Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Quebec City, Montreal, Chambly and Vermont - the 25th anniversary trip

Note: It took me the better part of a week to build this post. The fonts are all doing something funky, so I'm going to eventually fix them. But for right now - don't sweat the wackiness of the fonts! Just enjoy the read, I guess... 

On a beautiful late spring morning, Doug and I got married. Twenty five years ago. It has been a lot of fun, with some ups and downs, but overall it's been a good time, I'd say. Doug is pretty awesome. And I'm lucky to have stumbled across him by accident. Well, we got set up by Clayton one day in 1987. So it wasn't exactly a stumble across.

That's a whole story in and of itself.

Our honeymoon back in 1991 was spent tootling around Nova Scotia. We stayed in cheap hotels and a couple of Bed and Breakfasts, where our bedroom was very close to other people. On the last night of the trip, we stayed at a seedy little motel in Bar Harbor where the people in the next room were having some sort of "I haven't seen you in YEARS!" reunion. Doug went and SCREAMED at them at one point because I was so tired and couldn't sleep that I was crying.

We did it on the cheap and at times we got what we paid for. Our plans were to camp out for some of the trip, but it was so cold out at night that it really wasn't an option.

Overall, it was a great honeymoon. There are very few things I'd change, like the night we ordered Domino's Pizza in Sydney, NS (and it was vile beyond all imagination, but the only thing in town). We met some amazing people, specifically a store owner named Mike MacKinnon in (I think) Framboise who drove us around to a place he called Mary Joseph Lake, where we could camp if we wanted to because the people who owned the land lived in Germany and were never there. And he took us to a barn/farmhouse/museum where we met a very old gentleman name Dan Alex MacLeod, a local historian. Twenty five years later ... he must be long dead at this point. And we got to hang out with Mike's dog Tattoo by the wood stove in his general store. The dog, by the way, named for the Scottish drums not for the skin and ink. We took some great hikes, and my favorite picture of the two of us was taken on that trip.

For our 25th anniversary, I very much wanted to retrace our steps on the original honeymoon. Doug said to me, "I want to go somewhere that we've never been, and do it up." So he planned the trip.

So we went to Quebec City. I wanted to go to Montreal as well, so we added a day in Montreal. And I have a friend who owns a Bed & Breakfast in Vermont, so I wanted to stop there on the way home.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip. And I wish we had two extra days to tack onto the trip so Montreal would have had more exposure, but we can go back. Anytime.  It is only about 4 hours away. Heck, it is closer than my sister's house.

And we did "do it up" as it were. We spent a lot of money on food, and nice hotels instead of $45 a night flea bag hotels. If you'd like to see all of the pictures, they are here.

Here's the long walk through, if you are interested:

Wednesday morning, on our actual anniversary of June 1st, we got up and were on the road by 8am. Quebec City by 2pm, with a little traffic along the way. No other cars at the border crossing north of Jackman, ME. It was a beautiful ride. We'd been up that way a few other times in life, most recently with Geoff's Boy Scout Troop in 2007 when he went whitewater rafting, and we passed Swedish Fish Island (a great story if you want to take a side trip and read about it here).

(By the way, I am not using any punctuation in French below because... I am too lazy to find the html codes for things).

Checked into our hotel, and unpacked, we headed out to explore. We stayed at a little place called the Chateau Bellevue, which Doug picked because he wanted to stay near the Chateau Frontenac, which is the most famous landmark in the city, but was way out of our "do it up" price range. It was a gorgeous day, so we went down, grabbed a "jambon et fromage" croissant, and walked the boardwalk, took pictures, walked into Old Quebec below the Frontenac. 

The entire vibe in Quartier Petit Champlain is shopping, tourists, tourists, and shopping. And bars. The old town is built into the hill under the Frontenac, so it is all levels and terraces. And it is beautiful. 

We walked all around, visited and spent a great deal of time in the Notre Dame de Quebec Basilica, and then ended up walking about and around to a lovely little place called Pub des Borgia. It sits up on a little ledge, with a nice overview of the action. We relaxed and enjoyed a cheese plate and beer. Normally something this "touristy" would make me cringe, but there wasn't an Old Navy or Gap, or any chain stores like there are in places like South Street Seaport or Fanieul Hall. It looked touristy ... but inviting. Appealing to the visiting crowds without being cheesy. 

I was excited to learn there was an "incline" like they have in Pittsburgh, called the funicular. The hill was no fun to walk down (for my knees, I'm sure people think it is fun) and walking up would be dreadful. 

We went back to the hotel, cleaned up our sweaty selves, and went out to dinner. Our hotel had a deal with a local restaurant for a night out. Aux Anciens Canadiens is housed in the Maison Jacquet, one of the oldest homes in upper-town. We had a lovely meal and drinks, and did the "do it up" thing very well here. 

I was worried about spending too much on the food and Doug yelled out "Don't sully this day with your price taggery!" a la Montgomery Burns. It was funny, but I still couldn't bring myself to spend $48 on bison and wapiti. So I got Salmon sous vide. And it was very, very good. 

The meal was outstanding. The waitress was adorable. Truly a wonderful place to enjoy our official 25th anniversary dinner.

All through Quebec City that day we'd seen busloads of school children running around on their school trips, from all over the US and Canada. So at the table behind us, there were three school boys, probably in 8th or 9th grade. The fanciest restaurant in town, and they have to come in and order in French. 

They debated what to order, and all the meals were four course meals. I was starting to get worried for them, and was ready to say something to the waitress. They were talking about how much things would cost, and tax, and tip, and they were concerned with the totals. Then, the waitress came with their ... dessert. 


My inner mommy relaxed. They split the bill, did the math, and I was proud of them for doing everything they needed to do in French. 

For the rest of the trip, we repeatedly referred to "L'Infant Terrible!" which is probably not how you spell it but whatever. Just yell it with me. Spelled right or wrong, hoards of (overall) horrible rowdy, ill behaved children infested the city. 

Thursday - So Much Quebec...

We got up in the morning on the early side of things (for us, at least) and headed to the battlements that surround Old Quebec. 

We walked along the walls, over the gates, admired the view, and didn't go up to the battle ground and the Citadel. I kind of regret that now thinking about it. 

Doug wanted to head down to the Marche du Vieux-Port, and do some shopping. We filled a backpack with wine, mushroom things for tea, and more wine, and some cheese. 

It's always good when one finds some cheese

Back up to town to lunch at l'Oncle Antoine, another of the oldest places in Quebec City. It began to rain while we were sitting out, and a hoard of elderly people ("pensioners!") rushed the joint. 

45 seats inside and a bus of 55!  We referred to the old people on tours as l'Pensioner Terrible! for the rest of the trip. 

We decided to bail, and walked around the corner to a lovely place with tons of patio seating under a giant awning instead of individual umbrellas. The place was empty, called Q de Sac, (the tour bus people could have all fit in and out easily with room to spare if they just walked around the corner) and we had the patio to ourselves. 

We asked the man behind the bar if we could sit outside and he said that would be fine. We didn't realize at the time he was the owner, Andrew Murphy (adorable as his profile picture on the website). 

We ordered a pitcher of sangria and a cheese plate, and watched people scramble around to get out of the rain. Andrew told us all about the cheeses and the farms in Charlevoix where he sources most of his food. It was so much fun to talk to him, and he was so nice. 

And not fussy at all to have us occupy a table for so long. Heck. We were the only customers there!

Once the weather let up a little, we headed for the Funicular, back up to the hotel, for a monster nap. 

Doug wanted to hear some live music, so the front desk at the hotel recommended the St. Alexandre Pub on St. Jean, near where we had been in the morning. Music didn't start until about 9:30pm, so we entertained ourselves by walking around. 

First, we went by the Anglican Cathedral, where the Jaguar Club of New England had all of their cars parked. A rainy night with shiny pretty cars. The church was closed, but the cars were all there, with people milling about, admiring them. 

Doug wanted to see the Morrin Center Library nearby, and miraculously, it was open. We didn't get to see the jail, but the beautiful library was a lovely space to spend some time and relax. 

Heading down to the St. Alex, we were lucky to get a table. The place was packed, lots and lots of tourists, mostly English and American. We had a nice waiter, ordered their meat sandwich (I thought about the Fish and Chips but the meat sandwich was supposed to be outstanding, and it was. Like the best pastrami you've ever had in your life...) 

Doug was ready to fall back asleep and we were both laughing at how lame we were that at 9:30 at night, we just can't hang like we used to. 

The "blues" musician came out, and played "Folsom River Blues" by Johnny Cash. Excellent guitar work; funny French accent. Not bad, but a little strange. Then, he launched into "Come Together by the Beatles and I don't ever need to hear that again in my life... Doug was disappointed that it wasn't "Blues Blues" as it were. The audience seemed into it, and we realized, we weren't. So we left our table so others could come in and enjoy. 


Back to the Anglican Cathedral, in the sunlight. Beautiful space, just absolutely stunning. And we met some people there from the Jaguar Club. They were all assembled with a tour guide, ready to take the town. 

We walked around by the Ursuline Chapel, and back up into town to grab a coffee by the Frontenac and look at the river, seaway... again. 

Time to pack up and move along. Thank you Quebec City for such a gorgeous and lovely visit.

Near Quebec City, there are waterfalls. Impressive, big waterfalls. I had my doubts when Doug told me that he wanted to go visit one. 

Chute-Montmorency is one such waterfall. Higher than Niagara Falls, it sports a gondola tour, a zip-line (no one was riding it at the time) and a cool bridge. 

We enjoyed a short hike, staircases, a bridge, tons of bus tourists speaking Chinese and more of the aforementioned L'Infants. I didn't really enjoy them.

Then, off to Trois Rivieres. For some reason, my husband has been enjoying Atlas Obscura a lot lately, and there is an old jail there (just like at the Morrin Library) that he wanted to tour. We got there just about 15 minutes after the last tour departed, disappointingly. The girl at the desk said the tour was all in French anyway (she said, in not so great English so Doug barely understood what she was talking about). She shrugged and handed him a brochure. 

We left and walked around the exterior. 

Upon arrival in Montreal at about 4pm, we checked into our hotel and crashed for a nap. We woke up around 7:00 very hungry for dinner. At the front desk, the bellhop who had checked us in, Mark, shared that old port was behind the hotel, and Chinatown was across the way. Doug was keen on Chinatown, so Mark recommended Pho Bang NYC on St. Laurent.  We got there just before closing and ordered a great dinner. Tons of food, incredibly priced. 

We walked up St. Laurent to the Quartier des spectacles, where not a lot was going on.  Walking through St. Catherine Street, they were setting up for the upcoming Grand Prix and the Jazz Fest, and there were tons of people milling around. It was an interesting people watching opportunity: families with kids and puppies and ice-cream; drag queens in full dress handing out flyers for shows; biker gangs hanging out in front of clubs; homeless people sleeping on the stages; and weird dudes walking up to us muttering in French, then English, asking if we wanted to buy drugs. 

Back to the hotel safely, nice and quiet, thinking Montreal is a world of difference from Quebec City. 

Saturday - Montreal Old Port

We slept in a little later than I'd wanted to but it was just so good to sleep. We had a 2pm checkout time which was so nice. We left all our stuff in the hotel room and headed to the Old Port area, stopping by Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal

Holy cannoli. I mean. Wow. What a cathedral. What a space. How beautiful. We spent a ton of time here, enjoying the art work, the side chapels, the stained glass. And there was a small space behind the altar with another smaller chapel, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which was all wood, stunning, beautiful, amazing. History of the building is here and if you like this kind of stuff - go read. It is a little space, seemingly built for music. 

Where in the large cathedral space, one single voice may be lost. In here? One voice owns the space. It was amazing. I was marveling at all the wood carving and a woman walked in and I heard her gasp, and start crying. Which was amazing to me, after just being in the giant cathedral, full of stained glass and soaring stone... to come into this smaller space and be overwhelmed by it. 

I took her phone from her, and took a picture of her so she didn't have to try and get a selfie with Jesus. 

It was a moving experience. I lit a candle for a very Catholic friend at an altar to Mary and the Rosary, prayed for her because her birthday was coming up and she just was not feeling it, and we left to walk around.

The old section of Montreal is much smaller than that of Quebec City. We didn't eat anywhere (although, looking at some of the restaurants there, I kind of wish we had gone there for dinner the night before). My friend Mark had recommended that we go to the Marche Jean-Talon, but it was 3 miles north of where we were, and we needed to check out and mosey to Vermont. 

We will probably head back to Montreal in the Fall, and enjoy it a little more than just a morning and afternoon. There is so much to see. So much. 

Saturday afternoon - Off to Chambly! 

We've been fans of the artwork for the Unibroue beer company for a long time. And their beer, too. 

This was a must-see for Doug, and he was very looking forward to this. Located about a half hour east-south-east of Montreal, it was on our way to Vermont. We bypassed eating lunch in Montreal, because Doug wanted to do the beer and food thing at the brewery. We were borderline hangry by the time we made it to Chambly. 

Doug had the address for the brewery in his phone, and when we got there, we discovered that they did not have an hospitality suite, or restaurant, so he was grossly misinformed. A quick Google and Yelp search turned up Fourquet Fourchette around the corner. They touted themselves as the unofficial official Unibroue restaurant. 

 It was about 4:00pm, and the restaurant was empty, but a few patio seats were occupied. The waitress set us up out back, and we noticed that a wedding would be taking place. 

The guests began to fill in, and they had a whole portion of the patio set off with a tent and beer all set up for everyone to pre-game before the bride and groom arrived. 

They were an older couple, probably in their early 60s, I'm guessing. They had two small girls with them, and another woman who I figured out was probably the daughter of the bride. And the two small girls were her grandchildren. 

We ordered beers and sat back to watch the wedding. We couldn't hear anything, and it was funny to hear their guests, about 50 in all, giggling and laughing. They exchanged vows and kissed, and everyone cheered. For those of us on the patio, the cycling family of 5, the party of 10 friends who had gathered together for drinks and sunshine, Doug and me... we all raised out glasses and clapped along. 

The entire wedding was over in about 10 minutes. 

We had grilled cheese, apple and sautéed onion sandwiches, and a charcuterie plate that was gigantic and amazing. I don't know half of the meats we ate. The waitress couldn't remember how to say what things were in English. So eventually Doug said "that's okay - we'll still eat it." and we did. 

We crushed. Absolutely crushed. And basked in the deliciousness, sunshine, light humidity, summery feeling by the lake near the fort. Bliss.  

We paid our bill, got some fancy Ephemere beer glasses and some bottles of beer (we didn't go overboard because heck, we can buy it in New Hampshire, five minutes from our house). 

And then off to Vermont! Right? 

But no! The manager asked my husband if he liked beer history as well as beer. Doug said "of course!" He then directed us to Bedondaine & Bedons Ronds nearby. 

Not only is this a beer museum, with decades worth of beer bottles and cans, bar wear, trays and towels from all around the world - they are also brewers. 

And we decided on another round, with chocolates. It would have been rude not to, after all.  We sat and leafed through books on craft brewing in Quebec.  And we enjoyed our visit there very much. 

We could have spent the entire day there, and if we were staying in Chambly, we probably would have. 

Now. Off to Vermont. 

Border crossing was very easy at the customs station in East Franklin VT. The border guard asked a lot of questions about where we'd been and where we were going. Especially why we picked that border crossing instead of coming down through Burlington. We told him it was closer than going to Burlington, as we were just in Chambly and were headed to Montgomery.

"Anything to declare?" he asked.

"Canada is awesome!" I replied.

He seemed unamused. And I was afraid I'd quipped my way into a search. 

Turns out, was familiar with The Inn, and he said he and his wife had eaten there in the past. He said they should go back. I agreed.  I'm glad I kind of really know a lot about Scott and Nick and the history of the place. Because I sounded like an expert. 

Arrival at the Inn was met with hugs and kisses, and we settled in for drinks and an appetizer. I had really wanted to have dinner there, but we were so full from Fourquet that we couldn't really fit anything in. Drinks while Scott tended the bar chatting with us and some friendly time getting to know the local regulars, it was a wonderful place to spend an evening.  

I had my hygge/gemütlichkeit feelings and was full of the happy. 

Scott went down and got his dog, a white german shepherd named Portland. She is darling, and I loved meeting her. We then slept fitfully, deeply and wonderfully. 

Breakfast was between 8 and 9 am, so we went down to eat. Scott made delicious jalapeño corn muffins, and we had eggs and sausage and toast. We hung out with Nick and Scott and talked about the Inn and the town, dogs and business. They told us we didn't need to rush to check out, so we took our time. I took a bath in the clawfoot tub while Doug researched what we could do before heading home. 

Sunday - Almost Home

We departed the Inn with hugs and kisses, and headed towards Burlington, even though it was in the wrong direction. 

Doug had found the Shelburne Museum online and thought it looked interesting. We arrived in the drizzling rain, and realized it was a mostly outdoor museum, with small buildings set apart from each other, and each building was rescued from somewhere else, brought there, and contained specific collections and exhibits. We got a good walking tour, went all the way to the far end of the property, and soaked just about every thing there was to see. 

One of the exhibits was a half-circle shaped building called the Circus Building that you could walk through end-to-end. On one wall was a collection of miniatures of a circus parade, all hand carved in perfect detail. Along the other side was a collection of carousel animals from the Gustav Dentzel carousel company, all meticulously restored. They were all so beautiful and I feel like I took a million pictures of just them. 

There was a riverboat that used to trek from NY to VT and back, sitting in the middle of the grounds. Meeting houses, apothecary and doctor/dentist office, barns and outbuildings, stately manors... it was all very lovely. A great place to visit. I'd love to go back and spend more time. 

We had a quick bite to eat at Al's French Frys, and headed home. 

It was raining in sheets, torrents, and visibility was next to zero at times. We pulled over and waited it out for a little while but it wasn't letting up. Eventually, we got home. In one piece, very tired. Very happy. 

I felt like I needed a vacation from our vacation but it was back to work on Monday. Lots of great fun. We did it up right. And I greatly enjoyed it. 

Can't wait to go back and explore more. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"I am... 24"

My daughter turned 24 this past weekend. She doesn't live with us anymore, has her own apartment with friends a few towns west of us. She commutes to her job in the city via the train, so she doesn't ride in with us the way she used to. She and I communicate through text and email, and once in a while we have lunch together.

I still pick up the tab even though she offers. So I'll let her leave the tip if she wants to contribute.

With this birthday being the very first birthday that she lives away, I knew that we were probably not going to be doing anything with/for her to commemorate the event. I had bought 2 tickets to see Guster and offered her one, but she was going on a corporate retreat all day on Friday so she knew Saturday she would not really want to go out.

I took her to lunch on Thursday and we spent two hours together (thankfully, both of our companies are flexible with lunches. When I think of how many lunches I've inhaled at my desk in 10 minutes, taking a 2 hour lunch once in a very very long while is no great crime).

It was kind of weird, not taking her out to dinner with the family. Not arguing with Geoff that he has to go, it is required and expected of him.

Geoff and I were running errands on Saturday and he asked where we would be going to dinner for Jess' birthday and I explained that she didn't want to go out - that she just wanted to stay home in her place with her friends.

"You get to be a grown-up human, and your parents don't always take you out to eat for your birthday as the years go by," I explained to him. "You start to develop your own thing. She lives with her friends, she said they'd probably get chinese food and beer and drinks and hang out at the apartment. She just wants to do that."

He looked astonished.

His facial expression screamed "What do you mean you don't take your kid out to dinner for their birthday when they're older? This is preposterous, woman!" 

"You seem a little upset by this," I said. "She lives in a different town. My parents don't take me out to birthday dinner every year. Maybe once in a while if we happen to get together close to my birthday, but I don't expect it. I grew up and moved out of the house and developed my own new traditions. With dad. And you guys."

"Yeah," he said, "but you moved five hours away from your parents and Jess is only 15 minutes away from us. There's no excuse not to take her out to dinner."

He was genuinely upset.

"Geoff," I said, "she and I talked about it and she's okay with it. I knew this day would come where she would move along with her life. I offered and she declined. Heck, you didn't want to go out for your birthday this year, so I'm not sure why you feel so strongly that we need to take her out."

He didn't say anything else, but I could kind of feel that he was struggling with some sort of disruption in the family "Force" of sorts. I didn't know if:

a) he was hoping for a free dinner out that night
b) honestly concerned that we were being dicks to Jessica by not taking her out
c) fearing the future for his own birthday meals

Part of me wants to really believe b is the option. That he honestly and deeply is concerned for her and now that she doesn't live with us anymore he sort of wants to see her, in his own weird Geoff way. Part of me thinks c is the truth too. That if we stop taking her out for dinner, he's next.

I told him that as long as he lives with us, or does not make his own plans for things on his own without us (the way Jess did) we'll be taking him out to dinner. No worries.

I'm wondering if this isn't a new moment of love between siblings, something I've wanted to see from the two of them forever. Well, for a long time.

And on another note, dude. My daughter is 24.