My Travel Memories: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

All of this remembering our 1981 Canada trip has me thinking about taking a similar trip in the future.  We could, in theory, at least, fly into Toronto, then take the train to Montreal and Quebec City.  We could rent a car and explore some of the areas to the east of Quebec City or, if I don’t want to rent a car (I suspect I’ll have had enough of that after our Salt Lake City/Yellowstone/Dinosaur National Monument trip to last me a while), we might be able to take a side trip to either Halifax or Ottawa (but not both).

As I recall, we spent most of our time in Montreal in the Old City area.  We stayed at a hotel in the suburbs and took the Metro into the city.  It saved us a bundle, but wasted quite a bit of time.  I think Montreal was where we went in search of beignets, but since this was in the days before everyone had access to the Internet, we never did find any.

I also bought a French-language Wonder Woman comic book compilation while I was in Montreal.  I planned to learn French someday and figured that the comic book would give me some incentive.  Since then, I have made two attempts at learning French and was interrupted by tragedy both times (I think it was cancer the first time and my divorce the second).  So I gave up.  I will still learn it someday, but not until I’ve become close to proficient in all of the other languages, and I do mean all of them — Hindi, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Lithuanian, Igbo, Korean, Vietnamese . . . .

While looking for pictures of the frescoes and wood in Notre Dame referenced in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, I found some surprisingly lovely pictures of Notre Dame that showed it full of color and gorgeous carved wood.  Score one for Brown, I guess.  This surprised the heck out of me.  Then I noticed the caption — Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. So if you want to visit the version of Notre Dame that exists in Brown’s imagination, you’ll have to go to Montreal to do so.

Since we didn’t do anything in Toronto, I guess that next we’re on to our 1982 trip to Florida.  If I recall correctly, it was more days of hanging around the house (I seem to recall doing a lot of reading and we saw Poltergeist).  We also went to EPCOT during that trip, so that’s probably what I will focus on next.

I wish I could find pictures of our 1981 and 1982 trips.  I also wish I could remember where, if anywhere, we went in 1983 through 1986.

My Travel Memories, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

This is one of those days that make me wish I had pictures of this trip available to me more than most. This is because Quebec City is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I don’t remember seeing much in the way of sightseeing, but my family and I spent all day just walking around.  I do remember spending a few hours on the
Île d’Orléans, though I think we just drove Route 368 around the perimeter of the island.

The city is what made the real impression on me (I’m a city girl, after all). We wandered the streets of the Old City, which is like visiting a 17th century European city. There weren’t even any cars there, that I can recall. We also walked the walls of the citadel. We walked at least ten miles that day and I would have been willing to spend more time there, but we were scheduled to go to Montreal and had to leave.

I always intended to return. In fact, I kind of dreamed of having my honeymoon there.  Instead of Quebec City, my now-ex and I ended up going to Indianapolis (more on that trip once we get to 1991).  We got married in November, so going north was not a good idea, plus he had only been out of college for three months at that point, so he hadn’t earned any vacation time yet.  He took two days off without pay, so we had to stay fairly close to home. I may get married again someday, if I ever get to a point where I want to date again (we’re coming up on the sixth anniversary of our divorce and I haven’t felt that desire yet) and, once I do, if I ever find someone I love well enough to marry again and maybe we’ll go to Quebec City for our honeymoon.  I’ve heard of people “dating themselves” (in the sense of going out and doing fun things alone and not in the sense of revealing how old they are) so maybe, someday, I’ll take myself on a honeymoon.

My Travel Memories: Portland, Maine

After we left Massachusetts, we drove up through New Hampshire and into Portland.  I was, at this point, still 17 or so years away from becoming a lighthouse enthusiast, so I missed out on my chance to see one of the most-photographed (if not the most-photographed) lighthouses in the world, Portland Head Light.  If you see a photograph of a white lighthouse and the outbuildings all have pretty steeply pitched red roofs, that’s Portland Head.  Before Alex and I started to buy calendars of our upcoming destinations (this year’s calendar is Munich), I usually bought a calendar with lighthouse pictures and my usual goal was to find one without a picture of Portland Head.  Some years I was more successful than others (and one year I found one with two pictures of Portland Head, each taken from a different angle).  If you’ve ever watched Babylon 5, the episode “Shadow Dancing” ends with Delenn holding a snow globe with a lighthouse in it.  That lighthouse is Portland Head.  Anyway, I hope to return to Portland someday to actually visit the lighthouse that I’ve seen so many damn times in photographs.

While we didn’t go lighthouse spotting, we did visit yet another famous person’s house and this one did make an impression.  We visited the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Among the things we saw was what they refer to as the “Rainy Day desk,” which is where Longfellow wrote his poem, “The Rainy Day.” You know the saying, “Into each life some rain must fall”?  That’s from “The Rainy Day.” The poem also references a vine and there is ivy on the exterior wall outside the window above the desk. The tour guide said that the ivy was there during Longfellow’s lifetime and may have been of some inspiration to him in writing the poem.  So I went outside and stole a leaf from the ivy.  I took care to get it home in one piece and then sealed it in a plastic bag.  I used that leaf as a bookmark for most of the following school year. I wonder where it is now. It’s probably still in one of the books I read that year.

I’m pretty sure we also went to the Portland Museum of Art.  At least the building it was in at the time, the McLellan-Sweat Mansion looks awfully familiar.  It turns out that 1981, the year we were in Portland, was the year they began work on the current building across the street from the mansion. The new building is much more modern and more memorable.

That night we went to a lobster restaurant and had whole steamed lobsters for dinner (my parents have never gone for terribly fancy food).  I wouldn’t swear to it, but it looks like it might have been whatever restaurant was in the same building where Street & Co. is today. That is certainly the right area of town. My dad made some joke or other at dinner and I laughed so hard that the screw fell out of my glasses and we couldn’t find it anywhere.  We had to go to the Pearle Vision store in downtown Portland on our way out of town to have a new screw put in.

It’s not really about Portland, but while we were in Maine, we were driving through the woods somewhere (probably on US 201) and I saw the biggest dog I’d ever seen sitting in the lanes going in the opposite direction.  As we passed the dog, it looked up and I realized that no dog has round ears like that.  The large dog I saw was actually a bear. My parents didn’t see it at all.

My Travel Memories — Boston, Massachusetts

Boston was the first place I ever traveled where I looked around and said, “I wonder what it would be like to live here.” The place I was standing at the time was Beacon Street right across from Boston Common, so it would probably be fantastic to live there, but unless this blog becomes more really amazingly profitable I will never be able to afford it.  But a part of me still wonders what it would be like.

My first memory of Boston was getting lost.  In some of our destinations, I can remember the hotel we stayed at, but I can’t remember the hotel from Boston.  It was likely a Holiday Inn or something similar.  It was near dark by then and we ended up in the North End.  The couple who stopped to help us didn’t speak English, but their son (who was probably about eight years old) did, and he translated.  I’m sure we would have found our hotel eventually, but that family made it much easier than it would otherwise have been.

We did the usual tourist things in Boston:  the Faneuil Hall, Boston Common, I think we took a bus tour, or maybe my memory of seeing Harvard University from a vehicle was in our car.  We also went out to Plymouth Rock (even less exciting than it sounds) and I think we visited the Plimoth Plantation living history museum.  We also, of course, visited at least one famous house.  The house I remember visiting was the Alcott house in Concord. Mostly I remember standing outside waiting for our turn (or maybe for them to open) while my mom told me her opinion about Louisa May Alcott’s father (which was not complimentary, she didn’t like his peripatetic nature and the fact that he was too busy philosophizing to take care of the family financially).

I don’t remember if we went to Walden Pond or not.  I would think we would have while we were in Concord, since my mom had a Master’s degree in English.  But maybe not.

Once again, I really wish I had some pictures of this trip. Oh, well.  Maybe this will be my excuse to go back to Boston someday.  “I have to go back to take the pictures that we didn’t take in 1981.”  I think I like that idea.

My Travel Memories — Niagara Falls, New York/Ontario

I’m pretty certain that I’m done with my 1980 vacation now, though, really? Who knows?  I reserve the right to go back to 1980 if I remember anything else.

Regardless, on to 1981.  This trip* was my very first time outside the United States.  It was also the most elaborate vacation my family of origin took, possibly ever (the award for most elaborate vacation since my marriage is definitely our trip to England in 2002).  My folks and I drove from Chicago through Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and then into New York, where we went to Niagara Falls.  I had always wanted to go to New York City and I asked hopefully if we could stop there on our way through.  My parents had attended the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens and my mom had not enjoyed the experience, so the answer was a resounding no.

After Niagara Falls, we drove across the rest of New York State into Massachusetts, where we visited Boston and its environs.  We then went north along the coast of New Hampshire into Maine, where we visited Portland before heading north to Quebec City, Quebec.  From there, we went south to Montreal, then into Ontario where we sat in our hotel room in Toronto the next day, too tired from the rest of the vacation to do much in Toronto.  From there, we crossed back into the United States and went home to Chicago.

I would, in time, get my chance to go to New York City, of course, in 1988 and then again in 2015.  I also would explore Toronto with Alex and my as-yet-unpseudonymed now-ex-husband, in 2003.

But first, Niagara Falls.

I was actually kind of weirded out by my parents’ suggestion that we go to Niagara Falls.  The only thing I really knew about Niagara Falls was that it was a honeymoon destination.  I didn’t think it would be particularly family-friendly.  Fortunately, while there is a lot to recommend the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area as a vacation spot — nature, history, boat tours, proximity to Canada — it was far less sexy than I was expecting.

Generally, this is where I go into the history of the location in question, but, well, it’s not like Niagara Falls was founded or anything.  I seem to recall reading an article about how it was a bustling industrial area early in American history.  There were mills and things on the Niagara River beginning in the 1700s. Nowadays, the focus of industry on the river is in hydroelectric power, and the river is so fast that they don’t need to dam the river up to do this, but can produce the power with water diverted from the river without significantly affecting the flow of the river. Now that’s a powerful river.

We spent one or two days in Niagara Falls, and did a few things there.  We went on the Maid of the Mist tour.  These are the boats that take you right up to the falls.  Back in 1981, they had reusable things that had a terrible mildew smell. Apparently they now give out disposable ponchos that provide less coverage than the reusable ones did, but presumably smell less like an uncleaned locker room shower.  Remembering the Maid of the Mist is one of the things that makes me wish we’d taken some pictures on that trip. The Maid of the Mist boats are wheelchair accessible.

We also walked across the Rainbow Bridge into Canada one night.  My dad and I argued about when we went to Niagara Falls.  He insisted that I had to have been older than I was, but I distinctly remembered that crossing as my first time out of the country, which would put it before we went to Quebec and Montreal.  Later we would figure out that it was the same trip.  I remember having dreams about crossing a bridge into Canada that had a side tunnel to France.  I think that my subconscious was remembering that Niagara Falls and Quebec were the same trip.  Or maybe my subconscious is just weird.  I don’t think we stayed in Niagara Falls, Ontario very long though.  I have a memory of a lot of neon. I think my parents were underwhelmed and so we pretty much turned around and went right back.

One thing to be aware of when planning a trip to Niagara Falls is the humidity. If you have any physical ailments that can be exacerbated by humidity, you might want to take any necessary precautions when visiting Niagara Falls.  For example, as I write this (January 23, 2016), the prediction for the daytime hours tomorrow is a 0% chance of precipitation, but 82% (on average) humidity. So the air is basically water that close to the falls. On the plus side, if your hair responds well to humidity (as mine does), you will look fantastic.

*This stop, as a matter of fact.