Montreal - first stop on road trip!
We made it to Montreal and we are loving it! On Monday we awoke early and began our 400 mile journey from Rhode Island, we high-tailed it quick for the first four hours but by the time we reached Vermont we were all ready for a more scenic route (and we were slightly ahead of our schedule) and so we drove through the Hero Islands of Lake Champlain in the north of the state. And it was a beautiful and perfect contrast to the larger highways we had been traveling on. We were immersed in farm land, modest lake homes and small campgrounds dotting the small islands and further along Route 2, just before the Canadian border, we found a small beach and lunch stop that was perfect! We were all excited to jump into the water to cool our feet and wake ourselves up a bit. The further we pulled away from the Boston area heading north, the more beautiful and rolling was the scenery. We decided we needed to make a visit to Vermont and stay a bit longer.
Then we chose to use a smaller entrance to Canada which is so different from the large customs booth on the standard highway - for a distinct experience with the kids it is far more interesting. It was delightful to see the small booth surrounded by farm lands as far as the eye could see. A modest outpost with a single Canadian flag and one official barely able to converse in English while my husband explained things in his basic French (he is a firm believer that it is respectful to try and speak the native language no matter how awful you may sound using it!). After a long speech in English/French which only amounted to something like "just drive up to the next stop sign and turn left for Montreal," we were on our way into Canada. We were all cheering in the car! It's amazing how the landscape changes when a language changes, well not really the landscape but more everything else! I was recently in Niagara Falls and there was hardly any noticeable change when I crossed over the border - except for the flags. But entering Quebec truly feels like you're entering into a 'foreign' country, which we found refreshing. Now we felt like we were going somewhere.
Montreal is a perfect place for a visiting family (and I am sure if we had done more research it would have been even better). But even without knowing much about Montreal we have had the best time! The pace here is perfect for kids, bike riding is almost akin to Copenhagen or Amsterdam, and they have the same bike loan system (had we been prepared with some type of bike seat for Franny we would have gone everywhere on them!) as some European cities are fostering. We spent most of the first full day down at the waterfront, a sprawling place that is wonderful for kids and adults! We rented a quad-cycle (which enabled us to cover a lot of ground), raced toy boats, played on the playground, searched out the piers, and wandered around the Vieux Montreal - where we booked our hotel. There are boat tours, horse drawn carriages, a street festival, various churches and plenty of cafes and restaurants. My favorite part about this town is there is never really a crowd! Nothing felt crowded. If you want to do something you can pretty much just walk up to it! Montreal is easily navigated and has enough variation to keep any small family busy - and you don't have to be tempted into the warren of underground shopping areas, which in our opinion are just your average extended shopping mall (though I'm sure in the winter it is more appreciated!) - though the kids sure appreciated the 'bouncy' castle.
Speaking of shopping malls, we took a look at Rue St Catherine, the long shopping street that traverses the city centre and is home to many of the larger shops, including the department store La Baie. It was as you'd expect in any larger city but wasn't as special as we had come to expect. We also made a tour of Rue St Denis, Makie' gave us the idea to visit two shops Bleu Nui and (3913 rue Saint-Denis) for beautiful bedding and accessories and Arthur Quentin (3940 rue Saint-Denis) for kitchen and lot's of other wonderful things. The southern portion that leads down toward the Hotel de Ville and crosses the UQAM isn't anything really interesting and reminded me of the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco - geered more toward students.
Montreal is an interesting city, some apparently call it the Paris of Canada, and we kind of wish we had a bit of extra time to experience it, especially the Parc du Mont-Royal and the Ile St Helene. I'm sure my husband wishes he had more time to perfect his use of the French language too!
After our day and a half in Montreal we are back into the car tomorrow. We don't quite know where we are going, except towards the West. We expect a few days as we cross Canada driving towards the Northern part of Minnesota, Ely to be exact, for some seriously secluded camping on Burntside Lake! We will keep you posted (if we can get internet access) and let you know how the Road Trip is coming along!
Car playlist so far: Michael Jackson (the kids love 'Beat It'!), Neko Case and a bit of 70's ROCK radio stations we stumbled on in the north of Vermont (assume this was the influence of Burlington)!
(sorry that the photos are a bit washed out... I had a little trouble with my 'usual' system so I had to improvise...)