A quick trip to Montreal

After a few days on a concert break to Toronto, we were catching a VIA Rail train to our next Canadian destination, Montreal. It was a long train journey but the scenery along the way was at least pretty. We arrived at Montreal’s main station mid-afternoon and walked the short distance to our Marriott Hotel, another 4-star hotel bargain from Priceline’s Name Your Own Price site.

After checking in, we ventured straight out into the city.

Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, and above, the view from our hotel room

Our hotel was close to the pretty Mary Queen of the World Cathedral and there were plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes nearby so we spent a bit of time exploring before choosing a small Mexican restaurant for dinner.

The next day was our one full day for exploring the city. We’d seen the City Sightseeing hop on/off buses go past the day before so decided to buy tickets for it as the quickest way to see as much of Montreal as possible.

The bus took us to Montreal’s old town where we hopped off the bus at Notre Dame Cathedral.

After visiting the Cathedral, we sat out at a local cafe before walking to Place de la Grande-Paix-de-Montreal. Exploring the pretty square, we then decided to visit the Centre d’histoire de Montreal, an interesting museum tracing the history of Montreal and significant events from its past which is housed in a building that was once a fire station.

Then we walked down to the waterfront enjoying the sunshine as we passed through the many pretty parks along the promenade and enjoyed the views across St Lawrence River.

Hopping back on the bus, we continued our tour of the city through Montreal’s financial district and looping round to Mont-Royale, Montreal’s highest point. Passing St Joseph’s Oratory, we then pulled up at a viewpoint over the city.

The Museum of Fine Arts

We hopped off again at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The museum was definitely worth a visit and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring its extensive collections.

Back by Mary Queen of the World Cathedral

Then it was back on the bus to complete our loop of the city and return to where we started, the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral just across the road from our hotel.

Back at our hotel room after the concert

That evening, we attended the concert at the Bell Centre arena. The next day, we’d be checking out of our hotel and returning home to the UK but we had a little time in the morning for some last minute shopping first. Then it was off to the airport ready to wave Canada goodbye – for now!

A few days in Toronto

After beginning to plan a 2-week summer trip to the USA, we discovered our favourite pop group, the Backstreet Boys were touring North America during our trip. Unable to make any of the US dates work with our plans, we decided to add on a few extra days to our vacation to visit Canada and made plans to attend the concerts in Toronto and Montreal.

View of Nathan Phillips Square from our Sheraton Centre hotel room

Flying into Toronto late evening from New York, we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Sheraton Centre. We’d won the 4* hotel for a heavily discounted nightly rate on the Priceline website’s Name You Own Price feature and were immediately impressed by the large room and extremely comfortable beds.

The next morning, after a pancake breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants, we went to find out about buying tickets for a hop on/off tour. We had hoped to find some leaflets at the hotel about the tours on offer but unable to find the information we needed, we decided to ask the hotel’s concierge. Before we knew what had happened, reservations had been made for us and we were handing over our money but upon heading outside to wait for the bus, we saw the City Sightseeing bus we had hoped to get pull up across the road at a different bus stop.

Moments later, our tour bus pulled up – a small fully enclosed minibus rather than the open-topped bus we had hoped to ride. Unable to change our tickets, we jumped on board and tried to make the most of it but although the commentary from our driver was informative, it wasn’t the best way to see the city, especially through the scratched-up windows.

Visiting the CN Tower Observation Deck

The minibuses were less regular than the City Sightseeing buses would have been meaning we had to plan our stops carefully so we wouldn’t be hanging around too much waiting for the next bus. We decided to hop off at the Royal Ontario Museum, an art and natural history museum. A spending an hour or so looking around, we wasted a bit more time in the museum gift store until it was time for the minibus to come around again.

View from the CN Tower, and below, Yonge-Dundas Square and shopping along Yonge Street

With the bus schedule not really being conducive to repeatedly hopping on and off, we decided it would be best to just stay on board for the rest of the loop and return to anything of interest later. So once back at the hotel, we walked down to the CN Tower and bought tickets to go up to its observation deck. It was a pretty clear day and the views from the top were amazing!

From the CN Tower we walked to Yonge-Dundas Square, a public square in the city similar to Times Square in New York or Piccadilly in London with its huge billboard screens flashing up their adverts. Then we went shopping at the Eaton Centre, a huge city mall.

Arriving at the concert venue

That evening, we attended the concert at the Molston Amphitheatre before returning to our hotel for an early night.

We’d be up early the next day for a full day tour we’d booked to Niagara Falls.

After being picked up by the tour company, we boarded our minibus for the day and after a few stops to pick up other passengers, we began our journey around Lake Ontario to the falls.

Viewpoint of the US-Canadian border

Along the way we made a few stops, the first at a Lake Ontario viewpoint then another at a winery for a quick tour and spot of wine-tasting. We then passed the smallest chapel in the World at Niagara-on-the-Lake (where we were due to stop to take photos but were running late so didn’t), pulled over at a viewpoint of the Canada-USA border and made one final stop at Niagara’s famous Floral Clock before finally arriving at Niagara Falls!

It was worth the wait, our first view of the falls was breath-taking.

Passing the American side of the Falls

We were assured we’d have plenty of opportunity over the day to stand and stare but first of all, we had tickets included in our tour to ride the Maid of the Mists boats. As we boarded, we were handed huge blue ponchos and it didn’t take long for us to realise why. The boats sailed as close to the falls as they could get, the spray from the waterfall drenching us all as we stood out on the boat’s deck. It was great fun and an amazing experience to get that close!

The Candian Falls

After our boat trip, the rest of the day was at our leisure and we were just given a time to be back at the minibus for in order to return to Toronto. We headed across from the falls to the nearby Sheraton Hotel and its Hard Rock Cafe for lunch from which we could see a view of the falls while we dined.

We then spent way too much time stood at a viewpoint taking photos and just staring at the waterfalls before taking a stroll along Clifton Hill in the entertainment district.

Clifton Hill, Niagara’s entertainment district

We were surprised at the contrast of the complete tackiness of Clifton Hill with its numerous tourist attractions including a wax museum, arcades and minigolfs. We took a ride on the large Ferris Wheel to get more spectacular views of the waterfall then it was time to walk back to the viewpoint for our last glance before we met our minibus to head back to Toronto.

View of the Falls from the Sky Wheel

Back in Toronto early evening, we went for dinner at one of the hotel restaurants before taking a walk down to the waterfront.

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and took a taxi to Union Station from where we’d be catching a train to our next destination, Montreal. It had been a whistle stop visit to Toronto and it hadn’t been nearly enough time there but one day I hope to return!

3 days in Vancouver

Meeting a cuddly moose!

Flying to Alaska from the UK involved a stop to change planes somewhere along the west coast of North America so we decided to use this as an excuse to extend our trip a bit more starting with flying to the West coast of Canada for 3 days in Vancouver.

Arriving in the evening, we navigated our way from the airport to the city on public transport. With the train dropping us at a central station while it was still daylight, it was a short walk to our budget hotel accommodation just a short walk from all the main attractions.

We were up bright and early on our first day in the city and headed straight out to explore. Following our noses, we found our way down to the waterfront with its harbour and Canada Place Convention Center and then into Gastown, the city’s oldest neighbourhood with its steam clock, Victorian-style buildings and statue of it’s founder ‘Gassy’ Jack.

Looping back round to our hotel, we decided to spend the afternoon in Stanley Park hiring bikes and following the sea wall around the park. There were plenty of bike hire shops near the park all offering rentals at similar, competitive prices. We used vouchers we had found on hotel leaflets to get a slight discount.

Riding along the sea wall in Stanley Park we came across the famous park Totems, Brockton Point Lighthouse and Lions Gate Bridge on the first half of our bike ride. The second half took us past various beaches including one covered in an array of precariously balanced stacked rocks. Eventually, we had completed a full circle of the park and returned our bikes before heading off to find somewhere to have dinner.

On the suspension bridge

Day 2 in Vancouver, we headed slightly out of the city centre to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. A free shuttle bus runs regularly each day from near Vancouver waterfront to the park. Once there we bravely crossed the 140m long bridge as it wobbled 70m above the Capilano River. Once across, we followed the arrows to the Treetops walk, making our way across footbridges in the trees, up to 110m above the forest floor. It was then another deep breath as we walked back across the suspension bridge and tried out the gravity defying Cliffwalk. Not a place to visit if you’re scared of heights!!

We finished off our visit with lunch at the cafe while a live country band played.

On the Skyride up Grouse Mountain

Next up was a trip to Grouse Mountain. We caught a bus here from Capilano Suspension Bridge Park then took the Skyride – an aerial tramway up to the top of the mountain.

Views from Grouse Mountain

Once at the top, we took the included trip on the chairlift up to the peak of the mountain for more views over Vancouver, watched a Lumberjack show, saw some Grizzly Bears in the bear habitat and tried a ‘Beaver Tail’ pastry before catching the skyride back down and hopping back on the bus to Vancouver.

That evening, we walked back to Stanley Park. We had booked tickets to see Beauty and the Beast at the annual Theatre Under the Stars’ summer show there and luckily the weather stayed dry for it!

Storybrooke sign in the town of Steveston

We were leaving the city late the next day so still had plenty of time for sightseeing. Today we were again heading out of the city, this time catching a local bus to the town of Steveston. Steveston was the town used as ‘Storybrooke’ in the TV show Once Upon a Time and as a big fan of the show, I was excited to visit some of the locations used there. Our first stop was at the information office where we were provided with a map pointing out some of the locations used.

Whle sculpture by the Convention Centre

We then spent a bit of time wandering around and taking photos before catching a bus back to Vancouver and spending a few hours walking along the waterfront before it was time to say goodbye.

There were a few things we didn’t get chance to do on our trip to Vancouver such as taking a trip to Granville Island or visiting some of the many museums and galleries. Guess I’ll just have to plan another visit to the city some day!

You can watch my trip to Vancouver here: