After some much needed time visiting family and friends, we re-entered “adventure” mode and also Canada. We planned to spend a few days zipping through Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City, en route to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
On our way to Toronto, we stopped at Niagara Falls. David remembered seeing Niagara Falls on a trip with his family as a kid, but I had never been. I hadn’t realized that the falls actually includes three separate waterfalls. The volume of water going over the falls is pretty hard to comprehend. We opted to just view the falls from the Canadian side and lucked out with a parking spot right by the falls and one of the most chaotic streets we’ve seen yet – Clifton Hill. I’ll admit that I was almost as fascinated by everything on the road as by the falls.
Another striking aspect of Niagra Falls was the poverty just outside the tourist area. Just blocks away there were streets of boarded up buildings and broken down cars. I did some reading on this online and learned that poverty is also a problem in Niagra Falls, New York. This destitution was hard to see, especially after the lavish hotels and flashy destinations of Clifton Hill.
After leaving the falls, we headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small town right on the water probably most well known for the annual Shaw Festival and ice wine – we sampled both. David’s great aunt and uncle, who we visited in Bloomington, attend the Shaw Festival each year and gave us several play recommendations. We hadn’t seen any plays or music since we started the trip, and enjoyed the chance to soak up some culture. The town is beautiful, with flower-lined streets, small shops, and numerous vineyards. Regulations for the wineries require only the production of wine made with 100% locally grown grapes, so we were surprised with the huge variety of wine types. I haven’t had much sweet wine before and loved the ice wine, although it was hard to imagine drinking more than a small glass.
Toronto was definitely a bit overwhelming of a city, especially from a traffic perspective. David always tries to learn the local rules of the road (for example, in Pittsburgh at a traffic signal if the first opposing vehicle in line is turning left, it is customary to let them go first), but this proved impossible in Toronto. It seemed like when the roads got congested, whoever was most aggressive had the right of way. I did think Toronto was a neat city with a lot of great aspects, but I’ve realized I’m much more comfortable in the van in small towns or out in nature for a few reasons:
- Traffic: luckily David does all the driving and is very skilled and confident thanks to his time in Boston. However, I still find driving around cities stressful and getting stuck in traffic is inevitable. I also feel like we spend more time in the van in cities driving from place to place to see the top sights.
- Meals: I typically prefer to make food in the van, but when we are in cities one of the easiest ways to experience the area is eating out. Inevitably this leads to lots of research on restaurants as we try to find out what the best local food is and make sure we pick a good spot.
- Sleeping: in cities we normally sleep on a residential street or Walmart, which means putting the blackout curtains up at night and staying in the van. On public lands or in campgrounds, we spend more time outside of the van in the evenings, or at least keep all the windows open.
- Activities: it takes a lot more effort to research city activities and typically the top destinations are museums or historic sites. This leads to a lot of cities feeling similar and less time outdoors, which is my favorite.
With that said, I did genuinely enjoy our time in Toronto and include it on the list of places to go back to without the van for another visit. My favorite Toronto activities included an indoor food market, wandering around the Distillery District, Allan Gardens, and another Graffiti Alley (although honestly not as impressive as the Boise one!).
The very best part of Toronto, however, was that my sister had a last minute work trip there the same night we were in town! Luckily my mom had talked to her earlier in the day and made the connection. Not only was Lauren in the same city, but when I learned she was there we were less than a mile away!
We also had lunch while in Toronto with a family friend of David’s who recommended we stop in 1,000 islands on the way to our next stop, Montreal. I don’t know if he knew we’d actually take him up on it, but we have a policy of taking as many suggestions as possible. We also have been taking more scenic detours off the main highways, so we enjoyed getting off Highway 401. As another perk, we found a town with a public washroom and shower thanks to iOverlander! While we used to be content to so shower in the van, thanks to a spree of free public showers we’ve gotten a bit spoiled.
I’ve been excited about visiting Montreal since David went for New Years many years ago and sent me pictures of the graffiti. I’m not sure when my fascination with street art began, but I love the scale of it, color, and creativity. I’ve taken to making my own Banksy replicas at home and David suggested I paint a section of our fence, which I hope to pursue when we return (I think it was a serious suggestion…) The graffiti in Montreal did not disappoint. I also enjoy trying to decipher the meaning of the images. Some of my favorites are below – any guesses on their stories?
Montreal also included much tasty food, including bagels, vegan poutine, and Indian food!
I also loved Montreal because we found an excellent neighborhood parking spot on a quiet street near Mont Royal, where I was able to do a morning run. I love running in a new city, and especially in the morning. I think this is when I feel most like I actually live in the city and can get the best feel of what life would be like there. David and I both concluded that we could see ourselves living in Montreal.
We finished off our three cities in three days with Quebec City. I think the three cities could be put on a continuum based on size (largest to smallest) and degree of Frenchness (least French to most French). Old town Quebec City definitely felt European, with its cobbled streets, castle-like architecture, and bustling store fronts. We loved it. I also enjoyed visiting yet another indoor market (a new theme of the trip). We got some delicious fresh pasta, green beans and peas, local beer (David’s favorite), and 3 liters of strawberries (my favorite).