When people visit Canada or choose to travel within the country, the obvious list often includes Ottawa’s parliament building, Toronto’s Manhattanism, or the majestic Niagara Falls in the East, and Alberta’s straight-out-of-heaven Banff national park, Vancouver’s beach-and-mountain combo or Yukon’s Arctican polar bear/aurora gazing in the West. Amidst such English flair and polar beauty, the province of Quebec in Canada serves as a welcome piece of French Europe in North America.
From cobblestoned streets to the dominant Quebecois French culture to an architecture that reflects the French tastes, the province offers a great escape to the colonial era without leaving this side of the Atlantic. The charming Old Quebec City and the more cosmopolitan Montreal are the province’s prominent cities, with the former having originated as far back as the beginning of the 17th century, making it one of the oldest cities in North America. Here we present a bite-sized itinerary to cover the best of these two cities - a perfect idea for a long weekend.
By road, Montreal is roughly 3 hours from Ottawa and 6 hours from Toronto. You can also choose between ViaRail train or Megabus/Greyhound bus services, or a flight if you’re traveling from further away. The best way to get to Quebec City is another 3 hour drive by car or Orléans Express bus from Montreal.
Day 1: Montreal
We headed out early on Friday from Toronto to reach Montreal by early evening, and checked-in at an Airbnb in the Ville-Marie neighbourhood which was decently close to the downtown core. As we began our trip, we found the area house a surprisingly beautiful little park called Esplanade Ernest-Cormier with curious sculptures and low-hanging apple trees that made it difficult to not pluck one or two fresh ones!
As you head towards Old Montreal, begin at Place D’Armes, a square opposite the Notre Dame cathedral. With horse carts awaiting and musicians adding a little pep to the experience, it is a great way to get officially started with the weekend. Close to the cathedral on Notre Dame St West is a refreshingly cute cafe called Tommy Cafe. The vine-decor and stairway seating invite you to pause-and-sip on some caffeine. We obliged as there was some time to kill for the Aura light show that was to begin in the cathedral. Check before your trip if the light show is on play when you’re in Montreal as it’s a definite not-to-miss. Given our infatuation with the Lightshow we had caught at Disneyland Paris, we were rather smitten by this one.
Notre Dame cathedral lies to the east of Tommy Cafe, and it’s a direction you should continue walking in once done. On the way, you’ll find the tall-columned Courthouse. Feel free to zig-zag your way through the alleys to catch curious shops and cafes. They offer some of the best of the city. Our next pit-stop, though, was on a straight line to Place Jacques-Cartier, which serves as an entrance to the port of Old Montreal. Opposite this square is the park-like Vauquelin Place but we decided to turn towards the port and soak in the many restaurants and performances on the glitzy stretch.
Our dining spot, on recommendation, was Jardin Nelson. With live music and food that will not disappoint, you can easily spend a couple of hours here. Their french onion soup is to swear by. It’s always busy but tables are relatively quick to get. Make reservations nonetheless if possible.
Post dinner, we continued our walk to the port and then westwards along the stony pathway for a fair distance until we turned back into the alleyways. If you so choose, there are a bunch of petit French restaurants you’ll come across if you were to walk westwards from Notre Dame, particularly on streets like Rue Saint-Pierre. For those wishing to explore delicious Vegan concoctions, try out LoV at McGill & Rue des Recollets.
Day 2: Quebec City
Take an early morning bus to Quebec City, a 3-hour drive. As you arrive and check-in by brunch time, the obvious thing to do would be to hit the old town as soon as possible. We, however, recommend patience. If the words nature, escape, zone-out, spa or unique experience resonate with you, take a cab to Siberia Station Spa - approximately 30 minutes out of town. For a very affordable price, you’ll experience the Nordic therapy of subjecting your body to cycles of hot-cold-rest. On offer would be everything from hot stones, saunas, infrared and steam baths, to cold fountains, river baths, to swinging couches, hammocks, outdoor fireplace and riverfront beds - all completely surrounded by the forest and rich with natural sounds of rustling leaves, flowing river and chirping birds! You can eat at the cafe there too. Read our post on the subject to learn more.
Whether your trip starts immediately on arrival or towards the evening does not matter too much because Old Quebec City is a pedestrian paradise equally well served during daylight and in the charming glow of nightfall. The walking tour of Old Quebec City, spreads out in two directions from the focal point of Place D’Armes square. The first will take you towards the princely Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and a gorgeous river-view. If you’re visiting in snow, there might be a snow tubing experience on offer steps away. If not, or once done, make your way downhill to Rue du Petit Champlain. Little shops dot the lanes, as do place to munch. Soak it all in. You may ride the funicular up and down the hill, but we found walking it all out worth the experience. Oh, and there is also a Notre Dame close by, at Royal Place.
Back up the hill, the next part of the walk continues in the other direction from the square Place D’Armes. We recommend taking the Rue De Buade as you’ll come across great shops, including a Christmas heaven, sure to fill you with joy. Keep strolling as the streets unfurl surprises every now and then. One in particular that caught our fancy was a park behind Hotel de ville (City Hall) that had a mesmerizing colourful dance of water fountains. You can sit on the steps in quiet surrender to the moment for as long as you wish. But before you get into that, make sure the tummy’s happy as places to eat can close early.
For dinner, an interesting spot to grab a bite could be the pretty village-y Aux Anciens Canadiens on Rue Saint Louis, close to the famed Fairmont hotel. If you find it too busy, feel free to try one of the other restaurants on this street - they may be still less crowded than the more commercial ones dotting the other side of Place D’Armes (the main square in the vicinity). We picked a quiet, cozy one with a live guitarist.
Day 3: Return
The return journey from Quebec City to Montreal to wherever, can be tiring if done at a stretch. This is why it is best to keep the better part of a day dedicated to this. Our pit stop in Montreal was a romantic and exclusive candlelit show by a budding musician, that we had found on Airbnb experiences. (We certainly hope to see him on the cover pages in a few years.) The return journey would also offer a great chance to squeeze in one more round of Montreal’s alleyways, because there will always be ones remaining to check-out. Just get home in time to rest before the work week begins!
Location: Quebec City, Quebec
Siberia Station Spa, located north of Québec City at 339 Rue de Genève, Québec, is a beauty. It underlines the reason we blog about experiences. This outdoor-indoor combination spa comes at a surprisingly reasonable price with its all-day spa package at only 47 CAD allowing access from 9 am - 9 pm! There are also combos for spa + massage/dinner etc. All in all, it’s a perfect gift too.
Siberia Station Spa is situated far away from the noise amidst a forest that lets you get in touch with origins once again. It is inspired by a Scandinavian concept of alternating hot, cold, and rest treatment till the body reaches a state of deep relaxation. This therapy is said to provide several benefits such as reduction of stress, cleansing the body of toxins, muscle relaxation, improved blood circulation, skin care and more. We were advised to come here with at least 3 hours in hand to fully experience what this spa has to offer. We arrived at the station at 10 am and were checked-in by a friendly and very helpful host who gave us a tour of the spa and details of how we were to go about the therapy. The spa houses 4 hot stations: Hot Basin, Steam Bath, Dry Sauna and Infrared Sauna; 2 cold stations: Cold Basin and the River (quite literally!); and finally, the rest stations: Pavillion Upe, Siberian Yurt and the Lodge, among a few others. The 3-step repetitive process is quite simple: you calm the body and mind in one of the hot stations for a while, then give them a sudden wake-up in cold water and finally, lounge and rest to the natural sounds of the wind, the birds, the trickling water and the quietude.
Once we had switched our phones off, were out of our clothes and in our bathing suits, we were all set to relax after a 3-day journey. First up was the Hot Basin, one of several distributed across the outdoor site. It is a natural starting point, given the pristine steaming basin of warm water with a beautiful unobstructed view of tall trees, a steadily flowing river nearby and open sky. It is heavenly! We could instantly feel our bodies relax and let go. The jets of water shooting out underneath serves as a welcome tissue massage for your palms, feet and back. Yet, even as your heart begins to speak out through its relaxed beats, it is soon time to give it some shock therapy. As you step out of the basin, you must now enter one of the chilled waterfalls around. The water is naturally cold in this northern, Quebecois region of Canada. This part required a quick run-in and run-out for me even though the macho Mr. Fly was happy braving the chills. While some may feel compelled to skip this part, we strongly recommend not to. This exciting, if inconvenient, step is important to the physiological healing you are subjecting the body and mind to, activating your nervous system. The final step is one where you relax - for starters, in a muskoka chair by a fireplace, surrendering to the sound of the slow breeze humming around like soothing music.
Round 2! This time we went into the Steam Room. We entered a fairly large size room filled with hot steam and a light smell of Eucalyptus oil. As advised by our host, we carried our bottle of water (provided by the station) and a bucket of ice. Occasionally placing cubes of ice on our necks as they melted away, we sat for about 5 - 10 minutes here to help calm muscle tension. Following the quick run-in, run-out at the Cold Basin, we now had bed swings to relax on!
Round 3! This one was an Infrared Sauna - a tiny wooden room with dim lights and light music, passing infrared rays through our bodies. Post another chilled waterfall outside, we chose to relax on hammocks, hung between trees right by the gently flowing river. As we lay down in our respective shells, surrounded by the majesty of forest cover, the line thinned between wakefulness and sleep. The eyes were open, yet with all surrounding view cut-off, except for the leaves and the sky, the mind had gone silent. You will be forgiven for catching a quick nap if you so choose.
Round 4! Our final round began in a Hot Stone room. The tiara, though, was won here by the cold therapy - a quick dip in the steady flowing Yellow River in the middle of the forest! For those quick seconds, I felt the river embrace me, spreading her soothing balm all over. So it was only fitting to choose one of the riverside Adirondacks after. These isolated beds overseeing the river and facing the opposite bank of thick green cover were our moment to say a personal goodbye to the place.
The spa had several other options to try too - from yurt to igloo to indoor upper-level beds. Starved for time, we couldn’t explore them all, or even the cafe which we hear has good comfort food to follow the experience with. Siberia Station Spa is open all year-round. We can only imagine this outdoor experience when covered in snow around. Some things are best saved for a next time though. We will be going back to the sound of the steady stream, the breeze gently blowing around and this escape into serenity where all we could hear were the murmurs of mother nature gently breathing life back into us.
Location: Paris, France
The experience of Sacre Couer is in many ways the experience of Montmartre, aptly summed up as a cozy romantic evening through the narrow alleyways of Paris. Exploring the streets of Montmartre is a hike! These cobblestones dotted with shops of various interests give you a very local feel. And for good reason. This region of Paris was home to many artists of the long gone Beautiful Era.
You can take a subway to Pigalle or Anvers station and begin the climb to the cathdral. On the way, you will see several points worth a well-deserved pitstop, starting with a love-themed wall of 40 square meters in the Jehan Rictus garden square, known as Wall of Love. On this deep blue tiled wall are over a thousand “I love you”s, each written in a different language. We could not help but see how this great wall had made everyone cuddle with their partner or even parents while they stared at it. What a romantic spot to be at!
After being overwhelmed by the love-filled airs, we moved on to climb what was a tall stairway with tiny doors on either side that probably led to the homes and so many more stories. But as you move higher and higher, the bustling spread of Paris appears to play hide-and-seek as it comes into view and vanishes just as quickly. Ironically, one of the better views happens to be at spot where you’d find yourself smitten by something entirely different - a cute pink cafe, nestled under a low roof, called La Maison Rose. Upon entering this quaint cafe, we met a friendly hostess who seated us at tiny table and served delicious coffee and fresh bread, the perfect break to our long but exciting climb! There are several ways to reach Sacre-Couer but we advise you take the path that goes past the Wall of Love and this cafe.
As we set out with happy tummies, we reached several souvenir stores a short walk away, and lining the street that now directly takes you to the final destination. It’s a good place to pick up a few knickknacks - maybe a coin purse with Paris embossed on it or a couple love mug that locks with each other and says J’taime! As you move forward, the path has one last gem in store before unraveling the cathedral - Place du Tertre. Oh, how do I even begin to describe the splendor of this square! A dimly light yet lively space that once used to be the main square in the village of Montmartre and inspired renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Pissarro, Modigliani and many more; it has now come to be known as “The Artist’s Square”. It is located high on the hill approximately 300 meters from the Sacre Coeur Basilica, buzzing with local artists quickly drawing up stunning sketches of their customers while others indulge themselves in various delicacies sold by cafes and restaurants that frame this square. It is a mesmerizing sight to see. But like everything in Paris, it only takes a short walk to come across a view that beats even that.
For generations, Montmartre had been considered a place of worship by the local Parisians. It is said that after the war in 1870 between France and Germany, Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury vowed to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart as reparation since they believed that the misfortunes of France was due to spiritual rather than political causes. In the late 19th century, the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur was erected keeping in mind its tradition - “God is well and truly present”. The Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie and 6 other architects. While exploring this magnificent place of worship, we noticed that the architecture was Romano-Byzantine style. This house of God dimly lit and surrounded by tranquil silence has been designed gave a feeling of eternal harmony and peace. After basking in this serenity and praying for a while we continued our tour of the basilica.
A look at the ceiling showed us a 475 square meter Mosaic of Christ in Glory, considered to be the largest in the world! This mosaic is said to represent the risen Christ, clothed in white and with arms extended, revealing a golden heart. Surrounding him is a world of adorers including the Virgin Mary, Saint Michael, Saint Joan of Arc, as well as a personification of France offering her crown and Pope Leo XIII offering the world. On either side, in two rows of gilded architecture, the homage of the Church and France to the Sacred Heart are depicted beautifully. The grand pipe organ of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur adds to the magnificence of this basilica. It is considered to be one of the most remarkable ones in Paris, in France and in Europe. Built in 1898, it is the last great instrument built by the illustrious Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Rumors have it that in 1611, a staircase was discovered that led to an ancient crypt that was said to have been sanctified by Saint Denis.
If you feel you are in the mood for an adventure, we recommend that you do not miss the climb to the dome of Sacré-Cœur at sunset which is open every day from 8.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (May to September) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (October to April). Once you embark on your adventure you will come across a narrow spiral stairway with 300 steps and no lift that leads to the dome of the basilica. Once we finished our climb to the top, watching the sunset accompanied with a panoramic view of the Paris, timed perfectly to witness the Eiffel Tower begin to sparkle, was probably the highlight of our trip! We truly lost ourselves in the glory of this basilica.
As we descended on the other side, we availed the services of a minivan located at the climb below the basilica where a jolly host singing old Parisian songs serves you a glass full of hot wine that was perfect in the chilly weather around us. Aah, but our pièce de résistance came by soon after when the hunger pangs took over. We headed to Le Refuge des Fondus! Don’t miss it as this unique little restaurant is filled with loud chatter, delicious food and a dining concept that will leave you talking about it for months. That included climbing over the tables to get seated, and drinking wine served in baby bottles!
To experience Montmartre truly, soak in the streets and these little corners. If you listen closely, you will find yourself to be the closest to La Belle Epoque than you’ll ever be.
“Let's dance to the tunes of our childhood songs
Let's live our dreams through our childhood tales
Let's skip through these magical lanes of Disneyland while the child in us comes alive again”
⤖ A Fly That Blogs
I cannot sum up our experience in better words than that! Disneyland was an unplanned stop that we made on our 5 day trip to Paris. Given that this was almost a last-minute inclusion, it reminded us of the saying - “The most beautiful experiences are those that happen unexpectedly”.
Disneyland is accessible by the Regional RER train from Paris. We took our 45-minute journey on RER A from Nation subway station to Gare de Marne la Vallée Chessy. From the moment we stepped off the train and walked towards the entrance of Disneyland we could feel a sense of magic tingling through our body. Yet, it is only when the grand entrance comes into view, with Goofy taking selfies with visitors in our case, that the child in you springs out, establishing the essence of that Disney magic! Just ask the otherwise mature Mr. Fly! With our sticks drawn and props bought, we decided to start with the Walt Disney Studio Park first. With our heads spinning in excitement the obvious first choice was the Crush’s Coaster. Don’t get fooled by the cuteness of that turtle; the ride will have your head spinning in a joyful swirl. The half-an-hour wait in the queue may have you wishing that you had carried some munchies though.
In Disneyland, some level of planning is very important for a successful day. Queues can be long at each ride. But at each ride, you have an option of taking a FastPass. There are machines at each ride which allocate a fixed timed pass, usually later in the day, when you can walk straight into the ride. Keep the Disneyland app handy to keep track of where to go for the rides, pick and choose the ones you would enjoy the most and juggle between taking the FastPass and covering rides early in the day.
Next up was Hollywood Towers! This ride is one of our favourites. It is created with a complete theatrical experience in mind for its guests: the “lobby” alone fashions an old haunted hotel dressed with spider webs, dusty old furniture that could creak any second, abandoned suitcases with layers of dust as if they had been forgotten for several years. You make your way towards a secret passage which leads into a dilapidated boiler room. You are then seated in a service elevator which on command of the lift operator locks itself with a sudden thump that startles its occupants and then launches upward into the darkness until it comes to an abrupt halt! The corroded lift doors unlock themselves next, to expose you to a lengthy hallway inhabited by the dead guests from 1939 who beckon you to join them! The lift does as told. And then, a free fall - several times! Enough words - you have to experience it to feel the thrill.
We also explored a 4D ride into the Ratatouille world, though that was later in the day! It’s cute - sitting in a giant teacup, you get to experience Remy’s world. As tiny acting Remy, we travelled through his delicious recipes and an exciting chase that shrunk and tossed us in alternations while Chef Skinner attempted to catch us. This spot is also home to Bistrot Chez Rémy. Like other themed restaurants at Disneyland, they do not accept walk-ins. So those of you who crave a plate of Rataoulie, make reservations way in advance. In case you didn’t, have no fear as Disneyland has several other dining options - including some good ones as we found out!
Our post lunch engagement was in the second theme park, the Disneyland Park! We were greeted by a joyous parade where Mickey and Minnie danced to their heart's content, Prince Charming flashed his oh so charming smile, Princess Jasmin rode the flying carpet with Aladdin, while Goofy and the others ran around spreading warm hug! In the midst of all these dreamy moments, Mr. Fly added his own touch, christening me as his Princess! Arrrrr…. Yes!
This park is divided into several sub-themed sections - from Aladdin’s world to the Pirates to the Princess castle to Star Wars to Indiana Jones. We went into the world of piracy with the Pirates of Carribean ride along with Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbossa, and their crew of notorious buccaneers. It’s a gentle ride, albeit with Musket fire and explosions filling the air. We also witnessed Captain Barbossa's vengeance when the moonlight showed, transforming him into a terrifying zombie before our very eyes! At one point, you can also see the magnificent view you can get from eating at the Pirate themed restaurant.
We did not have time to cover the marquee Star Wars ride - our big miss - but we hear it’s quite thrilling and recommended. We did cover the magnificent tree house that belonged to the Swiss Family Robinson, running up a series of walkways and climbing uncounted numbers of stairs that intertwined through beautiful rooms, a kitchen and library. Perched on top, we paused for a moment to breathe the fresh air that blew around us, we peeked through a neatly placed telescope, the view of the beautiful island below. It’s a refreshingly rewarding moment amidst the hullabulloo.
We strongly recommend that you stay till park closing, because it saves the best for the last - Disney Illuminations! It was Disneyland Paris’ 25 year anniversary and the crowd justified the excitement. Find a spot you can get a view of the castle from. Once the magical light show begins, the nostalgia laden ride through all Disney movies and characters is stunningly displayed in lights and fireworks (and cannon bursts to honour the Pirates). With oohs and aahs, giggles from little children, warm cuddles among couples and families, we ended this splendid day of childhood memories.
Our final meal of the day was at the Rainforest Cafe. No reservations, though a decent queue. But beautifully decorated like a rainforest, this cafe-restaurant has ample options on the menu for a filling dinner.
After a day of adrenaline and oxytocin, you will need it. We left with the final words of Disneyland ringing well and true in our ears: “Within each of us is a dreamer just waiting to be awakened. We all have the magic to unlock this inner child. But sometimes, the inner child needs an invitation to come out and play.” So rid yourself of rules and expectations for a day, and invite that child out when you visit Disneyland Paris. You deserve it.
Location: Paris, France
Paris, the City of Lights: So much has been said about this city that it’s difficult to bring in something new. Yet, there always is - little things, places that make you realize just how much more there could be in this cauldron of charm!
Here is what we did, and a little extra we could do the next time.
Check in at Hôtel du Prince Eugène located at 247 Boulevard Voltaire. This hotel has the benefit of being directly connected to all corners of Paris as well as to Disneyland, thanks to the neighbouring Place de la Nation subway which is a central transit stop, and being relatively better value for money because it’s not in the more popular touristy areas of the city. The front desk can offer quick tips on how to find your way around.
We began with the Latin Quarter, heading first to La Capanina located at 64 Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève for an early lunch. What’s special about this place is that it is located opposite the steps of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church where Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) takes the cab to 1920’s in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris! Oh, and the Italian restaurant lets you take the bottle with you if there’s wine left over.
We continued our walk to the nearby Le Jardin du Luxembourg. Keep walking and you’ll soon reach the banks of River Seine and across from you, Notre-Dame de Paris.
Towards sunset, we made our way to Eiffel Tower. With a pass worth 25 Euro, you can head to the top of the tower and get a panoramic view of the city. The yellow-lighted tower shimmers in sparkling white lights once every hour - a must watch experience! Do not miss it.
Our dinner was the surprise hidden gem of the day. Steps away from our hotel is an unassuming Pozzio Cafe located at 256 Boulevard Voltaire. You’ll likely not find it on any Paris list, but this place has some of the most “undescribable” pizzas: buttery, dripping with flavour and melting away despite its crust. If you’re in the area, it’s a must try.
Lunch at Bustronome: a double-decker touring restaurant on wheels with a panoramic glass roof. This gem is hidden in plain sight, moving about the streets of Paris and a must try if you can shell out some extra bucks for a worth-it experience. Bookings are at 85 Euro per person and Tour starts from 2 Avenue Kléber. Read more here.
We explored the Louvre Museum, followed by a stroll along the banks of River Seine till the Pont des Arts (the bridge with love locks).
A quick subway ride leads you to the photogenic Pont Alexandre III. If you arrive here around sunset, you can watch the majestic yellow lights come on, while also catching a unique view of the hourly sparkle on Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Take an evening stroll around the nearby Champs-Élysées.
For dinner and in our quest to discover new places, we arrived at Lotus de Siam on Rue la Boétie, for some Thai food. Conclude with a glass of hot chocolate from Jeff De Bruges back on the Champs Elysées at 102 avenue des Champs Elysées.
Breakfast at Le Comptoir Voltaire at 253 Boulevard Voltaire, next door to our hotel.
And then, Disneyland! Details are for a different blog post. If you’d like to dine at one of its many themed restaurants inside the park, be sure to make reservations in advance. Our dinner was at Rainforest cafe, which we could access without reservations.
Le Marais. The area is best discovered by walking along its narrow streets - from cafes nestled around corners to the Picasso museum, from otherworldly falafels to visibly different architecture. Read this blog on how to best cover the area on foot.
Montmartre. The fierce competitor and legendary artists’ paradise, Montmartre is best discovered on foot too, through its equally narrow sloping paths. Visit the Wall of Love in the Jehan Rictus garden square or the cutely nestled-in Cafe La Maison Rose at 2 Rue de l'Abreuvoir. A little further away is the Place du Tertre square where tons of artists can sketch you up. Each place is at a higher elevation than the other, all of it en route to the final destination, Sacre Coeur. Once you’ve visited inside and if stairs are not an issue, buy a ticket and go to the top of the dome for yet another panoramic view of the city and yet another sunset view of Eiffel Tower.
It can get chilly up there, which is why, once you climb down, a truck selling Hot Wine is likely to be waiting. If you do not fancy it so much, don’t worry. A unique wine experience awaits a short distance away. Keep descending some more to arrive for the hidden gem of the day - a dinner at Le Refuge Des Fondus at 17 Rue des Trois Frères. Read here for their claustrophobic fondue, table jumping and wine-in-a-baby-bottle experience.
Sometime flights get delayed or even cancelled. Paris has a way of turning even that into something romantic. The little airport town of Roissy-en-France is that charming little French village that truly completes your visit. Walk around the little town to your satisfaction. For dinner, I’d recommend The Place located at 58 Avenue Charles de Gaulle, because nowhere else will you ever find a tastier and more fulfilling foam of bubbles!
If you’d like more ideas on truly unique romantic escapes in Paris, here’s another blog to satisfy those cravings!
Location: Stratford, Ontario
Weekends often leave one wondering what could be done. A classic Canadian way is to explore one of the country’s many little towns on a Saturday or a Sunday. One such gem located at a 1 hour 50 minutes drive from Toronto, is Stratford: one of those quaint towns where it's locals live their life around friendly neighbourhood hellos and sweet smiles that make you feel at home! We experienced just that when we decided to spend the Saturday before Thanksgiving at this tiny town.
Stratford is bathed rich with festivals and events all through the year, ranging from theatre plays, kayaking/canoeing upon the steady stream of River Avon, trips around the Bieber trail (yes, this little town is the home of Justin Bieber!) and so much more. One of them is the deliciously titled Chocolate Trail! We for one believe religiously in the concept and found that it is perhaps the best way to see Stratford. At a cost of 30 CAD + taxes, it offers you 6 passes and a guide-map of all the gems on its list - from designer candies to the more sensually-naughty Sinvention. The passes entitle you to sample decadent treats at places of your choosing. At other spots, you still meet the makers who craft these indulgences and, for a nominal charge, buy their goodies if you’d like. The best part? This mouth-watering trail-walking burnt enough calories to not make us feel guilty of all the sweet indulgences.
Here is a route that we highly recommend! Now keep in mind that we had a total of 12 tickets since there were two of us.
Our first stop itself disrupted our chosen list of stores, but boy was it worth the disruption! Rheo Thompsons Candies seems to be the crown jewel of Stratford chocolatiers. It left our eyes glittering by its magnificence. With over 40 years in the business, this celebrity store serves over a 100 varieties of handmade chocolates, hard candies, specialty nuts, nutty pop, and so much more. We got to pick 4 pieces with each pass. After an ensuing lip-curling mental battle, we walked away with Mint smoothie, Marshmallow, Rose Petals, and Pecan.
Next up was the Boar’s Head Pub. Serving for over a 150 years, this Queen’s Inn is a good lunch spot, and they serve a mean plate of Battered Button Mushrooms! Follow this up with their chocolate trail freebie, a flourless chocolate brownie, served warm with fresh fudge sauce, berries and French Vanilla ice cream, all melting away in your mouth. Yumm!
Store number 3 on our list was Treasures. Co-owned by two best friends, this store has been in the works for over 12 years! Showing support to art, Treasures sells artifacts inspired by the fine craftsmanship of the area’s Amish, Mennonite and artisan communities, as well as the abundance of other local talents. Our gift was their creamed cocoa honey jar. Spread it on toast, or add it to milk. If that pairing sounds fun, Bradshaws, our next stop, quickly threw in a match. While we had heard of wine and cheese tastings, wine and chocolate tastings was a new one for us. Curious what this would be like, we hurried to our destination. We were a little disappointed at the offset as we realized that they don’t literally offer a tasting session since it is primarily a gift store. However, their offering to each pass holder is a stylish Govino wine tumbler with three types of chocolates inside it - milk, medium dark and extra dark. The wrappers of these chocolates have notes on it detailing which wine you can pair it with, helping you create your own chocolate and wine pairing sessions at home.
Across the road, there are a few other options. But one worthy of your next pass would actually offer a pleasant little break from the chocolates. It was time for olive oil tasting! Olive Your Favorites is another unique concept that is a part of the chocolate trail. Run by a very sweet lady, Michelle, and her husband, Olive Your Favourites is Stratford’s first Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Tasting Bar featuring award-winning fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oils from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as well as a variety of Flavoured Dark and White Balsamic Vinegars from Modena, Italy. While the store’s original offer for the trail pass holders is a 60ml Aged Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar bottle, Michelle was kind enough to let us substitute it with any other one of our choice! After a whole lot of sampling, we decided to take the Basil Olive oil and Cranberry Pear bottles. Little did we know that Michelle had a surprise for us. It was only back at home when we opened our bag that we saw what Michelle had left as a gift in it - Key Lime and Baklouti Green Chile Pepper. These were, after all, the sample we had pondered long and hard over! Thank you, Michelle. With a small gesture, you won the top prize in our hearts!
It was now tea time on Mr & Mrs. Fly’s watch! Distinctly Tea was our next destination. This store offered a large selection of Green, Oolong, Black, Pu- Erh, White, Yerba Mate, Rooibos, Fruit, Herbal, and single Herbs teas. Pass holders receive a 50-gram bag of one of their chocolate teas. Choose from a Rooibos tea, Yerba Mate tea or Black tea. A delectable alternative for dessert!
And finally, the dessert! “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM.” We didn’t, really, but Jenn & Larry's Brittle & Shakes, nestled along Stratford's scenic Avon River beckons you with its little pink Papa bear, Mama Bear and Baby bear patio seatings. Owned by the father-daughter team of Larry and Jenn, this ice cream and candy shoppe offers Jenny’s handmade Peanut Brittle, and Larry’s hand-spun, frozen custard milkshake. For those with a trail pass, be sure to stop by and try a cup of their soft-serve vanilla ice cream sundae smothered in rich hot chocolate fudge and topped with Milk Chocolate Peanut Brittle. But do leave some room for the neighbouring store too!
Kandy Cakes fashions designer cupcakes on its shelves. In the modest selection is a divine Lavender cupcake. Try it. True to it’s name, it actually feels like munching on spongy lavender!
The Chocolate trail includes many other shops, including three in the neighbouring towns of Shakespeare and St. Mary’s. We recommend visiting the latter, not for more chocolates but a little walk of its own that leads to the Sarnia Bridge. This is where we concluded our long day of sugar overload, in a quiet lost-in-time trail that led us to the quietest moment I can recall. As you stand on the bridge, the river far below meanders away - so slowly that it almost looks to be standing still. At a distance, on one of its banks is a lush green sloping landscape with cows grazing away in peace. On the opposite hilly bank, houses stand nestled in thick tree cover.
Let the moments pass in quietude. And just look on. In that moment, in this little town not so far away from the buzzing Toronto, you’ll realize you could be anywhere - from Scottish highlands to Swiss slopes. That’s how we concluded the day, unearthing St. Mary’s as that vacation spot to go to when one can’t find time for a vacation.
Location: Toronto, Canada
A hundred steps and a hundred turns we walked this sunny Sunday. In all fairness, it was much needed after a delicious brunch at Cafe Belong at Evergreen Brick Works. Our story of the day came from Augusto. In a bazaar close to the cafe, among all the stores of fancy jewelry, dresses and food stores serving steamed momos, hot chocolates, noodles and more, was stall-owner with a smile as bright as the day. This stall, Brave Soles, sold wallets and purses of beautiful designs made from recycled leather. As we soon discovered, Augusto stood admiring his creations perhaps because each had a unique story of its own. Among them was a blue wallet. It was made from Airplane seat covers! How many stories had this little piece been witness to in its lifetime! The excitement of a lover flying to meet her partner after a long separation, a family chatting about the beautiful vacation they were headed to, an old man reminiscing the many highs and lows of life. As I held that little piece in my hand, I almost wished it could talk. Close by lay a black purse, made from the tyre-tube of a bicycle - one that once helped a young girl learn her first ride in the protected arms of her father, or perhaps one that a young lad rode miles on a countryside journey in a most distant land. People gathered and heard about these wonderful tales while wondering which set of stories to make a part of their own.
My journey so far had already been a calm and enlightening one - one that made me think of all the tiny tales with their own cauldron of beautiful emotions that chance around us every day. All that I needed to witness these wonderful tales was a heart of adventure and a deep breath keen to stay still and feel the universe around me.
Crossing through the chatter-filled bazaar we reached the hikers trail. a bride & groom with their troops had gathered for a photoshoot, a family had come to spend an evening exploring the wilderness and then there was us, in search of hidden treasures in the form of stories amidst nature’s beauty.
While walking along the regular paved trail, you may miss an unpaved, narrow, hidden climb. Take it and you’ll brave through outreaching shrubs on both sides until you begin to hear the gentle sound of a stream. The paved path would be far beneath you on the other side by now, but you likely wouldn’t notice. We didn’t. For, if looked at closely and with a mystical eye, one can observe the depiction of the seven chakras formed by the seven mini pond-like formations in the stream - each one clear and letting the water flow smoothly through them. Looking at this tranquil site, a two minute meditation session isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound.. By our side at that moment was a beautiful butterfly with grand orange wings and a thick beautiful back frame line, sitting just as calm and basking in the sunlight.
There are several opportunities at a diversion on this trek until you arrive at a bridge. Immediately beyond it, just like any truly worthy experience in life, we were faced with the challenge of a tricky off-path climb.. Mr. Fly stood right behind me through the climb, making sure I made it all the way to the top. Afterall, behind every successful person is their special someone! And it was worth it, for the other end of the short climb puts this trail in its true perspective. It is at the highest point with an unobstructed view of acres of greenery, water sitting calmly and birds flying, that one also sees the distant skyline of downtown Toronto. And at that moment, you realize how you have effectively stolen minutes of solitude and nature escape even as the busy life of megacity goes on all around you.
If you’d rather avoid the unpaved climb, you can also reach this spot from the other side. Just follow the unpaved trail past the highest point that the paved trail leads you to. We could see that gently meandering paved path at a distance below. As we began our descent to it, however, little did we know that we’d never reach it. On our way down, we came to an open area with another curious unobstructed diversion. This one was a very short steep drop to weed-laden railway tracks! A chance encounter with another hiker - a kind man with his friendly dog who had come out for some exercise - revealed that it had been abandoned. As if to underline the storied theme of the day, it reminded us of the time when trains would have taken passengers across this serenity, filled with stories and conversations of their own.
We descended down to the tracks and began walking north, opposite to the Evergreen brick Works where we had begun our trek. As we walked on the track for another half hour, shrubs gave way to bushes and trees, one of which had an eerie cobweb-covered travel bag hanging in one of its branches. How many more years would pass before it revealed what secret it held inside? Eventually, we entered Crothers Woods! We hiked through the woods, walking across a tiny bridge made of a few logs of wood, and at one point, we even decided to wet our limbs and sip on water flowing between two trees in half-a-meter wide stream. The hike concluded with a wooden stairway that opened up to what was the main entrance to Crothers Woods.
Bikers and walkers, all trace these steps every summer day. And yet, the two sets of trails are together hiked upon by few. We did it by accident. What held our hearts strong were the occasional passers-by, greeting a simple “hello” in true Canadian fashion. They reminded us that among the citizens rushing through the offices of this megacity, there will always be those on the other extreme, welcoming you, should you too ever lose your way into beauty.
Who are Mrs. & Mr. Fly?
Mr. Fly is a central character in the ongoing Kalki Evian series of books. Originally conjured in the fictional narrative to describe an unbiased view of our everyday world, he was soon joined in real life by a jolly Mrs. Fly who taught him how to truly discover pleasures in little things often missed while living out fast-paced lives. As they began exploring, this blog took shape with a view to share what they saw.