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Archive for the ‘Regional Attractions’ Category

One of our favourite restaurants in Burlington is one we’ve come back to several times. It’s comfortable, the service is friendly and helpful, the menu is always full of interesting and enticing things from the region, and there’s plenty of outdoor seating when the weather is nice. At this particular time, the street air smelled like wonderful tree flowers. This time, we deliberately drove about half and hour out of our way on our way back to Canada to stop by the restaurant, and then waited around for an hour until it opened for brunch at 11am. It was worth it.

On the warm summer afternoon, we savoured our ice teas, which tasted brewed rather than from a fountain. After agonizing over the delicious menu, I decided upon a simple bowl of chili with some extra cheddar. It was a little spicy, full of ingredients, and just as flavourful as I could have wanted. I tasted my husband’s cup of cheddar and beer soup, which was also good. For dessert, I got what sounded like a homemade strawberry and rhubarb crumble, and ended being a thick-crusted, cold almost store-bought-like pie. I still ate it, and all the ice cream, though.

Reservations are recommended for both lunch and dinner and the place can get pretty crowded. Once, we waited for an hour in their downstairs pub for a dinner seat.

160 Bank St  Burlington, VT 05401, United States

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Last week, my family took a vacation to Monkton, VT. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, sorry.

I love driving to Vermont. It’s only 2-2 1/2 hours away from Montreal and once you get close to the border you can roll down your windows and inhale deeply. The air is fresh and natural and smells like nature and trees and grass. But…the little mosquitoes will eat you alive, so pack bug spray.

Monkton was nice and quiet. My brother rented a cabin on a lake where there was fishing – apparently, a kid had once caught a 35-lb. catfish there…my nieces and nephew got minnows and a turtle – and canoeing. A huge beaver was also spotted swimming around the lake. Every morning, a flock of Canadian geese (which, by the way, I have not yet seen in Canada) descended upon the back lawn by the water, and we were awakened by the twittering of a dozen varieties of little birds feasting on nearby bird feeders. The weather was perfect and idyllic for the 2 nights and 1 day we were there. It felt just like those wilderness lake vacations from the Calvin and Hobbes comics.

For the day, we drove out to Waterbury to tour first the Green Mountain Coffee visitor’s center, then the ice cream factory. The coffee depot, on a working train line, was a disappointment despite its free samples. And actually, due to my heightened sensitivity because of medication I’m taking, I had to excuse myself and sit on a bench outside for the duration of the visit; fermented, roasted coffee fumes. I don’t drink much coffee, anyway.

The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory was nearby and was kind of small, and half of the tour was taken up by a video. The other half was spent viewing the inner pipes of the factory as they processed and boxed pints of ice cream. Then we got a rather generous free sample of milk and cookies ice cream. The kids were able to get seconds. Of course, then we ate lunch. And did spin art.

The last activity on the agenda was a hike through one of the state parks. We consulted with a park guide on advice for where to go. We chose the shortest, easiest trail since we had small kids with us and I made it clear that I was not up for anything more rigorous than a normal walking pace. I had to be firm about that because my mom can walk us all into the ground like a drill sergeant. Plus, it’s the middle of summer.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This photo doesn’t really capture the sheer drop from the trail into the falls, which was impressive. The hike length was just right for me, though one part was quite steep and required careful foot placement around exposed tree roots next to a sheer drop. After the hike, the kids waded into the river to cool off.

Then we barbecued. Sirloin tips, whole potatoes, corn on the cob, and some really burned zucchini.

The next day, we all departed separately. My husband and I detoured to Burlington, which smelled wonderfully of tree flowers, where we ate at our favourite restaurant there (reviewed separately). And then drove back through the border…where we got permanent residency!

All-in-all, it was a productive weekend.

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I found myself driving over to the botanical garden last week, and spotted a sign pointing to the Maisonneuve Market. Montreal has four main public markets, the Jean-Talon Market being the largest. This one was smaller than the Atwater Market. There was a Premiere Moisson bakery, one small butcher, one small fish counter, one small fromagerie, one grain shop, and one vegetable market. You get the idea – it was fairly small, even in summer when the other two large markets are flourishing. It felt more like an independent natural foods market, also because it was all enclosed. The selection does not warrant going out of one’s way to get there. One trait that makes a farmer’s market great is high turnover and fresh product. While there were other shoppers there on a Saturday, it did not have the same bustle as the other two markets I frequent.

The best part of the market was the sizable fountain surrounded by benches in the front. The other markets don’t have a fountain.

Metro: Pie IX or Viau

4445, Ontario Est and William David

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One of the highlights of summer in Montreal is the International Fireworks Festival. This year, they’ve crammed the performances into July, though in the past they’ve run from mid-June to August. I confess to ignoring the booms echoing against the stone buildings of Old Montreal the first year we lived here, but then we became determined to see them all. My paltry experiences of small town 4th of July fireworks displays in NJ and even a quite spectacular all-night show from one talented family in Kirksville, MO failed to prepare me for each 30-minute, music-coordinated spectacle. Some are more memorable than others.

Tickets priced between $26-50 are available for purchase at La Ronde, where the competition is headquartered, but most viewers have a favorite spot they find with a good view of the Jacques Cartier Bridge (I’m not sharing mine, but it’s somewhere in Old Montreal). Many of the Old Montreal restos with a terrace offer pricey “fireworks festival” prefix dinner seatings, but because of their angle and the nearby trees and, I doubt any of them have as good a view of the action as scouting out a good spot by the bridge. Bring your own radio with headphones to enjoy the officially synched up music accompaniment on 105.7 FM. And bring a big umbrella and insect repellent – fireworks are rain or shine. Shows are from 10:00-10:30pm each Saturday, with a couple on Tuesdays (hint: they start when the lights on La Ronde’s Ferris wheel go out, and end when the lights go back on). Go early to get a good viewing spot.

See my August 2010 review here.

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Fort Ticonderoga

I recall that my high school US History 1 teacher had had a special fondness for pronouncing “Ticonderoga,” and would slip it in repeatedly whenever possible when covering the colonial period and Revolutionary War while twirling a yellow and green Ticonderoga #2 pencil.

As with many places in upstate New York, road signage to the fort was minimal for many miles and continuing to follow Route 9 (off of US-87) was something of a leap of faith. The entrance fee is a bit more than one would expect for an outdoor historical venue – $17.50/adult – but there’s a CAA/AAA discount and visitors are unlikely to turn back after the long drive.

King’s Garden at Fort Ticonderoga

The gardens are off of the drive on the way up to the fort and are worth a stop. There’s a small experimental garden with vegetables and flowers, and then the formal King’s Garden surrounded by brick walls with many shady nooks and crannies in which to rest. While it looks persuasively antediluvian, the King’s Garden was commissioned and built in the 1920s.

Further up the drive is the fort itself. The entrance is through the gift shop cabin, which also includes the popular America’s Fort Café. The sandwiches at the café are typical upstate New York fare (combinations of cheddar, bacon, apple, and chicken… or burgers), but service can be extremely slow even before the lunch crowd fills up the place, even when it comes to paying the check. The server included the gratuity in the total. It’s advisable to pay with cash with exact change or one could be waiting in line for over fifteen minutes like we were.

Once outside and on the battlements, bilingual (English and French) information cards tell the history of the fort. The view is lovely, with a refreshing breeze on a hot summer’s day. The costumed docents play fife and drums frequently as they give their tours. Inside the fort is a museum collection of weaponry and everyday objects from the time period.

The view from the battlements

A visit to Fort Ticonderoga will only take a couple of hours. Including lunch, we were able to breeze through in under two hours. This is one of those places that children who like military history will love, and it is worth a stop even for those unfamiliar with US history. I also saw chipmunks, a wild turkey, and a bird of prey on the grounds.

 

100 Fort Ti Road, Ticonderoga, New York, USA

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The Montreal Fine Arts Museum has an extensive collection and makes effective use of their modern spaces. It’s best not to try to cram everything into one exhaustive visit, but to repeatedly go back to view specific sections (a tip which I routinely forget and remember again around the Napolean floor). Even one pavilion could take multiple trips. And why not? The majority of the museum is free of charge, including audioguides; usually only the special large-scale exhibitions have entrance fees. Large crowds can form at the ticket counter for new and especially popular exhibits like the Tiffany exhibit and the recent Jean Paul Gaultier fashion exhibit. The special exhibits are well thought out and worth the fee. The Miles Davis exhibit last year was enormous and included multiple listening stations to experience music from various periods of his career. The current special exhibition features iconic pop art by Tom Wesselmann.

There are four multilevel pavilions. The stairs in the contemporary glass pyramid-shaped Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion are frustratingly shallow and better suited to a cascading water display than for walking, but they look nice. This pavilion is the only entrance to the museum, despite being spread out across the street. Medieval art is on the top floor, working down to contemporary art in the basement level and special exhibition level in between. There is a pleasant café for lunch on the second level.

The Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion is across the street, which distinguished columns and stone steps proclaim that it is a Museum, although one may only enter through the building across the street. Figurines, pottery, masks, and statues from around the world are displayed in this more traditional set up. The Liliane and David M. Stewart houses furniture and design items – decorative arts that perhaps might be seen in someone’s home. The Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion has all of the Quebec and Canadian art. Paintings, sculptures, and Inuit sculptures can be found at this newest pavilion of the museum.

By the Guy-Concordia metro or the Peel metro

1380 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest and Rue Crescent

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Floating solidly in the middle of McGill’s downtown campus, the Redpath Museum is everything one would expect from a classic Victorian museum. The grey stone exterior leads into a traditional Victorian museum interior. Inside, on hardwood floors, its exhibits are encased in uniform antique stained wood and glass cases. There’s a Grecian urn, a letter from Charles Darwin, and a prominently displayed skeleton of Dromaeosaurus albertensis, which while a relative of the better known Velociraptor, can almost be imagined as a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Don’t all Victorian museums need a T-rex skeleton? It would be easy to envision a Victorian nanny browsing through the cases pushing a perambulator and ushering around charges wearing coordinated traveling clothes. A whole Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton probably wouldn’t have fit in the small museum, anyway (they do have a head somewhere).

The museum would probably be best appreciated by school-aged children, around the age when they become obsessed with dinosaurs and rock polishers. There are a number of signs emphasizing quiet behaviour and admonishing against running in the halls leaving children unattended, so it seems to be a popular destination for school-aged children. It is small and I was able to get through all three floors during my lunch hour. The exhibits are mostly minerals, sea shells, taxidermy, and bones. The ground level entrance hall is air conditioned, but the second and third levels had only strategically placed desk fans on a very warm spring day and was noticeably warmer and smellier thanks in part to the numerous taxidermy exhibits. It’s also a working research facility, and museum patrons walk by numerous offices in between the various exhibits.

Admission is free and the museum is open to the public.

Metro: McGill

859 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest and Rue McTavish (McGill University downtown campus)

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