Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Our timing was slightly skewed, a few days ahead of Canada elections, a lost opportunity to watch Justin Trudeau stride into Rideau Hall as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister. The imposing Parliament buildings, the East, West and Central wings straddling the Autumnal landscape compensate for lost opportunities.

We are in Ottawa, a city demarcated into two categories: the Capital and the Downtown. Ours was a selective tour so we saw the ‘official’ face of the ‘Capital’ situated on south bank of Ottawa River and in center of connections…Toronto and Kingston to the West and Montreal and Quebec City on the East. The genealogy of the city, a mix of Anglo-French and First Nation histories, lend it authenticity as a history buff’s delight. But nature is not shadowed by antiquity as during winter months the Rideau Canal, connects Ottawa with Kingston and Lake Ontario, turns into a four-mile long natural skating rink and Ottawa into a winter carnival city.

IMG_3729Our first stop, Canadian Museum of History (100 Rue Laurier, Gatineau)*, explores Canada’s 20,000 years of cultural and civilization history. The entrance to the museum, resembling ‘turtle heads’, is set in a wind-landscaped sweepness including Ottawa River and a fabulous view of Parliament Hill. Nature is incorporated in every aspect of presentation of the Public and the Curatorial wings, the surrounding plazas connected by rounded impressive staircase leading down towards Ottawa River, the Zen Garden and other buildings.


I preferred the early morning surroundings to a history tour of the museum, wanting to cross the waters like the ‘Wolf in the Boat’ (To Travel in a Boat Together) sculpture by Mary Anne Barkhhouse, of the Kwagiulth First Nation. The sculpture reflects the story recounted by the artist’s grandfather of how he helped a wolf cross ‘a treacherous piece of water on a boat on the West coast of Canada’ and how she relates the tale ‘to help negotiate cooperation with the ‘other’ and inclusion of the wild.’ The copper and bronze sculpture explores human relationships with the natural world.

The Grand Hall, on first level of the main building, is an extension of the exterior with six-storey ‘Wall of Windows’ framing Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. In continuation, on the opposite wall, is a large colour ‘forest scene’ providing an ideal background to the world’s largest collection of Totem poles and to the First Peoples Hall highlighting the historic, cultural and artistic achievements of Canada’s First Nation. The Museum, home to Canadian Children’s Museum, a 295-seat IMAX 3 D movie theatre along with permanent and virtual exhibitions, was a beehive of activity on this Sunday morning.

IMG_3726Back on the bus and we drive past the National Gallery of Canada with its spindly spider sculpture, ‘Maman’ by Louise Bourgeois (1999), outside the main entrance; the official residences of the Governor General and that of the Prime Minister, Harper was still in saddle, towards Parliament Hill and the majestic Gothic architectural symbols, the Central, Eastern and Western wings of the seat of power, the Parliament of Canada. Time constraints restricted our entry inside the Central Hall, the East and West wings were under renovation, and we were given time to walk around the massive lawns, for selfies in front of Centennial Flame with the buildings as backdrops. The Centennial Flame, enhanced with shields of 12 provinces and territories, commemorates Canada’s 100 years as a Confederation.

IMG_3740The lawns are a tourist hangout, some with tickets to walk inside, and probably thinking about the same thing, the election results. Used to the high decibel levels of Indian elections this was a ‘sleepover’ of elections, unless I watched news channels and followed newsprint stories.

A short lunch break and we were on our way to Kingston, on the confluence of St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Cataraqui River (south of Rideau Canal), 120 miles from Ottawa and midway between Montreal and Toronto. The Limestone heritage buildings and houses dotting the city are a reminder of its short-lived status as Canada’s first capital in 1841. The city lost out to Ottawa as Queen Victoria felt that its closeness to the border made it vulnerable to American attacks. A major fire in 1840 had destroyed most heritage landmarks, the Victorian mansions and the City Hall and to prevent a repeat scenario, limestone and brick were designated construction materials leading to a ‘Limestone revolution’ and the city being named the “The Limestone City“.

Present Kingston lives up to its ‘elevated status’ preserving its historical sites, its many museums, the Royal Military College, the Queen’s University founded in 1841, the expansive waterfront with its marina and bobbing boats and luxuriant gardens. On face value the city comes across as a sleeping old English town with its educational institutes and hospitals and was surprised to read that the city was voted one of the best cities to live and retire in.(

  • The 3rd best place to live in Canada (2012)
  • The 6th best place to retire (2015)
  • ‘Instagram’ considers it the ‘Happiest City in Canada’ (2014) and in 2013 BBC listed Kingston as one of the ‘top 5 university towns in the world”.


The accolades along with 21 National Historic sites of Canada, the excellent cruising and boating facilities, easy access to Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and Thousand Islands makes it a city worth visiting for an extended stay.


Kingston was home to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Bellevue House, from outside.

We bid adieu to Kingston and move on to our starting city, Toronto, and a closure to our Four Cities and an Island bus tour.

Truck-show, Distillery District, Toronto Ottawa


Pots and Pans and an old telephone at local flea market, Kingston, Ottawa



‘You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water’…..I did, stand and stare, and so did the sea-gull, contemplative and restless as the waters with no thought of crossing.  Lake Okanagan, Kelowna, British Columbia




Waterfalls are magic, shimmering, glistening, cascading down rocks to a peaceful flow downwards. In the words of Mikhail Lermontov, Russian poet,painter and writer,” many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea”.

Natural Bridge: An impressive natural rock formation spanning Kicking Horse River, west of village Field, is a reminder of influence of water in shaping landscape. The erosive, gushing waters descent through a canyon to join Amiskwi River on way to Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia.


The frozen Angel Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta


Water is also peaceful as in my hometown…the River Ganga, Allahabad, India



View from bus

Continued..Day 2…  The monotony of the bus ride and three-language monologue is broken by emotive swathes of autumnal hues out of a Van Gogh canvas, bold, vibrant tree-strokes against a dull sky as we speed towards Montreal, another flip-flop between antiquity and modernity.

Montreal, located at confluence of Petite River and St. Lawrence, is the second city on our itinerary and we take AutoRoute, 20 or 40 (too busy admiring the scenic view) to shorten travel time by 3/4 hours. The Route follows the original King’s Highway or Chemin du Roy, south of St. Lawrence River, and if traveling independently then an ideal way to savour the picturesque historical sites and villages along St. Lawrence River. Our Guide compensated for the detour by giving us a brief history of the route and how it connected the major cities of New France along the charismatic river.

Vistas of cultivated land, once home to Saint Lawrence Iroquoians, greet us on both sides of the route. The Iroquoians lived in fortified villages on the foothills of Mount Royal, nearly 4000 years ago, till  arrival of Europeans, via St. Lawrence River, forced them to move on or were decimated due to inter tribal wars and European diseases. This was an all too familiar ‘conquering’ pattern… setting up trading posts and then slowly gaining control of the entire land.  The Frenchi-zation of the Island began with a settlement, a chapel, hospital and a fort, as protection against Iroquoian raids. The settlement was named  Ville-Marie or ‘City of Mary’ after Mount Royal, the triple peaked hill in the heart of the city.

The British soon followed and in 1689 Britain-allied Iroquois committed the worst massacre in the history of New France. From then on it was a tussle between the two European powers with the English gaining upper hand. Montreal or La Place Royale,  was the capital of the Province of Canada from 1844 to 1849 till the burning down of the parliament building. Ottawa, across the River, piped it to the post and has remained the capital city to the present.

Image (1)The in-motion history lesson was synced to our arrival in the city and we are in Olympic Park, in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district, where the doughnut-shaped Montreal Stadium is located. The ‘Big O’, the site of the 1976 summer Olympics, is refered to as  the ‘The Big Owe’ for the wastefulness and huge debt it incurred. The tour included a climb up to the leaning Montreal Tower, along the north base of the stadium, and visit to the Biodome, and 5 families, including us, preferred to explore the surroundings. It was windy and cold but entertaining, watched a football game and our flag toting Guide trying to herd the listless members through the complex.

Lunchtime and Downtown Montreal: A flip-flop between antiquity and modernity as glinting green church spires, originally copper and oxidized, reflect the unique dynamism of the city. I would have loved a flânerie through the cobbled streets of Old or Vieux- Montreal with its Anglo-French artistic and culinary flavours, imbibing the joie de vivre of  Jean-Talon Market (opened in 1933) one of the oldest public markets in the city or be in the centre of activity of Place d’Armes, the heritage city square bordered by a mélange of ancient, the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice dating 1684 and Basilique Notre Dame (1824), and the modern… the 20th century skyscrapers looming over the statue of Montreal’s founder, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. 

The 30-minute stop at Basilique Notre Dame was insufficient to fully explore the Gothic splendoir constructed in 1824. Since photography is supposedly disallowed inside, one could only memorize the stunning medieval architecture accentuated with intricate walnut wood carvings, the exquisite stained glass windows depicting Montreal’s religious history, the blue ceiling with 24 carat gold stars, highlighted by the largest Casavant organs and the impressive Chapelle du Sacre-Coeur behind the altar. A national historical site and an important landmark of Montreal, the Basilique has it’s fame tagged to two events; The eulogy by Justin Trudeau, present Prime Minster of Canada, from the steps of the High Alter during the state funeral of his father, Pierre Trudeau, the 15th Prime Minister of Canada and the more newsworthy, according to our Guide, the wedding of Canadian singer Celine Dion in 1994.

ImageAnother must visit church is St. Joseph’s Oratory on Westmont Summit, one of the three peaks of Mount Royal. It is an impressive monument and in the words of Bernard Avishai in the NEW YORKER ‘Towering over both our neighbourhoods, impressing itself on our senses, was the dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory, Quebec’s great basilica, the dream palace of ( now canonized) Brother André Bessette, who healed the body and spirit of pilgrims—the place we simply called the Shrine’.

The impressive entrance, if one can climb up the stairs from street level, the devout do on their knees, and the view of the city is enough to make you want to stay in the environs as long as you can. Even on a hazy day, we could see McGill University tower, busloads, carloads of tourists, some walked up, were streaming to the Oratory to worship or admire the buildings and its surroundings, the famous Mt. Royal Park.

Certain places are for exploring and Montreal is one such city, but our tour itinerary was a killjoy with its back-to-back stops.  One plus point was the frequent washroom breaks, much-needed on the long bus drive. There was a cubby-hole toilet on bus but then no one wanted to contribute to a foul-smelling bus.

Dinner was in another Chinatown restaurant and again we decided to be on our own. Chinatown, on La Gauchetiere Street, Saint Urban Street and St. Lawrence Boulevard, is a pedestrian  thoroughfare and popular tourist destination for its Asian ambiance of street merchants selling everything under the sun; gift shops and mom-and-pop stores selling kimonos, lingerie, crafts and china; fortune readers for the gullible or adventurous…. a scene straight out of China, Hong Kong or surrounding countries. The alleys are lined with restaurants, Vietnamese and Chinese, as over the years Hong Kong Chinese and ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam settled here opening Cantonese and Dimsum restaurants and Vietnamese Pho eateries. It was crowded, Saturday evening, and after a 30 minute wait we managed two seats in a Vietnamese eatery. The fast turnout ensured that you gulped down your food before the dishes are whisked from the table.

Back on bus and to our hotel, across St. Lawrence River, for an early morning journey to Ottawa, Kingston and return to Toronto.






Few of my favourite nite time shots…

Kyoto, Japan (2010)…a sudden encounter and transfixed we ogled.  “Perhaps it seems odd that a casual meeting on the street could have brought about such change. But sometimes life is like that isn’t it” –Arthur Golden. Memoirs of a Geisha



View from Calgary Tower…..watching the sun set.  Downtown  Calgary, Canada


Hong Kong…Causeway Bay..




1000 Islands

Dubsmash version of an extended tour synced to 3 three language lyrics, Mandarin, English and Cantonese, and tyre music as we squeaked past surface splendors of Quebec, Ottawa, Kingston, Montreal and Thousand Islands.

Day 1….Our first stop is Thousand Islands (according to our Guide there are actually 1864) sprouting out of  St. Lawrence River and shared between USA and Canada and stretching for about 50 miles downstream from Kingston, Ontario towards New York State. Gloomy clouds and flurries did not dampen our enthusiasm as we drove in to the Ivy Lea marina for a zigzagging cruise around the different sized Islands for a closer view of  bungalows, chalets, single residences draped in Autumn hues. The famous residences are ‘The Towers’ or Singer Castle on Dark Island and the neglected Boldt Castle on Heart Island. The castle has been left unfinished for over 75 years due to the untimely death of Boldt’s wife.


Boldt Castle (lower left)

The largest, the Wolfe Island, is located entirely in Ontario while the Carleton, site of ruined Fort Haldimand built-in 1779 during the American revolutionary War, is American. Three American soldiers captured this island in the 1812 war and the Island remains part of the United States today. The Island Bridge connects the two countries and our Guide rattled out figures of crossings in a day.

Our guess that the Thousand Island Salad Dressing was named after the Islands was confirmed by checking the Internet. Though there are conflicting stories about its origin. (

IMG_3655One can spend a week/month/ year in this aqua-sanctum, skimming the waters, admiring the coves, gardens, parks, the famous residences by day or night in luxurious double-decker river liners, high-speed catamarans, private boats, yachts or on foot or car. The nearby Rideau Canal Locks and Rideau Heritage Routes are an added attraction. The locks are said to be ‘examples of Canadian ingenuity’ and I wonder what that means.

Back on bus for a five-hour ride to Quebec City on same day.


Quebec, an 18th century French connectivity hanging onto architectural facades of an era gone by, is a vibrant metropolis of rustic allurements. We entered the city late evening and made straight for Old Quebec through the Saint Louis gate and into a locale leafed out of a French painting book. The fusion of evening colours with the vapourish glow of streetlights glossed up the antiquity of stone veneers.

IMG_3662IMG_3667With 1 hour deadline and before our Cinderella moments turned to stone, we traipsed the narrow cobbled lanes flanked by 17th and 18th century houses, classic bistros, stores with modern fare, past cafés till we realized it was 7.25 pm. Restaurant Wong, on 19 Rue De Buade, beckoned with its cozy settings and smiling staff though I fail to understand why Chinese restaurants resort to all Chinese décor of reds, dragons and similar accessories. The prompt service, said we had to be on bus within 45 minutes, the steaming hot and sour soup and brown fried rice negated the formulaic setting. It had to be vegetarian fare due to the nine-day Hindu festive period (Navratri). There is no dearth of choices and on any other day would have preferred the Musee Du Fort.

IMG_3663Satiated and satisfied, headed back to the bus in the winter quietness broken by clopping horses. No time for a buggy ride as we had to return to our hotel Le Concorde (1225 Cours du General-de-Montcalm) for an end to a long tiring day.


IMG_3675Day 2, 7 am: Herded to Lower Town, moving through a city still in slumber, for a 2-hour stop in Le Quartier Petit Champlain, one of the most beautiful sites of Old Quebec. Grumpiness was soon forgotten with the magical morning winter weather highlighting the burnt siennas, burnt umbers and grey-blue surrounding the majestic Chateau Frontenac  atop the Dufferin Terrace.


Chateau Frontenac

The centre de l’attention of our visit to Quebec was the Old Town, split between the Old Upper Town (Haute Ville) perched above the St Lawrence River on the Cap Diamant cliffs with museums, mansard-roofed houses and cobblestone streets (partly visited night before) and the Old Lower Town (Basse Ville), established by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. Quebec, based on the banks of St. Lawrence River, gets it name from the Algonquin word ‘Kebec’ or where the river narrows. It is in the Cap- Diamant (Cape Diamond) and Levis that the river thins out.

IMG_3686The river is visible from the between the alleys as we walk the Old Lower Town or Basse Ville, said to be the only fortified city walls remaining in North America. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, the city retains its historic flavor through its landmarks the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. (built-in 1893) and the old fortress La Citadelle.


Mural on Rue du Petit-Champlain

Le Quartier Petit Champlain is one of the oldest commercial districts of North America and our brief stroll on the main street Rue du Petit-Champlain and the narrow cobblestone lanes flaunting unscreened windows, wrought iron staircases, brightly painted doors and window frames, was dunked in French accents. The visually prominent 900 ft. mural, painted on the side of the house at 102, rue du Petit-Champlain, focuses on famous personalities and history of the district, the fight for the region, the fires and landslides, the ordinary lifestyles, as the French settled in this part of the world.

Close by are the Breakneck Stairs or Breakneck Steps, the oldest stairs of Quebec named because of the steepness of its 59 steps. Built in 1635 the Stairs were originally ‘Champlain Stairs’, the ‘Beggars’ Stairs’, or the Lower Town stairs with the current name given in mid-19th century. Equally fascinatingIMG_3694 is the memorial to the people killed in 1841 landslide with boundaries and plaques and brief descriptions of residents.

IMG_3683The distinguishing feature, beyond the eye-catching histrionics, is the emphasis on local culture in a tourist-heavy site. Our fellow travelers were surprised not finding Starbucks or McDonald’s and had to quench their thirst and hunger at the only open (8 am) French bakery. The shops were shuttered and I had to satisfy myself with window displays of the art and crafts stores, art galleries and boutiques.

IMG_3700The captivating 400 years of history of Quebec of ‘European flair with the practical North American approach” entices a visitor and for a blink one feels that one is in a French city.

We bid adieu to Quebec and I promised myself to return again, to soak in the sights and sounds of a city of which we had sampled a microscopic part.

Meantime, I must brush up my college French to be able to say merci or En anglais s’il vous plait without a blip.

(to be continued)

*Tai Pan Tours, The tour was a referral and reasonable as you get to see 4 cities including the Islands in 3 days. The minus points was the droning three language announcements (English, Mandarin, Cantonese), mandatory tipping (per person) and collection of payments beforehand for food and monument visiting. We preferred to search for our own lunch and dinner though it was a tough choice as tour restaurants were in China Towns of the cities visited.


IMG_3573A perfect day…bright and cheerful adieu to Summer,  wafting mixology of history and cultures of Asia, Europe, Caribbean, Middle East, Latin America…. lured me to what was the 1920s ‘Jewish Market’. With time and fresh pourings the businesses and demographics changed hands from Jewish to Chinese, Latin American, Asian, European setting space for ethnic entrepreneurial clusters forming what is today’s Kensington Market enclosed by College Street (north), Spadina Avenue (east), Dundas St. W (south) and Bathurst Street to the west.

IMG_3611The redeeming feature or attractions of this densely packed neighborhood of eclectic shops, cafes and sardined Victorian houses are the excoriating concrete canvasses enticing visitors and locals to the area’s antiquated environs.

IMG_3601These kaleidoscopic alleys and walls add glamor to second-hand clothing, the one-stop shops flaunting ‘Made in China’ goods, to holed–in bars, coffee shops, eateries, bakeries, the intriguing cannabis cafés and boutiques, the cheap clothes and jewelry on racks, Tibetan accessories, rugs and paintings and shops heavily focused on food, the butchers, bakers, grocers etc.

IMG_3577The market is a maze of non-conformity and you feel you have seen it all when you come across quirky or vampish Courage My Love (14 Kensington Avenue)) all set to entice you within its fold, or the one-off Ego Vintage (9 Kensington Ave.) or the colonial hangover the Bungalow for vintage clothing or House of Spices for the heady international flavors of roasted coffee beans, spices and nibbles. The crammed store is actually a blessing as one is tested for immediate reaction. I bought a packet of Garam Masala, a patent spice for Indian curries, wondering how different it will be from the packet purchased from a Gerrard Street Indian store.



With senses bamboozled by aromas, sounds and colours we walked into the popular Jimmy’s IMG_3590Coffee (191 Baldwin St.) with its antiquated living room vibe of wooden tables, bookcases, metal ceiling and furniture and a back patio for summer day relaxation with refreshing coffee and wi-fi.

Kensington Market is one of the most walkable neighbourhoods in the city. Towards evening the lanes and alleys were spilling with an excited holiday crowd and locals and for us to call it a day. Before exiting the market we joined the queue at Wanda’s Pie in The Sky for their yummy Chocolate Pecan Pie. A slurpy IMG_3605sweet end to the day.