MonthJuly 2012

Quebec City

The drive to Quebec City was somewhat action packed.  We were in the merge lane for a freeway that we weren’t supposed to take and so we need to turn around.  I don’t think my uncle was thinking clearly at that instant because as his car was still in the merge lane (we were following behind him) when he tried to do a U turn.  He U turned from the merge lane onto the oncoming lane (in his unclear thought at the time, he did not see that the lane going the other direction was across the grass that separated the two direction lanes).

At the time, there were no cars, so it looked like it could have been the right way to go.  Then a car came down the slope (he didn’t see this car earlier because he was looking up the slope and the car hadn’t reached the crest yet) at highway speeds and now the two cars were facing each other.  That’s when my uncle realized what he had done.  When the other car saw, the driver quickly slowed down while my uncle U turned back the right way as fast as he could.  He was so freaked out.  While all this was happening, our car stopped on the shoulder to wait for him.  After my uncle did the U turn he stopped in the shoulder lane right behind us.

He took a little breather for a moment and then off we went.  As we merged back into the highway, my uncle I guess was still not fully relaxed because as he was merging back, he failed to gauge the distance properly between his car and the 18-wheeler barreling down the highway behind him.  Close call number two.  The truck braked enough and my uncle accelerated fast enough.  Nothing happened in the end luckily.  Just a big scare.  We all arrived in Quebec City in one piece.

Dufferin Terrace

Probably one of the major tourist hot spots in Quebec City.  It is a really nice place.  It’s basically a boardwalk along the St. Lawrence river near the massive Château Frontenac Hotel.

Citadelle of Quebec

At the end of the terrace, one can look up and see cannons in a fortification.  A staircase nearby (known as the Governor’s Walk) takes people up the hill to the fortification.  It’s a long walk.  It probably takes about 15-20 minutes just to walk from the base of the hill to the Citadelle.  Alternatively, people can drive up there if they would rather not do the exercise. In the Citadelle, there are a lot of narrow walkways with high walls that snake around everywhere (probably a defensive tactic).

 
 

There’s even a guard outside.

In the main courtyard of the Citadelle, there was a military ceremony happening so we couldn’t roam around.

From up there, we got a really good view of the terrace and the chateau.

And because of the military ceremony, there was a parachuting performance!

Old Town District

The old town district has a European feel with its streets on cobblestone and traditional looking architecture.  There are small windows with a balcony filled with flowers.  The walls of each building are of brick or stone and there are lots of restaurants with patio style seating.

 
 

After a good walk through the old town, we sat down for a cold one…  The owner was a nice fellow.  He is Quebecois but is able to speak Mandarin as he had lived in China for three years.  Seeing us Chinese tourists, he had to show off what he knew.  He could read, write, and speak well.  He even jokingly shamed my cousin who couldn’t read and write Chinese.  The guy didn’t just know a couple of phrases, this guy was fluent (can probably speak Mandarin better than I can).  The restaurant even has staff that know German, Spanish, Portugese, Russian, one of the Middle Eastern languages (I don’t know how to recognize which one) and of course English.

After this break, we concluded our tour of Quebec City and drove back to Montreal.  The next day, we would continue touring Montreal.

Random Wandering around Montreal

After coming back from Mount-Tremblant, we decided to do a night time stroll around Montreal.  One of my uncles had originally suggested to check out Montreal’s night life, which we were all open to.  Then my uncle started saying he would take us all to a strip club.  Good joke.  But nope, he wasn’t joking.  Then his son (my younger cousin) start going on about how terrible it was for my uncle to take us all to such a place and something about setting a good role model for the kids.  While my cousin was completely serious as he was saying all that stuff, to everyone else, it sounded like a big joke.  His obnoxious tone to his dad while talking and his dad’s kind of eye-roll reaction was quite funny to everyone listening.  In the end, we didn’t go check out Montreal’s night life.  Instead, we went to see Chinatown and the Jazz Festival.

Chinatown

My impression of a “Chinatown” in any western place has always seemed to me that the district was full of buildings that look to needing some good cleaning and maintenance or maybe even downright dirty (like gum stains all over the concrete) compared to more modern and nicer looking Asian districts like Richmond in Vancouver or Markham in Toronto.  The vibe in the Montreal Chinatown was kind of the same, but a bit better (see Wiki photo below).

They also have a fancy entrance sign.

The nice thing about Chinatown was the food.  For the past couple days, we had been eating a lot of random fast food (McDonalds, Tim Horton’s etc.) and so eating here was a welcome treat.  The restaurant even had shark fins on display at the entrance.  Looks amazing, but I suppose people shouldn’t be eating that anymore.

Complexe Desjardins

Because Montreal is so cold in the winter, there are some underground tunnels that take people around downtown.  One of the tunnels took us to the Complexe Desjardins.  From what I could tell, this place was just a mall, except, they had a really cool sculpture in the main atrium area.

Each of the little water droplets go up and down individually and seemingly randomly (I have no idea how it works).  Here’s a video of it in action though (kind of shaky because I’m terrible at recording videos).

International Jazz Festival

I’m not exactly a Jazz person, but it was good checking out the atmosphere at the Jazz Festival.  Bands were playing on the concert stage (I didn’t know any of the songs), but the crowd seemed into it.

We probably only walked around for about an hour and a bit, and afterward, we headed home.  We would need good rest for the trip to Quebec City the next day.  I’m told it is about a three-hour drive.

Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort in Summer

For some reason, my parents and various uncles and aunts had the idea of going to a ski resort – in the middle of summer.  I guess that’s like going to Whistler Ski Resort in Vancouver during the summer.  No snow, just grass, trees and mountains.  And of course there’s the ski village – that was really nice.

The whole place is a clear tourist town, which makes sense for a ski resort.  In the summer it’s still quite busy (probably way less busy than winter) with tourists everywhere splurging on expensive meals or buying brand name clothing (there are apparently stores for that here).

Some of the summer activities around here are mini golfing and outdoor swimming.  For some it’s eating/drinking, but for us it’s sightseeing.  Sightseeing means taking the free gondola just for kicks.

The trip in general was quite pleasant and relaxing except for the weather being especially hot (but luckily cooler than the day we were in Ottawa).  Kind of a short excursion from Montreal, but I think everyone enjoyed it.

Old Montreal and Mount Royal

After a bit of rest from the travels in Ontario, our next destination was Old Montreal.  I often thought that Montreal was a microcosm of France in North America (after all Quebec was known as the “Colony of New France” a long time ago), but it seems that it’s evolved its own culture.  There are elements of Montreal that are very modern (skyscrapers and the like) and the historical part of town (there are even horse carriage rides for tourists that ride along cobblestone roads).

The outside patio seating on cobblestone roads has a nice “European feel” and the architecture of the buildings surrounding it definitely add to the atmosphere.  Store and restaurant labels being in French also makes the atmosphere feel a lot more foreign (but luckily most people in Montreal speak English).


As I have learned throughout my travels, there is always a nice church in the historical part of town, at least in this case, a basilica.  This one is called the Notre-Dame Basilica or in French, Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal.

The inside is also quite different.  I remember a lot of churches like to use ambient light to keep the interior illuminated but the main congregation hall seems to be closed to natural light except for the two windows in the ceiling.  There is a lot of “blueness” in this basilica, which I don’t think is very common.  As usual, the altar is filled with statues of religious figures.

After that, the next destination was Mount Royal, which is one of Montreal’s largest greenspaces.  There is a large artificial lake where people like to go for runs or just casual strolling.  There is also an observation area that looks down the mountain toward downtown Montreal.

A raccoon even tried to join us at the observation area.  Poor raccoon…was probably hungry too.

That night we had a nice dinner that was a partial family reunion.  I think about 15 people from my father’s side of the family came.  That was probably the first time we’ve ever all got together for a meal in a long time.  The meal was also made better by the presence of my cousin’s 15-month old daughter (first cousin once removed?).  I think the last time where everyone got together (at least partially – I wasn’t present for that one) was in the summer of 2009 when one of my cousins got married.  We all asked about one another and how everyone was doing since we hadn’t caught up in a while.  We ate for about an hour and talked probably for another 2 or 3 hours.  It was a nice get-together that doesn’t happen very often.

Gananoque Rib Fest and Boat Tour of Thousand Islands

We left for Thousand Islands in the afternoon and arrived there two hours later.  We stopped at a nearby town in the Thousand Islands area called Gananoque where Rib Fest 2012 happening.

Rib Fest 2012

I don’t really know why this exists, but I do know that the ribs here are absolutely delicious.  Since it was the last day of the rib fest, some of the vendors added more servings for each meal purchased (at least that’s what my cousin thought who said that they don’t usually give so much).

We ordered a pulled pork sandwich, a bunch of ribs, chicken wings.  Would have been nice if there was some veggies to balance it out, but it was delicious so I can’t really complain.

After the meal, we made our way to the boat tour of Thousand Islands.

Thousand Islands Boat Tour

I actually wondered whether or not this place actually had a thousand islands.  I was tempted to count, but let’s be realistic.  That wouldn’t work.  It would be easier to just check Wiki, and according to Wiki, the Thousand Islands area has 1864 islands.  Hmm, I guess it’s true.

One of the nice things about these islands is that rich people buy up the land on them and build houses on them that are only accessible by boat.  This adds to the scenery quite a lot.  It’s better than seeing just random islands with trees on them.  With houses, suddenly the view becomes a lot more interesting.

To top it off, there’s an actual castle on one of these islands.  It’s called Boldt Castle.  It is an unfinished castle that was originally meant as a private home for a really rich family – the Boldt Family.  It was never finished because of the of the George Boldt’s wife.  Tourists can still tour the inside of the completed part of the castle though.

After the tour, we drove back to Montreal, where we’d spend the next couple of days.  After a good rest, the next destination was Old Montreal.

Parliament of Canada Tour

With a good night’s sleep (unlike the day before), we went back to Parliament Hill for the tour of the Parliament building.  We got the 11:20 tour, so there was some time to see other things in the mean time.  It just so happened that the Changing of the Guard show was on.  This time, there were less people, so we actually got to see something.

Changing of the Guard

The guards marched from the National Defense Headquarters to Parliament Hill (about 1.2 km).  The guards marched wearing their uniforms in some 30 degree Celsius weather.  Up close, sweat on their face could be seen dripping down.  They marched in playing their instruments.  The soldiers went in formation and each soldier’s attire was inspected to ensure that they were each fit to stand guard.  This process took about 30-45 minutes.  It was cool seeing these guards dressed up in this kind of uniform.  I didn’t even know Canada had these.

Peace Tower

After the show, we went up to the Peace Tower, the clock tower in front of the building.  At the top, we could see pretty much all of the Ottawa-Gatineau area.  Ottawa has a quite even balance of trees, buildings, and water.  I don’t really know how to define it, but the view just seems more interesting that just seeing endless buildings.  I suppose having some green and blue makes the picture more appealing to the eye.  Bridges across the river adds a nice touch.  There also aren’t a lot of tall builds either, which definitely helps in keeping the view clear.

Originally, we wouldn’t have been able to go up the Peace Tower and come back in time for the tour, but my cousin said that when the tour group comes in, they would have to pass through security.  We had already done that to go up the Peace Tower, and so after we came down the tower, we stayed in the secured area and met up with the tour group once they came in through security.

The Memorial Chamber

Just below the Peace Tower was the Memorial Chamber.  In this chamber, there is a war memorial.  The significance of this one is that there is a book that has the list of names 66 655 Canadians who lost their lives during the First World War.  A second book was also added for the Second World War.  Every day at 11am, coinciding with the time that the First World War ended, a page is turned.  This allows for each page in the book to appear at least once during the whole year.

Inscribed on the walls in this chamber is the famous poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae along with the locations where battles occurred such as Ypres, Passchendaele, Cambrai, Somme, among others.

The House of Commons

The House of Commons is where the elected Members of Parliament go whenever there is a meeting.  This is where major government legislation is introduced.  Whenever there is a meeting, this is the chance for all the elected members representing their political parties get the chance to debate topics such as how government money should be spent.  At the top of the room, there are additional seats for any spectators for whenever parliament is in session.

Library of Parliament

In terms of old libraries, this one is probably as old as it gets in Canada.  This is a key information source for the Canadian Parliament.  Occasionally, MP’s will come here to do research on various subjects.  In 1916, there was a fire that burned down the parliament except this room.  Therefore, this is the oldest part of the entire building (constructed in 1876).  Naturally, architectural style used in this building is a lot different that the newer part of the building.

The Senate

The Senate meet in a separate location within the parliament.  Here, senators examine bills proposed by the Government.   When the senate is in session, senators debate the bills and bills must pass the senate in order to become a law.  A special thing to note about this room is that because reconstruction of the parliament building began in 1916, the general mood of the population was that they were sick of war.  Therefore, much of the artwork in the room revolves around this.  Paintings of the war hang above the seats in the senate.  They are a constant reminder of the horrors of war.

Next Destination…Thousand Islands!

After the tour, we had lunch and then we made our way to a place called Thousand Islands for a boat tour.  I heard that there was an actual castle on one of those islands.  I didn’t even know Canada had actual castles.  I always though castles were a European thing.

Canada Day at the Capital

The day before, I, along with family, flew to Montreal for a family reunion.  Everyone would meet in Montreal and from there we would travel around Quebec, Ontario, and the Eastern USA.  We flew out on a cloudy/rainy Vancouver afternoon and arrived in Montreal at about 2:30 am local time.  That’s when we found out that we would be driving out with my dad’s younger brother’s family early at 6 am to Ottawa for Canada Day.  The first thing that came to mind after was that I would definitely not be able to sleep a lot.  I ended up sleeping for about 2 hours during the night and another hour on the way to Ottawa.  When we arrived, we met up with one of our cousins who currently works in Ottawa.  He’d been working there for the past few years, and so he showed us around the city.  Our first destination was Parliament Hill.

Parliament Hill

Because of Canada Day, a giant stage had been set up for shows throughout the day.  For Canada Day, many people came out wearing red shirts and so looking at the giant crowds of people, there was a sea of red.  The streets were filled with people taking part in the day’s festivities.  Street vendors sold Canada Day apparel such as mini flags to wave, vuvuzelas (I can’t believe people still buy these things), etc.  When we arrived at Parliament Hill, a ceremonial presentation of the Changing of the Guard was happening.  There was so many people that we couldn’t even get close.  We could only see it on the big screen on the concert stage.  From what I saw, it’s similar to the one that happens at Buckingham Palace in London.  From the events schedule, it said that the Parliament Motorcade would be pulling in at around 12pm.  It was still early at the time, so we continued walking around the city to see more of the sights.

National War Memorial

This memorial is dedicated to all Canadian dead of all wars.  This memorial is located in Confederation Square, and commemorates the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean War.  In front of it, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  There is also a Ceremonial Guard present at the site.  On top of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, many people showed their respect by placing a mini Canadian paper flag over the tomb.

Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it connects Ottawa to Kingston.  It’s been around since the early 19th century and people still use it today.  Because of its antiquity, the mechanical system for opening each lock is purely manual.  Students are hired during the summer to open and close them.  Apparently, people use this enough to keep this place in operation.

Parachute Show

As we were leaving Rideau Canal, we happened to see a parachute performance happening.  Soldiers jumped out of a plane and performed tricks on their way down.  I tried my best to take some pictures with my camera, but the zoom just wasn’t good enough.

Parliament Motorcade

As it got closer to 12pm, we went up to the main avenue in front of Parliament Hill to watch the Parliament Motorcade pass by.  Many people were already there waiting for the same thing.  Policemen stood along the side of the road making sure that nobody blocked the streets.  The Prime Minister came in a motorcade of black cars, but the Governor General came in a horse-drawn carriage with the RCMP in traditional attire.  And since I haven’t been keeping up with Canadian politics, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen the Governor General.

ByWard Market and Obama Cookies

ByWard Market is a farmer’s market that is located in Ottawa’s French and Irish communities.  To show its Irishness, there are a lot of Irish pubs present in this district.  On top of that there is a bakery called “Le Moulin De Provence”, that sells something called “Obama Cookies”.  Apparently Barack Obama once stopped by this bakery to buy cookies for his daughter.  And ever since then, there are posters of Obama everywhere in this bakery.

At this point, we were all tired from our lack of sleep the night before, so we decided to rest up a little bit at our cousin’s place.  I got a nice two-hour nap.  Felt pretty refreshed afterward.

Canada Day Concert

In the evening on the concert stage on Parliament Hill, there was a concert.  We went there early to see if we could get some good seats, but then on a day like this, it was pretty difficult.  We lay down our blanket on the grass and just talked until the concert started.  We got a little more caught up among the cousins with what we were all doing (jobs, school, etc. – the usual stuff).  Fishing live grenades from World War II was probably the most memorable thing.

Probably the most note-worthy part of this concert was the fact that Simple Plan played.  I didn’t even know they’re Canadian.  I’m not really a fan of Simple Plan, but it was still cool hearing a famous band play live.  As the concert went on, I felt tired again and somehow fell asleep.  I was so tired that I managed to sleep through the concert music.  I didn’t think it was possible.

At the end of the concert, the fireworks started.

After the fireworks, the crowds left the premises in an orderly fashion.  The parents went back to the hotel, while the younger kids stayed at our cousins house.  The next day, we would tour the inside of the Parliament building.

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