Montréal Eats

Montréal Eats

Oh Montréal… land of cheese curds, “hello, bonjour”, and maple everything. It’s no wonder that every time I visit I spend 60% eating and 30% shopping. The last 10%, you’ll find me walking, hoping to work off the mound of calories I’m about to intake.

Montréal is a quick trip for me. Only an hour flight away from Toronto, I can leave after work on a Friday and be back home for dinner on Sunday and by Canadian flight standards, it’s relatively inexpensive. Which is what made it a perfect, quick getaway for this Family Day weekend.

B and I flew out direct from City Centre airport early Saturday morning. By noon, we were in the heart of the shopping pathway to do a bit of shopping at my dear Simons. While we now have this Quebec-grown department store a little closer to home, there’s something about making a trip to Simons on Rue Ste Catherine that makes a trip to Montréal that much more special.

While shopping makes up a large portion of what I did in Montréal this time around, the city is infamous for its festivals. Summer in MTL is alive with buskers, comedy shows, music, and love. In the winter, it’s close to -30 degrees so people like me who hate the cold, spend it indoors… usually eating because c’est la vie.

Every, and I do mean every, time I visit Montréal, I eat the following things:

  • Poutine
  • Escargot
  • Saint Hubert chicken

If I’m lucky, I add Saint Viateur bagels to this list but it’s a bit out of the way from the downtown core and did I mention it was close to -30 degrees this weekend?!?

Poutine is life, especially in Quebec. I grew up with fries and gravy but it was really only until I was in high school that poutine increased in popularity in my eastern Canadian village… and even then, it wasn’t quite like the Québécois make it. Ours was made with mozzarella cheese. The Québécois use cheese curds. And now that I’m older, and have many plates of poutine in my belly, cheese curds trump mozzarella.

The first time I tried escargot was about seven years ago at a French restaurant in Halifax. Like most people, I was hesitant to give it a try but once I did, I was hooked. The garlicky butter, the parsley, and even the funny looking fork and tongs cause my eyes to widen and my mouth to salivate. I can honestly say I have not had a time in both France and Montréal that I have not had escargot… and I don’t think I ever will. (B is the same with beef tartar… his first true love)

And finally, put, put, put St-Hubert Bar B Q. My first experience with this was actually relatively recent. About six years ago, B introduced it to me on a trip to Quebec and I converted. I don’t know if it’s the gravy, but it’s fair superior than Swiss Chalet… there, I said it. St-Hubert has become a staple on our Toronto to Halifax drives and I was worried that I wouldn’t get my fix this time around. Thankfully, Montréal has a St-Hubert Express before you go through security at the airport. So for all of you that haven’t tried it, you now have no excuse.

For those who haven’t had a pleasure of visiting this lovely city, do it. And for those who are regulars, what are your must-eats every time you go?

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

There are view places that have truly taken my breath away. The Kananaskis Valley in Alberta is one of them and the Amalfi Coast in Italy is another. On this trip to Vietnam, the place that had that affect on me was Halong Bay.

We were picked up by our tour (Maya Cruises) bright and early at our hotel in Hanoi. After about 2.5 hours in a ballin’ limousine bus, we arrived at the dock to board our ship. While we waited, we met some of the fellow visitors and chatted about life back home next to fish drying on the rack. While it wasn’t the fish that became part of our dinner, it did remind me of my childhood, back when my grandpa would dry and salt cod fish to preserve for the winter.

After a short taxi, we boarded our main ship with our outstanding guide, Tommy. We were greeted with a welcome drink and taken to the dining area for our 5-course lunch. This was my first cruise experience and it did not disappoint. After our lunch, we were given our room keys and told the agenda of the day. As we sailed further into the bay, the group of us made for two Australians (one of whom was originally from Vancouver), a Brit, and two Taiwanese from Halien. We quickly became a pretty tight knit group as there were only 7 of us.

After lunch and getting sorted in our rooms, we hopped into our bathing suits and prepared for our group kayaking tour around the bay. Once we were all in our respective boats, Tommy guided us around some of the house boats and showing us their oyster farms.

These house boats became a thing after the invention of polystyrene foam, which allowed for the building of cheap floating platforms. Prior to that, the families of Ha Long bay lived on land in traditional houses and in the natural caves on the islands. The last family living in a cave home moved out in 2009. Now, due to the bay’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, no new private homes are allowed to be built on land. Only a few yellow and red park ranger stations dot the landscape. The days of the floating homes are numbered too – the government is relocating those families back on land, due to the environmental impact of the breakdown of the polystyrene floats. I do wonder if ten years from now, visitors to Ha Long bay will see recreations of these villages, built strictly for tourists.

We chose the 3 day / 2 night option while the rest of our group would head back to Hanoi after just one night. While our boat made its way to drop the group off, we boarded a “day boat” cruise which included a different tour guide and a new group of sailers, all of whom were from neighbouring cruises in the bay. We were the last to join the group before we made our way to the famous Cat Ba island.

Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay and is the only island with habitats. It’s also home to the endangered Cat Ba monkey. The monkey lives more in the middle of the island and there are less than 100 left in the world. While we didn’t see any of the monkeys, we did take a bicycle tour to Viet Hai, a small village just a few kilometres from the eastern port. The ride was a pretty easy one with only one big hill that I couldn’t tackle on the bike myself (I’m not a cycler) and the views were incredible.

After a visit to the hospital and school (both of which seem a bit much for a town of less than 200 people), we stopped in for a fish foot massage – strangest feeling ever! – and a rice wine tasting before heading back to the dock. The wines that we did try were infused with rose petals or banana… there was also the infamous snake wine which none of us tried but can be seen in a number of southeast Asian countries including Vietnam. After a nice bicycle ride back to the boat, we made our way to a kayaking raft where we paddled our way to our own private beach.

Paddling in Halong Bay really did bring us up close and personal to the bay. It’s unfortunate that over the years, so much pollution has accumulated in the bay. As you paddle around, it’s not uncommon to cross paths with multiple plastic bottles, plastic wrappers, pieces of styrofoam, and even a rubber glove. But as we made our way back to our main cruise ship, we did see two rangers gathering garbage from the bay, so there is hope for a cleaner bay in the future.

After an action packed trip, we ventured onto the water one last time to visit some caves before we left Halong to make our way back to Hanoi. I have to say that after two weeks exploring Vietnam, Halong Bay was by far one of the highlights of our entire trip. I only wish I could have spent more time…

4 things to know before going to your 1st premier league game

4 things to know before going to your 1st premier league game

Ok, I have a confession to make… I know nothing about soccer, errr, I mean football… but on my latest trip to the UK, I faked it.

Three weeks before boarding our flight to London, B texted me to say he could score Premier League tickets for under $150 CAD each. While it’s a steep price to pay for a game that I know very little about, I’m always up for an experience while on a trip. And honestly, what’s more authentic than seeing a game of footie? After some himming and hahhing around the price, we bit the bullet and bought the tickets through Stub Hub.

If you’ve never been to a premier league game before, or even if you have, these are some observations/lessons learned from my first-time experience.

Don’t expect to actually sit in your seat. Unless you’re in the first few rows of the lower bowl of course. Our seats where at the end field behind the net, which would have been fine if we were sitting… but everyone stands THE ENTRIE GAME! Since our seats were behind the net, there was a bit of an overhang. This wouldn’t have been an issue if everyone was seated, but instead we were forced to bend over every time there was action at the other end of the field. While it was annoying, it was a lesson learned.

I could see the whole field when I was in the stairwell… but the rest of the game, I was looking at the gent’s head in front of me.

There are no beverages allowed in the stands. Going into the game, I knew this, but coming from Canada where sports and beer are a match made in heaven, it was a bit strange. Instead, hoards of people begin to leave their un-sat-in seats to pound two brews during the brief intermission about 5 minutes before the first half of the game is over. I admit, it’s not a terrible idea to not allow alcohol in the stands (it keeps it cleaner for sure), but the pounding of multiple pints isn’t very enjoyable for someone like me who likes to enjoy a beer unrushed.

The chants are about anything and everything. I had heard that some of the chants were offensive but I came to realize that most are completely random. One in particular seemed to have been created on the spot about a lone pigeon that was enjoying the sun on the field. While the game played on around him, he appeared to give little care to who was winning, or if the ball was flying in his direction. After about 15 minutes in his front row view of the game, he took off for flight and the chant “One Chelsea Pigeon” started up. I assumed it was something that happened so often that the chant was a common one, but I looked… it’s not. I’ll never forget the One Chelsea Pigeon chant for as long as I live.

You’ll need a ticket to get into the Club’s Pub after the game – and you’ll want to do it! After the game everyone takes to the street in search of winning celebrations. If your team loses, then I’m sure everyone’s out to drown their sorrows, thankfully Chelsea won! In our case, we wanted a pint at a local and it just so happens that the pub where Chelsea FC all started it just down the road a bit from where we exited. To get in post-game, you’ll need to show your ticket… and if you’re wearing the away jersey, don’t expect to get in. The place is packed and like most pubs, you go straight to the bar to order your drink… then it’s standing room only (unless you left the game in time to get a table). Post game celebrations are a must and really round out the entire experience.

Have you been to a premier league game before? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below 🙂

The many beers of Bavaria

The many beers of Bavaria

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When people first think of Munich, many think of the world famous Oktoberfest, lederhosen, and beer… and I’m not going to lie, before heading there I had the same preconceptions too. However, after spending a week in the area, I’ve come to realize there’s more to Bavaria than just beer, beer, and well, more beer, despite the title of this blog post 😉

Our first beer on the trip introduced us to HOFBRÄU MÜNCHEN WEISSE, which we lovingly enjoyed in the Hofbräuhaus. This iconic landmark provided us with a great introduction to Bavarian beer, and culture. The large beerhall consists of high cellings and long tables, which encourages you to meet new people to share a pint with. Within a short time of being seated, a nice local couple sat next to us. It was quite clear that we weren’t from around the area and offered to take our photo. From there, we enjoyed the live music together and even though we couldn’t speak the same language, I’d like to think there was a small bond between us and them.

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When we crossed the border to neighbouring Austria, our beer of choice was of course Stiegl. At this point in our trip, I had been living off head-sized pretzels and I was looking for something to round out my limited diet. Thankfully, Salzburg had just what I needed. The land of Mozart and Sound of Music supplied me with chicken schnitzel, salads, and bread with cheese and it was all glorious. Aside from the food, the town was quaint and conveniently located to where I really wanted to make a visit – Berchtesgaden.

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I had heard about Berchtesgaden from a coworker who visited there when she spent a semester abroad in high school. This charming little town built on the edge of the Austrian alps is known for skiing, hiking, and history. When I say history, I refer to the Eagle’s Nest, a mountain top retreat gifted to Hitler on his 50th birthday. This majestic retreat is now a tourist attraction with thousands of visitors making the trek, dining at the mountain’s edge, with their selfie sticks at the ready. At the foot of the mountain is Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzberg, a powerful museum that takes you through the rise and fall of the Nazi party. I always thought that this was something that Germany wanted to forget, but this museum shows the importance of highlighting the past, to ensure that history does not attempt to repeat itself. As I mentioned, it’s a powerful museum and I’m forever grateful that I had the chance to walk through and learn of the history from the German’s perspective compared to what we learn growing up in Canada.

As I basked in the sun on the top of the mountain ridge, I enjoyed some more Hofbräu. It was my birthday afterall 😉 Before taking the golden lift to the top, we had lunch with some non-alcoholic brews (yes, they have non-alcoholic beer too!) produced by Weininger. It was light and refreshing and paired nicely with my veggie burger! I’m as surprised as you that not only did this restaurant have non-alcoholic beer, but they also had VEGGIE BURGERS! It truly was a win in my books!

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The beer gardens of Munich are plentiful and populated. On our last day in Munich, after quite the eventful morning where I dropped my backpack into a bath of toilet water (it was honestly the worst morning of our trip), I needed one last beer garden brew. Again, it was Hofbräu but about the size of my head. It was a Tuesday and the small garden located along the river was less populated as it was near the banking district. As I got my second, and smaller beer, I decided that the mug from which I was drinking would make a good souvenir. Something to note, that I wish I had known earlier, is that every beer garden charges you a deposit on the mug. When you order your beer, you pay an extra two Euro or three, depending on the location. If you bring the mug back, you get your money. If not, the mug is yours. I only learned this on the last day in the beer garden when I asked if I could buy my mug. I could have gotten it for a Euro cheaper at another garden but oh well, lesson learned for next Beer Adventures of Bavaria!