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Ooh la la – Cycling in Montreal is a dream

montreal marie reine du monde cathedral

Slouched down on a Montreal curb just after 1pm, Dani and I were starving, fatigued and wondering how, after over 5 miles of pounding pavement, these aching feet were going to carry us through the remaining must-see neighborhoods on our list. We fell in love with Montreal instantly upon arriving the evening before, and knew that we had to pack in as much as possible into the 48 hours we had to spend in the city. From 8am the next morning we were out sauntering along wide thoroughfares, cutting through Montreal’s many green spaces, schlepping it up hundreds of steps in Mont Royal park to the incredible view point below followed by a forest hike, a stroll through a university campus and down to the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, which now loomed behind us as we considered napping out in front.cycling in MontrealBeginning to feel defeated, we saw a glimmering light of hope in the distance in the form of a sleek steel bike rack loaded with shiny silver bicycles. We had discovered Montreal’s public bike rental system and, knowing we could easily pedal our way through town, it took only five minutes before we were whizzing away from the bike station.montreal street artMontreal’s Bixi bike rental system is similar to city cycling schemes in Paris, London, Mexico City, Munich, Seville and several North American cities. As of 2009, the publicly-funded Montreal system became the largest in North America, with over 5,000 bikes (worth $2,000 each!) available at 400 depots around the city. Even though we were faint and weary, jumping on a set of wheels couldn’t have been easier to use.jess on bike in montrealStart at the payment machine by swiping your credit card to pay $5.25 for the 24 hour bike rental, or $15 for 3 days. The machine gives a code which you enter in to any of the stations that hold a bicycle. Once the bike is released, you are free to ride around the city for the next thirty minutes at no additional cost. After 30 minutes, bring the bike to any of the nearby stations, dock it, and wait two minutes. Swipe your card again for a new code, unlock the new (or same) bike, and you’re off again on your way. The system is best used by locals who just need to get from point A to point B, but we easily used the bikes to tour the city. Montreal is loaded with these stations, conveniently located on corners throughout the city, so finding a drop off point was no problem, and it was almost always near something we had wanted to stop to see anyway.montreal by bikeShould you accidentally run past the 30 minute mark without realizing it, your card will be charged $1.50 for every extra half hour. The system is also surprisingly fair. If you arrive to your drop-off destination to discover all docks are taken, just swipe your card, and the machine  recognizes no availability, gives you a 15 minute grace period and tells you all available nearby station and how many docks are available at each.biking in MontrealThe system is a breeze to get the hang of, and within 10 minutes we had pedaled all way down to the old historic down town, riding past the Notre Dame, before riding along the riverfront all the way up to the town hall. Cycling in Montreal is a beautiful way to see a lot of the city in a short time.notre dameA looming thunderstorm sent us home earlier than we would have liked, but with the bikes, this was no problem at all. We just exchanged the bikes to get us a full half hour and pedaled back to the many stations in the Mont Royal Plateau neighborhood where we were staying.street artNot a drop of rain fell that late afternoon, and after dinner and a quick rest, our hosts drove us to see a  live outdoor concert in La Fontaine Park. They were ready to make a night of it, but we were exhausted. Luckily, instead of them having to drive the sleepyheads home, we still had nearly plenty of  hours left on our bike rental, so were able to just hop on two nearby bikes and make it home in no time at all.breakfast egg benedictAfter a deep sleep and a power breakfast we were back up on our bikes and squeezed in a full morning of sightseeing before heading  to Quebec that afternoon. Covering several miles, we were able to make it to the Fairmont and St Viateur bagel shops, where the best of Montreal’s famous bagels are made and weave in and out of countless alleys and side streets to spot so many samples of Montreal’s incredible street art. And this was all for the $5 we paid to rent the bikes the day before. Exploring Montreal by bike couldn’t be easier.
Cycling in MontrealThe Bixi system in Montreal couldn’t be easier to use and is the cheapest, yet most exhilarating form of transportation in town. Drivers in the city appear to really respect cyclists, so the nerves you might feel cycling in New York City, for example, are not an issue here. The cycleways are clearly marked on the street and while many of Montreal’s roads are one-way for cars, cyclists can often ride in both directions, making getting around by bike a breeze.montreal gay streetFor more information on cycling in Montreal, read:

 

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A little piece of Europe: 24 hours in Quebec City

view over quebec city

Enjoying the sounds of surrounding French chatter, we considered dipping in to another creperie when the sound of clicking of hooves on the cobblestone street distracts us and we swivel around to get a shot of the horse-drawn carriage as it comes into sight. The symphony of sounds on the streets are so classically French it is hard to believe we are actually in Canada. But this is indeed Canada – we are spending 24 hours in Quebec City during our Great American / Canadian road trip, and we want to make every minute count.

quebec city horse-drawn carriageWhile a city 400 years old might not be much in Europe, it makes Quebec City just about the oldest city in North America. The French influence here is as much in the architecture as the language, with the gray brick houses that line the streets harking back to a village in Normandy.

quebec city housesTo remind ourselves that we are indeed in Canada, we stop for the classic (French) Canadian dish, Poutine, at Chez Ashton, and make sure ours is loaded with cheese curds and gravy from the best poutine makers in town.

Quebec travel tipsAfter the quick carb overload, we walk it off with a hike up to Parliament, passing through the only intact city walls north of Mexico. The Parliament building itself is a testament to the French settlers who founded Quebec in 1608, and several snap-happy tourists (yes, us included) line up to take pictures of the intricate sculptures and frescoes on the building.

parliament sculpture quebec cityFrom here we walk over to La Citadelle, the city’s former fort which protected Quebec from the Americans in the 19th century (Quebec was actually taken at that time by the British). Today, looking out here over the views of the mighty St. Lawrence river, the imposing canons placed all around the fort remind the relaxing teens and tourists of a time when Canada was at odds with its neighbor to the south. If you happen to be in Quebec between June and September, make sure to get to the Citadelle just before 10a.m. to witness the traditional changing of the guard ceremony in the capital of French-speaking Canada.

quebec city cannons
Château Frontenac might make it on every ‘Must-See List’ written on Quebec, but witnessing the building close up, it is impossible to consider it any other way. Towering over all the buildings of Quebec and visible from far out of town, the castle hotel is the center point of Quebec’s skyline and featured on every postcard of the city. The hotel makes for a great stop to indulge in a glass of champagne and to take in the views over the city. If you have only 24 hours in Quebec and you’re trying to pack in as much as we did, there isn’t much time for a break, but this one is well worth it.

Quebec Travel tipsNext stop is the Terrace Dufferin, a large boardwalk promenade high over the river, as we leave Haute-Ville, the Upper Town, and make our way down the hill to Place Royale in ‘Basse-Ville’, the Lower Town. Some take the 2 minute, $2 ride down the steep hill in the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec, but we prefer snake through alleyways and scale staircases on foot down to Place Royale. The story goes that Place Royale  is the actual square where French explorer Samuel de Champlain began the settlement of Quebec.

In the calm before the storm we are touched at how charming this area of Quebec is, until we are suddenly constricted within these narrow alleyways, surrounded by masses of cruise ship passengers in full on group-think mode who pass by in waves, following their tour guide from place to place. The city is definitely sweeter earlier in the morning and after dark, when many of the big tour groups have left the city.

24 hours in QuebecAlthough the Place Royale is probably the most picturesque part of the town, this army of determined tourists is hard on our exploratory spirit, and we take a seat at a typically French cafe to rest. I couldn’t be happier with my French style Café au Lait, and Jess loved her super strong espresso shot.

quebec city coffeesBack up to the Haute-Ville again for dinner, we scope out several locals’ eateries on Rue Saint-Jean towards the university, far away from the overpriced tourist traps around Place Royale. As we poke our heads in and out of shops on this road, we are now reminded of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile rather than France.

24 hours in QuebecAfter powering up on veggie sushi (what could be more French, after all, than sushi) we just make it over to the free outdoor Cirque de Soleil show, held under an unusued underpass in the center of town. Called Les Chemins Invisibles, the quality of this free show is top standard Cirque de Soleil at its best.

The perfect way to end a perfect day in Quebec City…

Travel Tips for Quebec in the summer

The Cirque du Soleil show: Les Chemins Invisibles
As we mentioned, we couldn’t get enough of this one hour show, so if you do visit Quebec during the summer months, you can visit the free Cirque du Soleil show Les Chemins invisibles (Invisible Paths). This urban renewal project was created for the city’s 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008, but has been maintained ever since due to its extraordinary popularity.

24 hours in Quebec

The Summer Festival
During Quebec’s summer festival at the beginning of July, hundreds of musical acts at various indoor and outdoor venues play to over 1 million visitors, making it the largest festival in Canada.

Travel Tips for Quebec in the winter

The Ice Hotel
Quebec City is home to one of only two ice hotels in the world. From January to March visitors are able to stay in beds completely made of ice and quipped with deer furs and Arctic sleeping bags. Even if you don’t dare spend the night, stop in for a visit, and make sure to grab and ice-cold drink in a glass made of ice!

The Winter Carnival
Held every year in February, the winter carnival is a big outdoor festival in the Plains of Abraham, where you can pursue winter activities such as skiing or snow rafting, ride in snow sled-slides, see some fantastic ice sculptures and outdoor shows or ice skate on the giant ice rink.

quebec city

Where to stay in Quebec

These are some of the best rated budget mid-range and luxury hotels in Quebec City.

Budget hotels in Quebec

  • Petit Hôtel – Café Krieghoff – Charming little boutique hotel in the heart of Quebec (on L’Avenue Cartier). Double rooms start at around US$60 per night.
  • La vie est belle – Modern apartment with a rooftop terrace (and great city views), a gym and free parking. About 1.3 miles from the center of Quebec / Quebec Old Town. The apartment starts at US$63 per night.
  • Place des Arts – Artsy 1-bedroom apartment with a living room, a fully equipped kitchenette and bedroom. About 1.5 miles from the center of Quebec / Quebec Old Town. The apartment starts at US$61 per night.
  • Grande Allée Lofts – The lofts are in a beautiful, renovated historic home and all feature a fully equipped kitchenette, living room and dining area. Lofts have dishwashers and washing machines. The lofts start at US$81 per night.

The best mid-range hotels in Quebec

  • Les Lofts St-Pierre by Les Lofts Vieux-Québec – beautiful modern loft in a great location. The lofts are equipped with a kitchen, dish washer, coffee maker, a seating area with a sofa, and a flatscreen TV. Lofts start at US$85 a night.
  • Les Lofts 1048 – Stunning airy lofts in Old Quebec. The lofts have open kitchen / lounge areas, separate bedrooms and a rooftop terrace with fantastic views. Lofts start at US$118 per night.
  • Hotel le Priori – Small hotel in the heart of Quebec. Gorgeous rooms with exposed brick walls in a building from 1734. Double rooms start at around US$120 per night, breakfast included.
  • Hôtel des Coutellier – Charming hotel right by the Old City. The hotel has a fitness center, and every room has a flatscreen TV, air conditioning, coffee machine and a minibar. Rooms start at US$123 per night, including breakfast.

The best luxury hotel in Quebec

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac – The most famous and hotel in Quebec is the fairy tale castle that is the iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. The hotel right in the heart of Old Quebec has fabulous European-style rooms, a spa and an indoor swimming pool. Double rooms start at US$198 per night.

view over quebec city
The majestic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

Have you been to Quebec City? We would love you to share other must-see or must-do tips in the comments below.

 

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Polaroid of the week: Street art in Montreal, Canada

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polaroid of the week canada quebec montreal street artAfter having spent six weeks almost entirely in the English-speaking part of Canada, we finally moved on to the Province of Quebec. Our first stop was Montreal, a city known for its big French influence, with Paris-style cafes and bistros set on tree-lined boulevards frequented by fashion-forward Francophones. But who would have thought that the city is also home to such a thriving street art scene! We found creative, unique graffiti on almost every corner and found that Montreal has the best overall street art we’ve seen in Canada – so far.  We loved this piece here, reminding us of our Mexican adventures last year at this time – plus we got a giggle out of the gringo tattoo!

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Street Art special: Oh Canada!

street art

We’ll be the first to admit that before spending so much time in Canada this summer, we pictured wide open spaces and wild life roaming, not urban centers wrapped in world-class street art. We certainly saw a lot of rural locales, but often this was as we city-hopped through Ontario and Quebec, spotting murals and graffiti popping off store fronts, taking over entire buildings and catching our eye around every corner. As huge fans of street art, we were excited to find many terrific pieces everywhere. So which Canadian city do we think has the best street art?

Street Art in Quebec City

quebec city street art On our short visit here, we spotted just a bit of street art in Quebec City, but may have missed a lot touring mainly the historic Old Town area. We’re guessing there is much more, considering the amount of creativity put into the free, nightly Cirque du Soleil show, which combines urban art with classic dance, set outside under an overpass just beyond the city walls.

Street Art in Ottawa

shepard fairey ottawa obey Ottawa had some street art, and while much of it wasn’t too spectacular, Ottawans were able to boast the giant Obey poster by Shepard Fairey, one of the most influential and worldwide known street artists, thanks to that iconic Hope poster of Barack Obama.

Street Art in Montreal

montreal street art woman In Montreal we saw plenty of street art, especially in the Plateau neighborhood which has larger-scale murals.

montreal street art ladyThis lady with her rooster was definitely one of our favorite pieces – check out her ‘gringo’ tattoo!

montreal street art

How to see street art in Montreal:

Mel has a detailed article outlining where to find the best street art in Montreal, if you venture out and track down the best murals on your own.

If you prefer a guided tour to learn more about the artists and the meaning behind some of the murals, there is a fantastic street art walking tour which can be booked via Airbnb Experiences: Non-Touristy Montreal Street Art Tour

 

 

Montreal had really great street art, but there was no way it could keep up with what we considered the best city for street art in Canada that we have found so far:

Street Art in Toronto

toronto street art toronto graffiti catToronto was heaven for us street art fangirls, in particular the area around Queen Street. Here we found entire alleys that served as outdoor galleries, filled with innovative, clever work.

toronto street art alleyAnd there was so much more urban art than just graffiti in back alleys, like this great guerrilla gardening graffiti combo… toronto graffiti car toronto car & mural…and loads of urban art in other forms. We loved seeing these neon bikes permanently affixed to stairwells and various sign poles throughout the city.

toronto pink bikeToronto definitely has the most original and inspiring street artists! The best thing about this form of art is that it lives and breathes, and changes constantly, so we can’t wait to see something completely different on our next visit!

toronto street art

How to see street art in Toronto

CultureTrip has an excellent guide to street art in Toronto, including the best spots to see street art and murals.

Here are 15 of the most instagrammable street art murals in Toronto.

Also check out these great Toronto walking tours on GetYourGuide:

 

 

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