Canada 2009

August 10, 2009



For this year's Big Trip™, Elena and I stowed away on my parents' RV and headed up to Canada in July. If you remember, last year we flew down to Memphis and met my parents there for a long weekend on the RV. This time around, we wanted to spend some actual time on the road, so we planned a week-long trip to Montreal and Quebec City.

This post serves two purposes, really. One: to share my experiences with you guys. Two: to write it all down so I can recover these memories myself in the future...

The trip started off smoothly, leaving from Chicago early in the morning on Sunday, July 5th. Indiana and Ohio flew by, thanks to coffee, I-PASS, and my Dad's expert driving. Pretty soon we were in Austinburg, OH, where we spent the night at a Flying J truck stop. Nice and clean, plus the buffet had pretty good food — all in all a good spot to rest up.

Next stop was Niagara Falls, just north of Buffalo, NY. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid, and Elena had never been...

Unfortunately, it's not as easy to get to Niagara Falls in an RV as it is in a car. After crossing the bridge, we took the Robert Moses Parkway exit ramp, and quickly found ourselves faced with a 12' bridge clearance sign. With a 12'4" RV, that's not something you want to see. Of course, there wasn't any warning, and since it's impossible to back an RV towing a Suburban up a ramp, we were kind of stuck.

As I waved traffic around us and my Mom closely watched the top of the RV, my Dad tried to gauge the real hight of the bridge. Once a Prevost tour bus flew by us, and didn't hit anything, we knew we were in good shape. Guess someone figured labeling the bridge 12' when it was more 12'6" was good for some particular reason...

Needless to say, Niagara Falls is a breathtaking sight. It's impossible to describe, in words, the raw power of all the water cascading over the edge. I was actually a bit surprised that we were able to get so close to the falls. After exploring up top, Elena and I decided to check out the Cave of the Winds, which included an elevator trip to the bottom of the falls. To be honest, we were a bit disappointed that it wasn't a guided tour — instead they just let us off the elevator and we were on our own. It was still quite an experience to feel the power of the water, but some history would've been a nice touch.

For our second night on the road, we chose another Flying J, this time in Pembroke, NY, about 20 miles east of Buffalo. Since we'd spent most of the day at Niagara Falls, my Mom suggested staying close so we could get a good parking spot — these truck stops fill up quickly! It stormed a bit, but luckily we had a warm RV filled with food, wine, and DirecTV.

Flying J, Dusk

On our third day, we headed for the border. Instead of crossing into Canada at Detroit or Niagara Falls, my parents opted to do it at Thousand Islands, in upstate NY. With the RV, a single crossing is much preferable, just on the off chance that a border agent wants to do a thorough search... So after a few questions about drugs, guns, and our schedule, we were welcomed into Ontario!

Montreal was our first stop in Canada, and we planned on spending three days there exploring the city. Fortunately, my parents' friends Barbara and Jean-Claude had scheduled their RV trip to coincide with ours. Considering Jean-Claude used to live in Montreal and Quebec, we were in fantastic hands!

We stayed at the Parc Mont Laval RV park, just outside downtown Montreal, which let us hook up to water, electric, and sewer. Home sweet home! The park proved to be a great base, since it was close to restaurants and shops. We even spent some time at Marche 440, a nearby market. Best smoked meat in Quebec! And, while I'm talking about food, I have to mention St. Hubert's chicken — holy crap that's good. I bought some sauce packets home, so if anyone is in the mood for St. Hubert's in Chicago, just let me know...

Highlights in Montreal included L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal (Saint Joseph's Oratory), Notre Dame, and Galerie Place Ville Marie. We were also able to take a day trip up to Saint-Sauveur and Mont Tremblant — absolutely beautiful.

As fantastic as Montreal was, Quebec City really won me over. The culture, the history, and the photo ops were just what I was looking for. We stayed at a KOA RV park just outside Quebec, which again was pretty close to the city. Good hookups and free Wi-Fi, so we could make free phone calls on the BlackBerry and save on our international rates! Highlights in Quebec City included the still-intact city wall, the Citadel, the Château Frontenac, the Parliament building, and all the street performers/artists. To top it all off, the Quebec City Summer Festival (Le Festival d'été de Québec) was in town the same weekend! I managed to grab some shots of Matisyahu warming up, thanks to my 70-200 lens.

Unfortunately, our time in Canada had to come to an end... Even though we wanted to continue on up to Gaspé with my parents and Barbara & Jean-Claude, Elena and I both had work to get back to. After a week on the road, Elena and I flew back from Quebec City direct to O'Hare on United. The flight was quick and painless — perfect end to a perfect trip!

Thanks again to my parents (and Barbara & Jean-Claude) for letting us tag along, and to being such fantastic tour guides! Can't wait until next year!

P.S. All photos from the trip are available on Flickr. Enjoy!