Tag Archives: Canada

Carrying the Olympic Flame!

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

The 2018 Winter Olympics are now underway. This has reminded me of one of my greatest travel experiences ever: carrying the Olympic flame through the town of Morrisburg, as part of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics torch relay.

The Olympic Bus dropped me off at my designated stop…

It was a tremendous honour to be selected as a torchbearer for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I wasn’t at all bothered that I was assigned to run a segment in Morrisburg, located about 140 km east of my hometown of Kingston, Ontario. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…I would have travelled anywhere to make it happen!

It takes a lot of support vehicles to accompany the Olympic flame!

There were four of us carrying the flame through Morrisburg on that gray overcast day in December of 2009.  They told us to savour the moment and not run too quickly.  I settled on a slow jog…I wanted to RUN with the flame, but I also wanted the moment to last.

Exchanging high fives with some of the Olympic Cheerleaders, as the flame nears

It all happened so fast.  Before I knew it, the Olympic flame was approaching.  With a roaring crowd, the flame was passed to me and I high-fived the previous runner.  If you’ve ever doubted the inspirational power of a noisy crowd, try running with the Olympic flame.  There is no effort required:  you just float!

Receiving the Olympic flame in Morrisburg!

I tried to slow my pace, but it was very difficult.  I remember waving at everybody and having a giant grin on my face for the few minutes that I had the flame.

And I’m off!

It was over so quickly.  I didn’t do any special training for the run (just my usual hockey and curling) but it turned out to be totally unnecessary.  The adrenaline jolt was immense and I could have run forever.  I high-fived the next torchbearer after passing on the flame  and my grin remained in place for days afterwards.

Heading down Ottawa Street in Morrisburg

That night, the last stop of the Olympic relay was in Kingston and I attended the associated festivities in the market square.  As I wore my baggy and desperately unfashionable torchbearer uniform, I became a temporary celebrity and appeared in what felt like thousands of pictures with complete strangers.  I met a 1956 Olympian but also many others who were thrilled just to say hello to somebody who had briefly carried the flame.

Me and my bodyguards!

While I slept reasonably well the night before, I couldn’t sleep at all after running with the flame.  In fact, I don’t think I slept more than three hours per night for about the next week.  Yes, it was that much of a buzz!

I’m clearly on a bit of a high after my run!

This proved that you don’t need to travel far to have an unforgettable experience.  And “experience” is the key word:  travel is so much better when you are “doing” rather than just “seeing”.  Even though it is only 90 minutes away, I can honestly say that Morrisburg will always be one of my favourite travel destinations!

Next stop: Switzerland!

[Many thanks to my wife and my former colleagues at Empire Life, who took the photos in today’s post]

Christmas in Toronto

(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

My second trip to Toronto this fall was entirely different from the first.  This one was focused on Christmas shopping and the entertainment district:  I didn’t get anywhere close to Bloor Street or The Annex this time!

Pulled Pork and Goat Cheese Pierogi at “Loaded Pierogi”

We stayed in a hotel very close to the St. Lawrence Market; lunch was at a popular new restaurant called “Loaded Pierogi”.  The menu here is essentially confined to pierogi, but the toppings are the real attraction.  I went for the pulled pork and goat cheese pierogi, while my wife went for the bacon and caramelized onion pierogi.  These sustained us for an entire afternoon of Christmas shopping.

Christmas Market in Toronto’s Distillery District

Toronto’s Distillery District (see also the photo at the very top of this post) is transformed into a European-style outdoor Christmas Market for the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Perhaps to control the crowds, there is a cover charge of $6.00 on Friday evenings and weekends.  As with most such charges, it does not add any real value but we didn’t have any choice with the timing of our visit.

The Dutch Shop, at the Christmas Market in Toronto’s Distillery District

Fortunately, to set off any ill feelings about the cover charge, there were some vendors from the “old countries”.  I enjoyed the Dutch kiosk and there were also some Swiss treats at one of the German kiosks.  We focused only on the “must-have” items, as we still had some unusual shopping lined up for the following day.

A Dutch restaurant in downtown Toronto

As I had enjoyed my visit to the Second City comedy facility in Chicago in 2014, we caught an evening show at the Toronto location.  We enjoyed the show itself but the leg and shoulder room was abysmal. We didn’t really have any choice for our seating, but you will definitely want to avoid the front row if you are of even average height and width.  Unfortunately, the advertised free improv session is after the *second* show of the evening, so you will have a long wait if you attend the first show.

19th century baking at William Lyon Mackenzie’s house in downtown Toronto

On Sunday morning, we had a fun shopping experience at the Swedish (!) Christmas Market.  I have never seen so many Swedes in one place outside of Sweden before.  The line-up for the food stalls was massive, as this market takes place only on one weekend and the “regulars” knew exactly what they wanted.  However, there was no cover charge and we ended up getting some really interesting items for Christmas.

Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto – starting to look like Times Square!

Thanks to some corporate sponsorship, a number of historic sites in Toronto had free admission that weekend.  We visited the William Lyon Mackenzie House on Bond Street:  besides being a forefather of one of Canada’s longest-serving Prime Ministers (William Lyon Mackenzie King), Mackenzie was also the first mayor of the city of Toronto and was a leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.  We enjoyed some authentic baked goods, prepared the 19th century way in a very unpredictable gas-fired oven.

Evening view of the CN Tower and Union Station, taken from just outside the Royal York Hotel in Toronto

For lunch, we went to “Real Mo-Mo’s” and had some Tosti Hawaii.  Despite the name, it is in fact a largely Dutch restaurant with dishes ranging from Dutch pancakes to Bitterballen and Uitsmijter open-faced sandwiches.   It was hidden away on a small street just north of the St. Lawrence Market – yet another place to check out on a return visit.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with some details on my 2018 travel itinerary:  I’ve got trips planned for both the winter and summer months!

Eating in Toronto: from Chile to Korea, via Hungary

(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

My October trip to Toronto was only for one night, but I made sure I took advantage of some of the great food that the city has to offer.

Inside Jumbo Empanadas, on Augusta Avenue in Toronto

My first stop was an old favourite:  Jumbo Empanadas in the Kensington Market district.  I go here for pastel de choclo (corn pie) whenever I can…and the translation of “corn pie” really does not do it justice.  I  wrote about its awesomeness in a previous post and I am happy to report that it was just as good this time around.

The corn pie (pastel de choclo) from Jumbo Empanadas in Toronto’s Kensington Market

The setting is not fancy.  The view from the front window is colourful (see photo at the top of the post), although you can see little else but other Latin American shops and restaurants in this part of Kensington Market.  But it’s the food that matters, and the addictive mixture of sweet, savoury and spicy (I went for the special salsa as well this time) proves that the Chileans know a thing or two about complex flavours.

Madison Manor, in The Annex

As the concert hall was at the edge of a neighbourhood called “The Annex”, I stayed at a B&B called Madison Manor located just off Bloor Street West.  I have a special affinity for this part of Toronto, as I lived within walking distance of it in the early 1990s.  I wandered by my old apartment on Avenue Road and was amazed by how much “intensification” had taken place in the area in the past 25 years.  But the building is still there and the location is still excellent.

Hungarian Renaissance in The Annex?

As for the Annex itself, another favourite haunt of mine was the Country Style Hungarian restaurant.  As you can see from the photograph, it’s still there too but I didn’t have a chance to stop in this time.  However, if you’re ever in the mood for a big Hungarian meal after a long day of wandering around the city, this is your place.  It’s still family-run and the only remaining Hungarian restaurant in this part of Toronto:  there used to be about a dozen.  Happily, it appears that a Hungarian pastry shop has sprung up next door…perhaps a renaissance is taking place?

Honest Ed’s: a landmark in The Annex

The evolution of the neighbourhood is ongoing.  I never actually bought anything at the legendary Honest Ed’s bargain emporium…and it is now too late, as it recently closed.  I snapped the above picture to visually capture it before its almost certain redevelopment.  Like the downtown Sam the Record Man, this is a long-standing landmark that people still talk about even though it is no longer open.

This is where I had lunch in Koreatown, Toronto

Immediately west of The Annex is Koreatown.  This was just a bit too far for me to visit on a regular basis when I lived in Toronto, but was perfectly situated for lunch on this trip.  It was difficult to pick one restaurant over another (there are a *lot*), but I eventually settled on the Jin Dal Lae simply because it had recently opened.

My lunch at Jin Dal Lae…not including the soup (and after I started on the spicy side dishes)

I ordered the Bulgogi Bento Box for $8.95 and wasn’t expecting much for that price in a city where eating out can be quite expensive (by Canadian standards).  I was very surprised to receive eight small side dishes, ranging from fried tofu to kimchi, before the box itself arrived.  In addition to gyoza and a heaping helping of tender bulgogi, there was also soup (which didn’t make it into the photo)…and I utterly failed in my attempt to have a light lunch.

While this trip took place about 4 weeks ago, I will find myself in Toronto again soon.  Stay tuned for details!

The Final Journey

(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Like most Canadians, I awoke on October 18 to the news that Gord Downie (the front man for Canadian music icons The Tragically Hip) had passed away from brain cancer.  Shortly after announcing his diagnosis, Downie and the Hip embarked on a 2016 farewell tour of Canada that featured sold-out concerts and an outpouring of emotion.  The final concert, in my hometown of Kingston, was an especially monumental event and was broadcast live on national television.

Many thousands of words have already been written about Downie in the days since his passing.  Rather than add to that total, I have decided to write about something else that also happened on October 18:  I attended Johnny Clegg’s concert at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.   Sadly, there is a tragic  parallel between Clegg and Downie.

I first wrote about Johnny Clegg in this post from late 2014.  He is one of South Africa’s greatest musicians and played an important role in the fight against Apartheid.   His songs were generally sung in both English and Zulu, he fully embraced Zulu culture, and he had racially integrated bands at a time when racial segregation was the law.

View from the back of Koerner Hall, prior to the concert

I wrote about Clegg again in the spring of 2016, when he unexpectedly performed a concert in Kingston.  At the time, nobody knew that he had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

After his most recent course of chemotherapy earlier this year, Clegg announced that he was in remission and wanted to embark on one final tour called “The Final Journey”.  This brief and highly selective tour would take him to some of the places that had strongly supported him through his career.  In Canada, one of his biggest markets, concerts were scheduled in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City.

Attending Clegg’s concert gave me an idea of what it must have been like to see The Tragically Hip on their final tour.  Knowing that this was his final tour added exceptional poignancy to the entire evening.  That feeling intensified when Clegg dedicated a song to Downie.  It became almost intolerable when Clegg sang songs such as Osiyeza (The Crossing).

Clegg wrote Osiyeza after the premature 1992 death of bandmate Mntowaziwaio Ndlovu.  it was extremely moving to hear Clegg sing it on this tour, as the lyrics comment on how a person can affect others even after that person is no longer alive.  During this song, as with several others, the woman seated beside me was wiping away tears.

View from my seat at Koerner Hall. No zoom lens – I had a great seat!

Another poignant moment was when Clegg performed Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World.  Clegg wrote this song in the late 1980s for his then-newborn son Jesse.  Jesse, who is also a musician and has had six Top Ten hits of his own in South Africa, was the opening act at this concert and joined his father onstage for a couple of songs.  It must now be hard for Jesse to hear lyrics such as “One day when you wake up, I will have to say goodbye”.

It certainly wasn’t all sad, though.  You could hear a pin drop when Clegg talked about the anthropological inspiration for Scatterlings of Africa:  as always, his stories were fascinating and didn’t insult the intelligence of his audience.  How many other musicians refer to mitochondria during their concerts?  And songs like Dela, always a live favourite, exploded with joy and excitement.

Clegg put a lot of energy into the concert.  It may have been energy that he didn’t really have.  I considered waiting around, as I had met him at the previous three concerts I had attended.  However, I then overheard that his post-show energy level made it unlikely that he would appear for a meet and greet.  At that point, I decided to leave the concert hall.  I reasoned that Johnny Clegg had already given enough.

O siyeza, o siyeza, sizofika webaba noma
O siyeza, o siyeza, siyagudla lomhlaba
Siyawela laphesheya lulezontaba ezimnyama
Lapha sobheka phansi konke ukuhlupheka

(From “Osiyeza (The Crossing)“, by Johnny Clegg)

Pembroke’s Hidden Treasures

(Pembroke, Ontario, Canada)

From the Château Montebello, it would have been a fairly easy drive back home to Kingston.  However, we were looking forward to seeing some old friends near Pembroke before returning home…so we took a long drive on the north side of the Ottawa River.   After passing through Thurso (birthplace of Guy Lafleur!), our progress became quite slow.  We didn’t want to go on the Autoroute, but construction and congestion were the order of the day.  Finally, some distance west of Ottawa, the road opened up.

Downtown Shawville, Quebec

This seemed like a somewhat forgotten corner of Québec.  There were few towns and I don’t recall seeing a stop sign or traffic light until we reached Shawville.  Although Shawville was clearly the largest town around, even it was very quiet.   After stocking up on some Québec-only provisions, we crossed the mighty Ottawa River back to Ontario.

Wildlife in downtown Pembroke

Our first impressions of Pembroke were lacklustre.  The skies were grey and the main street was under considerable construction:  perhaps because of this, there were also some vacant storefronts.  Just over a block away from the main street, we saw a fox relaxing on a pile of gravel!  We weren’t expecting this in a city of 16,000 people, especially at the beginning of rush hour.

The Nook Creperie in Pembroke, Ontario

However, our concern soon dissipated.  We walked by the waterfront campus of Algonquin College (see photo at the top of this post) and saw signs of life.  Then, returning to the main street, we saw a lot of locals entering a restaurant called “The Nook Crêperie”.  We were assured by a couple of patrons that this would be a great place for dinner.

One of the crepes at The Nook

They were absolutely correct.  Our crêpes were appealing inside and outside; the soup and dessert were both also excellent.  We never would have found this place if we had followed our initial instincts to avoid the downtown construction zone.   We then found our B&B:  just a few blocks from downtown, it was a charming Victorian red brick home in an equally charming neighbourhood.

Our B&B in Pembroke

We met our friends the next morning…and made only a small dent in the huge amount of spruce beer (biére d’épinette) that we had each stockpiled in anticipation of this day.   The strange obsession with spruce beer is a long story.  It has its roots in a long-ago Ottawa River canoe trip from my friend’s house to a general store in nearby Fort-Coulonge, Québec.  I don’t think either one of us particularly likes it, but the tradition has taken on a life of its own.  If you ever want a soft drink that is ridiculously high in calories, cloyingly sweet, and redolent of Pine-Sol, then spruce beer is the beverage for you.

Biére d’épinette: available in name brands AND store brands!

And that seems like a fitting way to end our summer vacation.  We saw a lot of Québec, enjoyed a lot of sports, and ate very well…or at least had fun with our food.  How can you not have fun with pizzaghetti?

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a special report on a very special event!

Sports Camp 2: Le Château Montebello

(Montebello, Quebec, Canada)

The Château Montebello is a famous hotel located on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.   Like the Manoir Richelieu, it is a self-contained resort with a rich history.   It has been described as the largest log cabin in the world, as it is built from 10,000 logs.  Being so big, of course, also makes it difficult to photograph.  As a result, I don’t really have a satisfactory photo of the entire complex.   You’ll have to take my word for it:  it’s big.

The drive-thru check-in at the Château Montebello

Although I had certainly heard of the Château Montebello, I had never stayed there.  In fact, I had never seen it, as it is set back quite some distance from the road and it is impossible to see unless you drive all the way in.  After dropping off our bags at the drive-thru check-in, I entered the famous hotel for the first time.

The huge fireplace in the main lobby of the Château Montebello

It is quite something:  the hexagonal core of the hotel is huge and is anchored by an equally huge fireplace.  The rooms are located in 4 wings that radiate out from the hexagon.  There is wood everywhere; it must be very cozy in the wintertime.   The logs aren’t just on the outside:  they also make up the interior walls of the rooms.

The hub of the sports camp at Château Montebello

It had only been about a week since we visited the Manoir du Lac Delage and enjoyed an immersion into summer sports.  It soon became clear that Château Montebello was going to be the site of Sports Camp Part 2!  With the main sports equipment pavilion just south of our wing, it was going to be very easy to indulge in multiple summer sports.  And we did!

Part of the marina at the Château Montebello

The sports this time around included mini-golf, basketball, badminton, horseshoes, pétanque (again!)…and our brave journey onto the raging Ottawa River.  Our canoe at Lac-Delage had felt a little tippy, despite the extremely calm waters, so we were looking for something a little sturdier on a river that had an actual current.  The obvious choice seemed to be the pedalboat:  this is a two-seated craft where your sole means of propulsion (other than the current) was pedal power.  How hard could it be?

Our wing at the Château Montebello

As my camera got soaked when we got into the canoe at Lac Delage, I decided not to take it with me when we went out in the pedalboat.  Although I don’t have any pictures of our pedalboat journey, I will never forget how wiped out we felt after about 45 minutes out on the river.  Don’t be fooled:  pedalboating is probably the most exhausting way to travel on the water.

French Toast at the Château Montebello

After more than a week of holidays and eating out, we weren’t really ready to eat a lot of rich food at the hotel.  Taking advantage of the refrigerator in the room, we self-catered almost all of our meals.  However, as we decided that we should experience at least one meal here, we had breakfast in the hotel on our day of departure.  As you can see, the tablecloths were very white and the dining room is opulent.   We sat behind the buffet serving area in a room that overlooked the hotel grounds.

Breakfast buffet at the main dining room in the Château Montebello

After two nights at the Château Montebello, it was almost time to return home.  There was just one more stop to make…stay tuned for our visit to an entirely different community on the shores of the mighty Ottawa River!

Icefishing, Poutine, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier

(Lachute, Québec, Canada)

We are now slowly making our way home.  We decided to travel west from Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River…but not on the fast, busy Autoroute 40.  Instead, we took our time on Route 138, also known as the Chemin du Roy.   It took us through a series of smaller communities that we would otherwise never have a chance to visit.

Birdhouses in Portneuf, Québec

Lunchtime found us in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Québec.  We had never heard of this town, let alone set foot in it.  However, a few minutes in the tourist office made it clear that this was the self-styled Ice Fishing Capital of the World!  Obviously, there was little evidence of this on a warm August day, but we saw plenty of winter pictures showing hundreds upon hundreds of ice fishing huts on the Sainte-Anne River.   Who knew?

Typical house in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Québec

The only large city on our route was Trois-Rivières.  We did not have high hopes, as some other similarly-sized cities in Quèbec seemed to have fallen on hard times.  But Trois-Rivières appeared to be doing well:  the streets downtown were closed off because there was some kind of Grand Prix auto race taking place.  Alas, we were unable to stick around for that evening’s gala outdoor concert or the Symphonic Beatles show that was playing at a downtown theatre.

Downtown Trois-Rivières, on Grand Prix weekend

That night, we stayed in a small roadside motel “somewhere west of Trois-Rivières”.  It was a deliberate cost-saving measure, as the preceding night’s stay and the next two nights were all at hotels that exceeded our usual budget.   We were happy to move on from the motel, but also happy that being thrifty that night allowed us to indulge ourselves a bit more on the other days.

The Sir Wilfrid Laurier National Historic Site in Saint-Lin–Laurentides, Québec

The next day found us in another “Prime Ministerial” town: Saint-Lin-Laurentides, the hometown of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.  Laurier was Prime Minister of Canada for 15 years and the site of his childhood home is now a National Historic Site.  While his actual home no longer exists, the current house is very similar to what Laurier would have called home.  Key impression:  the ceilings and doorways are very low!  We often had to duck and dodge to avoid beaning ourselves.

The last stop before our final destination for the day was the city of Lachute.  I was surprised to see that a big rodeo (charmingly subtitled as the “Festival du Cowboy” – see photo at the top of this post) was coming up in a few days.   While we didn’t get a chance to see the rodeo, we did have a chance to indulge in Quèbec’s most famous contribution to fast food:  the artery-clogging poutine.

Poutine Italienne (Lachute, Québec)

Poutine can now be found all over Canada:  the standard formulation is french fries covered with cheese curd and gravy.  It’s best not to think of the calories involved.   I don’t generally eat poutine, as I am not really a fan of gravy.  Alas, there is a poutine for everybody…and mine is Poutine Italienne.  It’s the same as regular poutine, except that the gravy is replaced by a tomato and meat sauce.  How could I resist?

Poutine Italienne: the halfway point (Lachute, Québec)

As you can see from the photos, I was able to find this delicacy in Lachute at a take-out place called “O’Frites”.  I was extraordinarily thirsty afterwards but nonetheless felt good about consuming the Dream Team (pizzaghetti and poutine) of Quèbec fast food during the same trip.  Luckily, our next stop would allow me to work some of this off…stay tuned for the details!

BIG Wildlife, Icerolls, and a Different Kind of Hotel

(Wendake, Québec, Canada)

While I love the dramatic hills of the Charlevoix region, our underpowered car was a little less enthralled. After a couple of days in Cap-à-l’Aigle, we returned to the Quebec City area and our car was noticeably happier. Our first real stop was at the Cap-Tourmente National Wildlife Area.  Located just east of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, this is off the beaten tourist and transportation path.

Trail at the Cap-Tourmente National Wildlife Area

The wildlife area is apparently a haven for birdwatchers but we were happy just to get out of the car and do some hiking in a natural environment.  What we didn’t realize, until we checked in to the interpretation centre, was that there was other wildlife in the wildlife area.  This was the first time that I had been directed by park staff to read a sternly worded notice about what to do if you encounter a black bear.

Was this from a black bear?

We read the notice and, as suggested, made sure that we made plenty of noise while hiking.  Within two minutes, however, we saw something right on the trail that got us really worried.  As you can see from the photo above, a large animal had been here quite recently.  We still don’t know if this was from another animal, was planted by staff as a warning, or really was from a black bear.  Any readers with knowledge of black bears are welcome to comment!

Les Délices Royales in L’Ange-Gardien

The rest of our walk was uneventful, but maybe that’s because we were focused on making noise and moving quickly!  We managed to work up quite a thirst and were ready for a frosty treat by the time we returned to the car.  We soon reached the village of L’Ange-Gardien.   It was clear from the signage that Les Délices Royales would have ice cream but we didn’t  know precisely what to expect.

Inside Les Délices Royales (L’Ange-Gardien, Québec)

It turned out that Les Délices Royales was a throwback to the soda fountains of the past.  In addition to all kinds of vintage candy, they had every kind of cold/frozen treat you could imagine.  They also had something we had never encountered before:  icerolls, a treat that appears to have originated in France.  Just watching the preparation was worth the price.  It’s very hard to describe how they are made: it involves combining cream and fresh fruit, flash freezing them at -30’C, and then “rolling” them off the  frigid surface.  They look like crêpes but are essentially flattened and rolled ice cream.  Mine was made from blueberries, cherries and dark chocolate…it was absolutely delicious.

The legendary icerolls at Les Délices Royales (L’Ange-Gardien)

Our base for the night was the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations in Wendake.  This is a luxury hotel run by the Huron (Wendat) First Nation on their land in the northern part of Quebec City.  The architecture is stunning (see the photo at the top of the post), but the decor is also completely different from what you would find in a typical hotel.

The main lobby (overlooking the forest) at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations in Wendake

The hotel is filled with natural materials:  wood, stone, and even fur!  It overlooks a lush ravine; in fact, the rooms are only on one side of the hotel so that everyone has a view of the forest.  A sweet smoke (kind of like incense) greets you in the lobby and you completely forget that you are in Québec‘s second largest city.  The restaurant is also devoted to First Nations cuisine:  we only had breakfast there but there is some truly adventurous dining to be had if you are there for lunch or dinner.

Stay tuned for more unexpected surprises as we head towards the Laurentians!

La Malbaie: The Return of Pizzaghetti!

(Cap-à-l’Aigle, Québec, Canada)

History has a way of repeating in the most unexpected places.  After arriving in the Charlevoix tourist hub of La Malbaie (our auberge is located in the nearby village of Cap-à-l’Aigle), we set out in search of some comfort food.  We were inexplicably drawn to the “Pizzeria du Poste”, although we weren’t sure exactly why.  Perhaps it was a desire for some comfort food, after the difficult drive from Lac Delage?

A typically steep street in Cap-à-l’Aigle, about to plunge towards the St. Lawrence River

We looked quickly at the menu posted outside the door, still not sure what we would actually order.  Even once we were handed menus inside, I was still having trouble deciding between pizza and lasagna.  And then, at the very bottom of the lengthy pizza list, the choice became clear:  pizzaghetti!

Our auberge in Cap-à-l’Aigle

I first encountered pizzaghetti many years ago when visiting a friend in Montréal.  That version featured a normal pizza topped by a sauce-drenched helping of spaghetti.  It was ridiculously filling but I quite liked how the spaghetti sauce soaked the pizza:  no more dry crust!  I thought this was the definitive version and often spoke fondly of this unusual dish, seemingly available only in the province of Québec.

The geological hike at Cap-à-l’Aigle, with a huge freighter in the background

Years passed and pizzaghetti gradually disappeared from my radar.  I thought it was one of those fads that quietly passed in the night, never to be seen again.  Until now!  Even better:  it now appeared in a startling new variation!   This time, the spaghetti (and sauce) appeared below the cheese and toppings.  If you look at the large close-up photo at the top of this post, you can clearly see the spaghetti below the cheese.

The geological hike continues near Cap-à-l’Aigle

However, there is more to La Malbaie than pizzaghetti.  The next day, I went on a guided geological hike for a few hours.  This took me to otherwise inaccessible parts of the coast around Cap-à-l’Aigle and partly restored some long-lost high school geography lessons.  The hike was also a good way to connect with some fellow travellers.  I traded travel recommendations with an American who now lives in Ottawa…it’s always great to hear about hidden gems from somebody who shares a similar “travel ideology”.  I now know of a great destination in Iowa!

The Manoir Richelieu at La Malbaie

That evening, we were supposed to go to an astronomy “clinic” and visit the high-powered observatory in La Malbaie.  Alas, the observatory staff was decimated by illness and the evening session was cancelled.  While we weren’t able to get up close and personal with Saturn, we did get a chance to visit the renowned Manoir Richelieu hotel at nearby Pointe-au-Pic.

The 5th hole at the “Club de Golf Le Manoir Richelieu” at La Malbaie

The Manoir Richelieu is one of the former CP hotels that now forms part of the Fairmont chain of luxury hotels.  As there is a casino nearby, it is possible to see the hotel without being a guest.  The skies were cloudy but it was still nice to see this legendary hotel (and its golf course) up close.  Maybe we would be able to stay at one of these properties soon?  Stay tuned to find out!

Journey to Charlevoix

(Cap-à-l’Aigle, Québec, Canada)

After “sports camp” at Lac Delage, we continued east from Quebec City to the Charlevoix region on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.  I’ve been skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif but have never been here during the summer months.  Little did I expect that the most-photographed locality for the day would be a relatively obscure village named Château-Richer.

There must be an interesting story behind this hay sculpture in Château-Richer, Québec

Château-Richer is very old by Canadian standards…a rural parish was established there in 1678.  It is filled with old houses featuring a sloping red roof, such as the one in the photo at the top of this post.  However, it’s not all about distant history in Château-Richer:  check out the bizarre hay guitarist!   The nature of agriculture has also changed over 400 years:  we saw lots of alpaca farms throughout the region.

Another building in the “Nouvelle-France” style, at Château-Richer, Québec

It’s usually the village next to Château-Richer that gets most of the attention.  Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré has little more than 2000 inhabitants but it has a massive basilica that seems to attract every tour bus in the province.  It is the site of many miracles:  the pillars at the front of the church are festooned with crutches that were no longer needed by their owners.

Alpacas were not historically found in Château-Richer, Québec

I took a photograph of the green slopes of Mont-Sainte-Anne but it just doesn’t look as impressive without the snow.  Still, it did whet my appetite for the upcoming ski season:  my ski posse and I are making steady progress on the planning for our annual ski trip.  Details on that journey will be posted on this blog in due course.

Every tourist takes this picture in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec

I have to admit that the journey onward to Baie-Saint-Paul was pretty miserable:  there was a sudden downpour, the terrain was extremely hilly, there was a lot of construction, and there were a lot of impatient motorists who were probably driving too aggressively for the road conditions.  Unfortunately, there is only one way to get to the Charlevoix region by car!

A less-traditional church, just down the road in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec

Our previous visit to Baie-Saint-Paul was marred by an arsonist’s attack on the auberge where we were staying.  While we escaped and there were no other injuries, there was extensive damage to the auberge:  click here for the details.  We quietly returned to the site of the fire and saw that there was absolutely no evidence of that frigid and scary night.  It was kind of surreal to see things “normal” there but it is completely understandable that the auberge and the town would want to move on.

Downtown Baie-Saint-Paul, Québec

As for the rest of Baie-Saint-Paul, it seemed to have even more art galleries and specialty shops than we remembered.  However, the main difference between this and our winter visit was the sheer number of people.  It wasn’t quite the sleepy town we remembered!   We made peace with Baie-Saint-Paul but were also ready to continue further east in the Charlevoix region:  stay tuned for the details!