Monday, August 10, 2015

Canada: Ontario & Montreal

We took the Detroit/Windsor crossing into Canada. It moved well and we were on our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Worthy of note, the density of wineries near Niagara-on-the-Lake rivals the wine regions of California. We soon realized this would require serious investigation. We launched our research at dinner at Hob Nob, starting with “Far & Away” Apassamiento Sauvignon Blanc from Foreign Affairs Winery. It was fine but not outstanding. For dinner we enjoyed  a Bitter Greens Salad, Seared Quebec Foie Gras (very tasty), sauteed lake Pickerel and Gnocchi with mushrooms. Good flavors.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is ridiculously beautiful. Plush green lawns, colorful flowers in gardens and pots surround every home and shop, clapboard houses that would fit right into New England (or upstate NY…which happens to be right across the river.)  
The town is also noted for it’s Shaw (as in George Bernard Shaw) Theater with a range of productions, at least four to choose from each day.  (We avoided choosing any, deeming this to be a pressure-free stop, i.e. a vacation from our vacation / no need to make decisions. We know there were many great shows over our few days there, but we’ll have more theater in our future…)

Keeping with our stress free approach, we signed up with See Sight tours for their Ultimate Niagara Falls Tour (recommended by our Innkeeper.) Then we took the Parkway along the Niagara River to Niagara Falls. The Parkway is green and lush, lined with perfectly manicured homes, wineries, golf courses, and fruit stands. We made several stops along the way, not really knowing the specifics.  Several of these stops were also on our tour and our guide enlightened us re the details later. Details and photos are below.

At 3pm we met up with our guide and  tour group (a couple from the States and a German University student with his Dad). We new that the Falls, even the US side, face Canada, and that the best views are from Canada. We learned that the best lighting is in the afternoon/evening. To our good fortune, our timing was spot on. We visited the Skylon Tower (good views over the falls and surrounding countryside), and the Journey Behind the Falls (views from the overlook are great, the view from directly behind the Falls is basically no view at all, just a steam of water with nothing to distinguish it).

The American Falls from the Skylon Tower
The Canadian Falls from the Skylon Tower
Pat & Bill on the "Behind the Falls" Tour
Likely we would have taken the cruise next but there were massive lines. So our guide took us along the parkway toward Niagara-on-the-Lake and explained that:

  • the first scenic overlook we had visited in the AM is where the Falls were initially  located millions of years ago.
  • the spot with the impressive rapids is a turn in the river that results in numerous whirlpools. There is also a cable car crossing there that appears to cross from the US to Canada, which is mind boggling in this day and age of security. But wait, somehow, because of the bend, there are 3 “sides of the river” here and the crossing is really to and from Canada.
  • the Floral Clock was a present to the community from Canada Power as a bribe or a thank-you for allowing them to mar the nearby area with a huge concrete power station.

View from Scenic Overlook viewing original location of the Falls
Whirlpool Rapids. Note: Cable crosses the river from Canada to Canada.
The point in the left center is in the US.
Floral Clock
When we arrived at the Hornblower Cruise (the Maid of the Mist is now only a US operation), the lines had disappeared. We learned that the US and Canadian cruises take turns cruise by the American Falls and “into” the Canadian falls with schedules offset by 15 minutes or so. So we had our views without interference of other boats. We were all equipped with little plastic raincoats. Still on a cold day, it can be quite chilly. Luckily our day was nice and warm.
The American Falls from below 
The Canadian Falls from below
Day 2 we decided it was time for wine tasting, starting at Inniskillin, noted for the Ice Wine (a dessert wine that results from first letting the grapes freeze on the vines.) It’s available in the US but it’s quite expensive. We had some years ago as a gift from our friend Shelly. Either they have expanded the line considerably or they save the rest of their work for Canadian consumption. Our samplings included Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (2), Pinot Noir (2) and, naturally, ice wine. 3 ice wines to be precise, one form riesling, one from vidal blanc (the original, a grape from Germany), and one from cabernet franc (very yummy and about $100 Canadian for a 1/2 bottle). Our favorites were the Viognier and 2 ice wines, the Vidal and the Cab Franc.

Pat, Bill and 3 Inniskillin Ice Wines
We stopped for lunch at Two Sisters Winery. Lunch consisted of focaccia and salad with Sauvignon Blanc, and a beef panini with Cabernet Franc. Quite good, we especially liked the Cab Franc, this grape really shines in the Niagara area.

Later we went to the University run Botanical Gardens and Butterfly house. The butterfly house was quite fun (see photos). 

A true "Kodak Moment" at the Butterfly House

Day 3 we decided to check out the shops in Niagara on the Lake. There are the usual offerings (gifts, knick-knacks, kitchen gear, a range of clothing types, bakeries, …) and a wine tasting room. The wine tasting (sparkling wine first followed by reds) was the most successful stop for us and we ended up with two bottles to add to our collection and 4 stemless Riedel champagne glasses. Note: By now our wine collection had dwindled because we were limited to two bottles each (or high duties) when crossing into Canada. 

We enjoyed the sign in front of the Pub but decided to have lunch at Cork’s - caesar salad and fish and chips (claimed to be #1) with more beer (Mill Street Tankhouse Ale and Cork’s Dark….Hemp Beer). 

Honest. Pat had no idea the recommended beer was Hemp Beer.
Yes, that detail was on the menu but she went on the waiter's recommendation.
She also noticed no "Buzz" from the beer.
After lunch we headed back for one more opportunity to view and photograph the Falls. We felt 100 photos were not enough!!! The walk along the river above Horseshoe Falls fulfilled our need. Now we have photos from nearly every angle manageable and we got one more opportunity to relax and enjoy watching the water flow over the dam. It is extremely captivating.

From Niagara we moved on to Kingston Ontario to visit Mike & Carol (friends who winter in San Miguel). We had the choice of taking the shorter (in length) route around the east end of Lake Ontario…with two Border Crossings or the longer route through Toronto. With highways, driving through cities is fine and Toronto has plenty of highways to choose from. All of them are PACKED with traffic and the traffic goes on for miles into and out of the city. So the drive was fine, yet intense.

Later Mike & Carol took us on a walk around the city. The city dates back to the 17th century when Kingston first became a trading and shipping center on Lake Ontario.
A lovely fountain in downtown Kingston
Kingston Harbor with a Martello Tower (Gun Tower) in the background.
Nearby Prince Edward County is a growing wine area and was the target for Saturday. Mike drove us to the ferry and through lunch at the East & West Bistro. Wineries included The Devil’s Wishbone, Country Cider Company (with a range of ciders including ice cider...which we assume is made from apples that froze...but we neglected to ask), Waupoos Estate, Black Prince, and the Black River cheese Company …. 

Pat & Bill learning to tell "wine time"
A selection of ciders (including ice cider).
After lunch Carol drove us to the Rosehall Run, Sandbanks, Huff, Norman Hardie wineries and back to Kingston. A very informative day on the wines and producers. We also had an opportunity to talk with the local cooper who makes barrel aged vinegar. ..BEST WINE: Sandbanks Baco Noir.

Charred barrel staves ready to be reassembled into a wine barrel.
(Note they are charred as a barrel and we also neglected to inquire why they are later disassembled... Sigh) 

Sunday we were off to the “fresh” market. Mike had promised us a selection of pierogis but the vendor was off at a Ukranian Festival. So we settled for some fine cinnamon rolls from another vendor. We tasted a little wine (who us?) and bought fresh corn for dinner. Following a short stop back at the house and we are off to the downtown flea market where we found a few paperback books to supplement our reading supplies.

That evening we took a drive around Kingston, crossing over to Fort Henry with it’s old fortress, museum, military school and active military base. The museum, in a Martello (Gun) Tower has an extensive collection of weapons.  

On the road toward Montreal in the morning we made a short stop for lunch at Marco's Bar & Grill in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, a small village on the river’s edge just after you cross onto the island of Montreal. Our grilled scallop appetizer and an arugula, pine nut and parmigiana salad made a fine light meal. 

Main Street of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
We arrived in Montreal a little before our apartment was ready and walked to Park du Mont Royal for a view over the city from Chalet du Mont Royal. In case you have forgotten High School French, "Mont" is French for Mountain, so this walk entailed quite a climb.

View of Montreal from Mont Royal
The area around our apartment included a spectrum of world cultures from Europe and Asia. Just around the corner was Boca Iberica, offering Portuguese Tapas - Iberico Ham, Sweet Breads, mushrooms, sliced fried potatoes with aioli, and wine from the Douro Valley in Portugal. We finished the meal with a dessert made from fruit, nuts and chocolate.
Our evening snack at Boca Iberica
The next day we purchased Metro passes and made our way to the Montreal Botanic Gardens. Getting there we passed by the Olympic Site with an impressive structure. We thought it was especially cool how the roof was designed to look like snow drifts.

The snow drifts on top of the Olympic stadium
The garden includes  an Insectarium (quite a collection of  bugs - the good, the bad and the ugly). Some are quite colorful.

Walking back to the metro we noticed that the grounds of the Olympic Stadium are prepared to provide many active options including pickle ball, and a ropes course. 

Next stop: Old Town for lunch (pasta with prosciutto, endive with blue cheese for Pat and smoked salmon, pine nuts and capers for Bill) and a pinot nor from the Niagara region. We wandered around Old Town and along the Riverfront. There are lots of souvenir shops and restaurants. But also, another interesting amusement park, this one  with climbing walls, zip lines, as well as a ropes course with challenges for kids of all ages.

A colorful Ropes Course on the Montreal waterfront
As we continued to explore the Old Town, we came upon the Notre Dame Basilica. The apse is especially striking. Pat also liked the stained glass windows with the Native Americans.

Day 3 we decided to check out the Montreal shopping experience and headed to St Catherine’s street. From St Catherine’s Street level, it is just a bunch of the usual stores, quite a few in mall’s, some standalone. We needed to check out the mall a little more, but first, we were headed to “The Bay”. Thirty plus years ago, as we drove through Canada on our move to California, Pat discovered that she like "The Bay" (short for The Hudson Bay Company), a Macy’s like store but still not owned by Federated. It is now basically a Macy’s by another name. Disappointing. Nothing against Macy’s, but variety is the spice of life. 

We next aimed for the Archeology and History Museum and along the way discovered that the street side malls on St Catherine Street, and others like them, tend to have lower levels that connect to the metro and to other like malls. This is what is known as “The Underground City” that enables locals to shop mid-winter (or anytime) without going outside. Instead of a photo, just imagine any shopping center anywhere.

Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History occupies the actual spot where Iroquois people once had an encampment and later European adventurers traded furs. The visit starts with a narrated film projected on to a 270-degree "screen" around the excavations of the 17th-century Catholic cemetery. Not only does the screen surround you horizontally, but it is also below you with the film projected down on the excavations. Interesting story.

The museum features the history of Montreal (from geological formation, through the various immigrations to today). It was quite interesting. It also had a special exhibit - "The Aztecs", also quite well done although we’d seen most of the pieces at Templo Mayor (the Aztec Temple) in Mexico City. In fact, while we were not allowed to take photos, we have photos of all the key pieces (taken in Mexico...see below).

Having missed out on the Perogies for lunch with Michael & Carol, we headed the nearby Stash’s Cafe for a Polish lunch ...Perogies and Kielbasa with sauerkraut and potato salad with a nice French Red wineChateau de Gourgezaud minervois. We are not sure if it is authentically Polish but we followed this with coffee and apple crisp. 

Apple Crisp. One of Pat's favorites.
After lunch we headed to The Biodome, basically an inside zoo featuring 5 different ecosystems of the Americas: Tropical Rainforest, Laurentian Maple Forest, The Gulf of St. Lawrence, Labrador Coast, and Sub-Antarctic Islands. It is a fairly unique (to us) spin on a zoo and well done.
In the Tropical Rainforest Exhibit...cute bird
Fairy Penguin in the Sub-Antartic Exhibit
Pat hiding behind a waterfall
A sturgeon
The French entry in the International Fireworks competition was scheduled for 10pm, so we we had a snack at “home” and headed out to the harbor. Since there are similar competitive shows twice a week (Wednesday & Friday(?), there were plenty of spectators but it wasn’t a mob scene. And the Fireworks were truly good but not impressive … Keep in mind we get to see lots of fireworks in Mexico and they have only gotten more spectacular over the years.

Next up: Maine

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