Road tripping around Canada: Quebec City

As you probably know, Lox and I are now road tripping back west, so we’re going to end up at some of the places we’ve already visited again. First on the list of repeats was Quebec City.

Old Quebec ✨💛✨ #explorecanada #explorequebec #quebeccity

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I liked Quebec City the first time we visited, but the second time around I was really struck by what an amazing place it is. It’s old, so much older than a lot of cities in Canada. The architecture is stunning and feels just like being in Europe. Despite all the hills, the cool parts of town are all close to each other so it’s a very walkable city. While wandering, we stumbled into the Marché du Vieux-Port which was gorgeous – there’s something about fairy lights that will make me fall in love with anything.

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Like Montreal, Quebec City has some of the best food I’ve had in Canada. Paillard was a beautiful boulangerie that’s perfect for lunch, Poutineville is now tied with La Banquise for my favourite poutine (pro-tip: get the smashed potatoes instead of regular fries), Casse-crêpe Breton has delicious crepes (sweet & savoury), and we found actually good expresso from Café Maelstrøm.

Quebec City is home to the Musée de la civilisation, which we got a chance to visit this time around. Pretty much every exhibit was interactive, making it much more fun than just walking around and reading information plaques. In a beautiful stroke of luck, there was an exhibit on cats & dogs, complete with features such as cat & dog themed Guess Who and an obstacle course to determine if you were faster than a dog (we were not). There was another exhibit about illusions, where you did a variety of tasks utilising different senses. It was also my first time experiencing virtual reality – one exhibit called “The Library at Night” used VR goggles and transported you to 10 different libraries around the world. It was very cool but also slightly terrifying, as it made me realise that the future of horror movies is totally going to involve being attacked in VR.

Quebec City is going down as another one of my favourite places in Canada, and Quebec itself is probably my favourite province in this beautiful and strange country. Tomorrow we leave Quebec City for Ottawa (another repeat) and I feel really happy with how we spent our time here.

Voyage au Canada: Montréal

I can’t speak French. Parlo un po’ d’italiano and entiendo un poco de español, but my French is limited to parlez-vous anglais? and inappropriate lines from Moulin Rouge. The only French part of the world I’ve spent much time in is Paris, and in all honesty, most people speak English anyway so it’s no big drama being monolingual. I knew that I shouldn’t expect that same level of comfort in Montreal, so I was prepared to flounder. Before arriving, all I had been told was that it was freezing and that the drivers were very aggressive. That combined with my lack of French made me a little apprehensive about visiting Montreal.

So I was pretty surprised to discover that I loved Montreal. It was super snowy when we arrived so the car skidded around a bit, but we didn’t notice drivers being any worse than the rest of Canada (fun fact: Canadian drivers, especially those in Vancouver, are the worst drivers I’ve ever come across – I’ve had Canadians confirm this with me so I promise I’m not being unfairly judgemental). Our Airbnb was really lovely: we stayed with a vegan couple who gave us awesome restaurant suggestions and they also had two adorable cats. There we brought in the New Year, joining the NYE party our hosts threw. Despite being the only non-French speakers and the only monolingual people in the room, we had a really great time. Everyone spoke at least a bit of English and the language barrier was less of an issue the drunker people got.

We spent most of our time in Montreal eating and wandering the streets, though we did stop in the Underground City and I finally bought myself a hardier winter jacket on sale – they really weren’t kidding about Montreal being cold (one day it took us about 20 minutes to dig Cindy out of the snow). The city itself has such a cool vibe. It reminded me a little bit of Vancouver’s Commercial-Broadway area mixed with Gastown, mixed with a bit of Wellington’s Cuba St and Newtown, mixed with the picturesque parts of Paris. Old Montreal especially feels like you’re actually in Europe, and is one of the prettiest places I’ve been.

As well as being beautiful, Montreal is home to some of the best restaurants I’ve tried in Canada – amazing breakfasts at L’Oeufrier, a huge portion of Indian food for only $8 at Chand Palace, authentic poutine at La Banquise, and the best Montreal bagels from Fairmount. I still haven’t found any coffee shops to rival Wellington, but our Airbnb had an espresso machine that made a pretty wicked long black. Luckily, Lox loved Montreal just as much as I did, so we’re planning to visit again in early February – hopefully then we’ll find some good coffee shops! I never expected to fall in love with Montreal, but now, along with Vancouver and Banff, it’s one of my favourite cities in Canada.

Road trip tunes

As has been the subject of my last few posts, I am currently road tripping across Canada with my boyfriend in our minivan, Cindy Lou (full name “Cindy Lou Beluga Whale” – our van is big and white and reminded me of a beluga whale, and Lox thought “Cindy Lou” fitted well with that). While Cindy is a pretty great vehicle, she is old so doesn’t have space for an audio cable. Luckily, she does have a CD player, so we bought some blank CDs from Walmart (they were surprisingly difficult to find) and made some mix tapes for our journey. It helped me remember some songs that I’d forgotten about (lately my iTunes library has been neglected in favour of Spotify), so I wanted to share some of my favourite re-discoveries for belting out along the road:

(We’re also listening to the Hamilton soundtrack at least once every day, but it’s a new discovery so it doesn’t count).

Road tripping around Canada: The Prairies

Whenever I told anyone that Lox & I were going to drive across Canada, every person said to get out of the prairies as soon as possible (as well as “Oh, it’ll be cold!”, as if we were unaware that Canada gets cold in the winter). Everyone had sold the “flat, boring” prairies as the worst part of Canada, so much so that I was actually really excited to see them.

We left the beautiful Banff for Calgary, and noted along the drive that everything seemed to vanish around us. The hills slowly flattened and sunk into the ground, letting us see hundreds of kilometres into the distance. The flatness was so absolute that my first impression of Calgary was a vague sense of feeling unsettled, though I got used to it pretty fast – you kind of have no choice, as there is nothing else around. The highlight of Calgary, aside from the three cats at our Airbnb, was going to Studio Bell, which is like a museum dedicated to Canadian music. As well as learning a ton about Canadian musicians (Alanis Morissette is Canadian?), they also had a few different pianos on display (including the white piano that Elton John composed “Your Song” on!) and tech stations where you could practice mixing tracks.

We then headed to Drumheller, population: 8000, and known as the Dinosaur Capital of the World. We went solely to go to the Royal Tyrell Museum because we are both mentally 8 years old and dinosaurs are still so exciting. It’s a fantastic museum with a lot of really astounding fossils, so if you’re a dinosaur nerd/were ever an excitable child, you’d absolutely love this place.

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Drumheller was also great because it had hills. Dinosaur Valley is obviously not flat so I immediately felt much more at ease. I didn’t realise just how much hills meant to me ’til we were surrounded by them again. NZ is mainly mountains and volcanoes, so evidently I need some variation in the landscape to feel at home. But we didn’t stay in the hills for long – Edmonton was calling our names.

We spent most of our time there at the West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America. Often being in a big city will highlight to me how little NZ is, and this mall really brought the message home. In my experience, a mall is a place with lots of clothing stores, a foodcourt (just one), the odd café, and there might be a movie theatre if you’re really lucky. The West Edmonton Mall has all the normal features of a mall, plus a theme park, a waterpark, an ice rink, two mini golf courses, an aquarium, a bowling alley, a mirror maze, and a hotel. We got two-day passes and managed to see pretty much everything the mall had on offer, including riding the world’s largest indoor rollercoaster, which we later learned crashed in the ’80s – pretty glad I didn’t know about that beforehand.

Saskatchewan was next, so we spent the past few days in Saskatoon doing very little, other than see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (non-spoiler thoughts: overall it was very good, I loved the costumes, Eddie Redmayne was great, disappointed in the Grindelwald casting, also I would like a niffler please), and we’re now in Regina. The prairies have definitely not been terribly boring like I was led to believe, but I wouldn’t want to stick around for long – I’ve discovered I really love my hills.

Road tripping around Canada: First snow!

After leaving Campbell River, we headed to Agassiz, BC, where our old flatmate from Vancouver had organised a working weekend at his family’s farm. It was really great to see our old flatmates again – even though it had only been about 2 weeks since we left – and surprisingly fun helping out with a bit of home DIY. After a day of working, we spent the night hanging out by a campfire cooking s’mores, playing guitar, and singing Queen songs (fact: singing Bohemian Rhapsody is a guaranteed way to have a good time). It felt like a clichéd scene from a YA novel and it was beautiful.

We left Agassiz for Kelowna, which marked the start of real winter. On the drive there, it started snowing which was both super exciting (as we’re not used to snowfall) and a little terrifying (as we’re not used to snowfall). We didn’t do a whole lot there, but we did hike the Myra Canyon Trestles – the remnants of an old railway service. If you’re ever in Kelowna, I recommend the hike – you can make it as long or as short as you want & you get to see some really cool old structures, plus you get a wicked view of the city below.

From there, we went to Banff, and I immediately fell in love. The town is tiny and adorable, with mountains flanking every side of it. It was so picturesque; it looked exactly like a postcard.

Banff is my new favourite place in the world 💙 #explorealberta #explorecanada #banff

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We didn’t just go to Banff because it’s adorable – the plan was to finally hit the slopes. I’ve been skiing since I was a kid (bonuses of having parents who love snow sports), but Lox had never even been up a mountain before. He was super keen to change this and try his hand (feet?) at snowboarding. Sunshine Village had just opened for the season, so we rented some gear, bought some cheap ski pants, and spent two days on this beautiful mountain:

While I am not sporty, I love skiing. I love that I have this ridiculous skill that is almost never useful and I love the feeling of rushing down the hill and I especially love that no one looks good while skiing. Sure, their technique might be good, but in an attractiveness-sense, skiing is not pretty. Your hair is tightly tucked into a helmet, makeup is far too much effort, walking with ski boots gives you a ridiculous half-swagger, half-waddle, you’re wearing bulky clothing that is almost never flattering, and you probably don’t match either because ski gear is expensive and as if you’re wasting your money on stylish ski pants. I love skiing because there is no pressure to look good. I don’t have to focus on anything but the sport itself. Bless you, creators of ski fashion, for freeing me of self-consciousness.

I had a wicked time there & Lox managed to survive his first snowboarding experience (minus a few bruises). We left Banff a few days ago – I’m a little behind on writing about everything, but I am posting most of my journey on my instagram (@seaalley) plus Lox is also making fairly regular videos on his youtube channel if you want to be more up to date with everything we’re up to!

Road Tripping through Canada: Vancouver Island

On November 1st, Lox and I packed all of our belongings into Cindy Lou Beluga (the name of our van), left our lovely little house in Vancouver, and started our road trip across Canada. Our plan of attack was to first go west to Vancouver Island, and then head all the way to the east coast of Canada, so our first stop was Victoria, BC – just a quick ferry ride away from Vancouver. We had four nights staying with a friend’s parents in Victoria, which gave us a good amount of time to check out the area.

We went to the Royal BC Museum and saw an exhibit on mammoths, wandered around the beautiful Butchart Gardens, saw tortoises and so many butterflies at the Victoria Butterfly Garden, and walked around Beacon Hill Park, eventually hitting Mile 0, where the Trans-Canada Highway begins. We also got to a hockey game – I’m not one for sports, but ice hockey has to be my favourite one to watch. I still have no idea what the rules are, so to me it’s a bunch of people flailing around on ice, occasionally getting into fights, and every so often scoring a goal. It makes no sense to me, and I love it.

We also learned a lesson in driving in unfamiliar areas: after exploring Beacon Hill Park, we headed back to the car and it was nowhere to be seen. We spent a few minutes panicking, until rational brain kicked in to say “it’s probably just parked on a different street”. After a bit of wandering, we found it three blocks away from where we originally thought. Lesson: when you’re unfamiliar with the area, make a note of where you’re parked.

After Victoria, we got in the car and drove a few hours to Ucluelet. There we spent the night in a completely empty campground – I was a little apprehensive about sleeping in such an isolated area, but the view we had was magical and I discovered that sleeping in a van is actually much more comfortable than a tent.

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In Ucluelet, we woke up to this view.

In Ucluelet, we hiked the Wild Pacific Trail (the Lighthouse Loop & the Artist’s Loop – I highly recommend both!) and I was pretty overcome by how beautiful everything was. The weather was cool but clear, and every single view was more beautiful than the last. I’ve never been much of an outdoor person, but spending my time on trails like this just may convert me.

After that, we headed to Tofino, sleeping in the van in a campground again. The stunning weather we had on our hike in Ucluelet didn’t last, so unfortunately we were treated to constant pouring rain. We spent our time there holed up in “Tuff Beans”, where we drank filter coffee & caught up on our internet needs. It was a little disappointing that the weather was so awful because Tofino is a very cute surf town, and I imagine being there in summer would be a much different experience.

We left Tofino for Campbell River, where we stayed in the adorably named “Friendship Inn”, chosen purely because I fell in love with its name. Campbell River is another tiny town that I’m guessing comes to life in summer, but I actually really enjoyed being there in the sleepy off-season. We went hiking in Elk Falls (getting a little lost due to the unmarked trails) and also saw the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge. I didn’t know much about it so had no expectations, so I felt pretty awed when we came upon a huge waterfall. It rivals Huka Falls in its power and definitely beats it in size (though Lox and I are at odds with which is prettier).

Campbell River was the final stop in our Vancouver Island adventure. Now we’re headed back to the mainland to explore more of BC, and then onto the east!