see up close to the gorgeous buildings and hear some of the history behind the university.  Did you know that John Harvard, after whom the university is named, didn't even have anything to do with the university?  He was just an English guy with no relatives, who happened to die in Cambridge and left his land and huge book collection to the small university in 1638 (the university first opened in 1636).  The campus is just stunning ..... Deakin University could take a leaf out of Harvard's book!

Apparently, if you walk through the main gate, you will get expelled from the university.

After the tour, I walked across to the Graduate School of Education where Project Zero is based.  The buildings weren't quite so beautiful, but I had a look through their library - wow!  Every education journal under the sun is in their library.

A church?  No, just your standard lecture hall

Tired after a full morning of walking, I headed to the Harvard bookstore, The Coop.  Four floors full of mainly academic books but also a great selection of fiction.  It was heaven. I spent time choosing my purchases carefully and making a list of future books to buy.  I limited myself to two books, but made a third choice spontaneously on the way to the counter.  I bought Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning by Peter Johnston, What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?  And More Essays on Standards, Grading and Other Follies by Alfie Kohn and If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook to Finding Love on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Kasl .... can you guess which one was the spontaneous purchase?!

The foyer of the lecture hall ..... a little shabby, don't you think?

So, I can now say, "I've been to Harvard ...."  Unfortunately not as a student, but there is still lots of learning to do, so perhaps in the future?!

More dorms .... so much nicer than the buildings I lived in my first year of uni!

Another gorgeous Harvard building

Harvard Hall

Widner Library - the main Harvard library.  Named after a young book collector who drowned in the Titanic disaster ..... trying to save a rare book.

The not so beautiful Graduate School of Education library

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Boston buildings .....

Graduation party at the Boston Common

Boston is truly a beautiful city.  Its size makes it small enough to explore fully on foot, so that's what I did.  I arrived in the late afternoon and with plenty of daylight left, I went running along the Charles River (sans camera unfortunately) where there were huge amounts of people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.  After a shower, I headed off again, this time at a slower pace.  I made my way through the Back Bay towards the city centre, where I watched people playing baseball in the park, picnics in progress and people just out and about enjoying life.  I struggled not to run into people as my eyes were constantly drawn upwards to the stunning architecture of the buildings.  I ended my first day with a feast in Chinatown (yes, I miss China) and a much needed stroll back to the hostel.

The Back Bay

The Back Bay

The Back Bay

Trendy Newbury Street

The Back Bay

Newbury Street

Boston Public Library at night - the first public library in America