Bliss

mourning-cloak-butterfly

I had an amazing moment earlier today that I wanted to share, a moment of complete peace and sheer bliss.

As I may have mentioned before, I am an amateur photographer and a lover of nature. In wandering along Toronto’s waterfront this morning, I passed some butterfly gardens.

Not my first time visiting these small gardens. I’ve even taken photos there.

But for whatever reason, today was magical because there were dozens of butterflies having the time of their lives flitting from flower to flower.

The movement attracted my eye and I wandered over to the gardens to enjoy the sight and grab a couple of shots with my cell phone. But as I stood there, the world fell completely away, and it was just me, the garden and the butterflies.

And rather than flit away to keep their distance, the butterflies accepted me into the moment, a few even briefly landing on my arms and shoulders.

I had somewhere to be, so the moment couldn’t last too long. I have every confidence, however, that if I had had the time available to me, it would have lasted as long as I chose.

Complete bliss, joy and comfort.

I’ll visit the gardens again. Maybe the moment will happen again; maybe not. But I have available to me this one time that it did, and that will sustain me.

monarchs

Sweltering on the boardwalk

This summer has been unbearably hot and humid in Toronto, but I was going stir-crazy without my weekly walk. So, throwing caution to the (complete lack of) wind, I grabbed my camera and hit the boardwalk and some nearby wooded areas.

Central lodgings for intrepid explorers – review of Hotel Le Roberval

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Hotel le Roberval centres an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods

Conveniently located within a short walk to Montreal’s Vieux Port, the Village and the restaurants of St. Denis, Hotel Le Roberval offers affordable, clean lodgings for people who like to explore the city on foot or with a quick jump on the Metro (Berri-UQAM).

The rooms are quite spacious and well-maintained, offering a kitchenette space that included a bar fridge, microwave, coffee maker and two sets of dishes. The Queen-sized bed was firm and comfortable, and the television was hi-def. And for those needing to work or wishing to keep in touch via social media, the free WiFi was very reliable and allowed rapid upload of photos to Facebook.

Parking is a bit of a chore, however, as you need to store your car in a shared lot less than a block from the hotel. Unfortunately, you need a room key to access the lot, so you have to check in before you can park. That said, you can leave your car on Rue Berri for up to 15 minutes while checking in.

The free continental breakfast leaves something to be desired. There is no hot food, the entire spread limited to croissants, cellophane-wrapped half-bagels, yoghurt, pastries and a couple of dry cereals, as well as milk, juices and coffee. Like the small dining room itself, however, the buffet is well-maintained and the staff who work the room are attentive to everyone’s needs.

Although the hotel is located on the corner of two busy streets (Boul. Rene-Levesque & Rue Berri), bound by government offices and the Universite du Quebec á Montréal (UQAM), there are several restaurants within a short walking distance (mostly in the Village) and a couple of depanneurs (convenience stores that also sell alcohol) if you just want to relax in your room.

As comfortable and accommodating as Hotel Le Roberval is, the lodgings are really just a place to store your stuff and rest your head as you explore what Montreal has to offer.

Exploring Aquarium du Québec – review

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One of the residents was checking me out, too

Looking for something to do on a dreary rainy afternoon, my friend and I took a short car ride from near downtown Quebec to the Aquarium du Québec. Within seconds of parking, we were met with a polar bear and two Vikings sailing across the lot…this was going to be interesting.

Reasonably priced at $20 for adults, the park is a combination of indoor pavilions and outdoor displays, the latter of which include several tanks of marine mammals, as well as an expansive playground and wetland park for the more energetic kids (of any age).

The main pavilion is set up to reflect the local aquatic scene, with freshwater displays of fish found in the St. Lawrence basin on one floor and marine fishes more representative of the open ocean on the other level. Although the lighting is quite bright on the aquatic level, which makes sense given the shallower waters, the lighting is much darker on the marine level, which can make photography of the constantly moving fish somewhat challenging.

For me though, the second pavilion was where all the excitement was, starting with a large almost pitch black display of jellyfish in different tanks lit from below in ever-shifting colours. As I quickly noted in checking my camera, the light effects can make for significant artistic flare.

One disappointment, however, was a display called Awesome Ocean, which was essentially a walk-through coral reef that curves overhead. Although the display itself was quite nice, offering glimpses of beautifully colourful fish, the entire display couldn’t have been more than 12 feet long, so the immersive effect was almost impossible.

Another challenge to the indoor pavilions is that many of the paths the wind around the displays are relatively narrow, meaning that you are constantly at risk of stumbling over the flotilla of strollers that seemed to be everywhere that day. This was particularly problematic in the jellyfish display, where many cylindrical tanks required you to criss-cross the room.

Despite having visited many better designed and larger aquariums—including Toronto’s new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada—I had a good time at the Aquarium du Québec, and definitely recommend it as a destination particularly for traveling families. Whether in the playground, watching the seals or scrambling from tank to tank in the dark, young kids will find plenty to do, particularly on a cloudy day.

Conveniently, off the beaten track – Quebec hotel review

 

Chateau Frontenac

(Not the Auberge Michel Doyon…rather the Chateau Frontenac)

Just a few minute’s bus ride (or a 45-minute walk) from Vieux Quebec (the fortress) and downtown Quebec City is the small hotel Auberge Michel Doyon, located in the quiet neighbourhoods along Chemin Saint-Foy. To give you a sense of how homey this place is, the room keys are actual metal keys.
Rooms range from suites with private baths and kitchenette to smaller rooms with shared bathrooms. My friend and I each stayed in a suite that was large only in the comparative sense. The rooms are not exactly spacious—the only sitting space aside from the bed was a folding chair—but they are clean and well-maintained.
The bathrooms are small, with only room for a shower stall, and in the case of my friend’s room, the bathroom sink was in the bedroom, her bathroom limited to shower and toilet. I was lucky enough to get a full kitchenette that included a microwave, bar fridge and kettle, while my friend only managed the fridge and microwave without cupboards. Unfortunately, the only available dishes were a couple of plastic glasses, so I’m not sure how you were supposed to eat anything you might have cooked.
WiFi is available for $5/day and was reliable and fast. One challenge, however, was the paucity of convenient outlets that weren’t already filled with plugs from lamps, television or air conditioner. For example, I had to unplug the TV to plug in my laptop.
The staff are friendly and helpful, assisting with directions or in getting a taxi to the airport. The hotel offers a 99-cent continental breakfast, which we did not try. And there was no problem getting a late check-out, which was given at no charge.
Although the hotel may at first seem off the beaten path, the location is perfect for those looking to explore more than Vieux Quebec. There are several nearby convenience stores and small diners for breakfast or supplies, and if you have a car (ample parking behind the hotel), you have quick access to nearby highways, putting you within minutes of destinations like the Quebec Aquarium or Montmorency Falls. A weekend pass for the local bus system, meanwhile, is only $15.
While it may seem an odd place to stay while visiting town, Auberge Michel Doyon is a decently priced alternative to the fancier and often cramped B&Bs within the fortress walls.

Step up to a breathtaking view

Montmorency Falls

Taller than Niagara, the Falls carve into the countryside

Less than half an hour from Quebec City by car, Montmorency Falls offers not only a spectacular view of a natural wonder, but several opportunities to actively participate in that wonder.
After paying $12 to park your car (or park outside before the gate and pay nothing), you quickly come face-to-face with the white wall that is the falls, plunging 83 m (272 ft)—higher than Niagara Falls—to join the St. Lawrence River. (Several tour bus lines also visit the falls.)
Upon entering the tram station and gift shop area, you have the option of paying another $12 to take the tram to the top of the escarpment ($14 round-trip) or wandering along a bridge and path to the base of the falls where you are bathed in spray. Here, you are faced with the question of whether you want to climb 487 steps and save yourself some money.
This is not for the weak-of-the-knees, although there are several rest areas along the climb to catch your breath and take photos. To give some sense of the undertaking, I am about 280 lbs but walk quite often, and I was winded and my legs tired upon reaching the summit, but quickly recovered.
Once at the top, you walk along a short trail to reach the bridge that spans the top of the falls with the river on one side and a sheer drop on the other. From here you have a spectacular view of the falls and even Quebec City, and I am happy to report that the bridge is very sturdy, placating those of us who fear heights.
A recent addition to the falls is a dual zipline that allows those brave few to slide right across the face of the cascade. I got nauseous simply watching other people experience the adventure.
And when you get back down to the bottom—my friend and I took the tram down—you can check out the small gift shop and snack counter. Given the stair climb, we think the site is really missing out on an opportunity to market “I survived” t-shirts.
The experience is definitely worth the trip out of town and will give you something to talk about for quite some time (especially if you climbed those ruddy stairs).

Urban jungle

Despite being the urban capital and largest city of Canada, Toronto is much more than a collection of steel, concrete and glass. Sure, we host the CN Tower, Rogers Centre and a vibrant business core, but we also have a wide array of green spaces, where within minutes of almost anywhere, citizens and visitors can leave the social world behind and relax with Nature.

This past week, I spent a full day exploring such sections of Toronto, wandering along Taylor Creek Park and down the Don Valley Trail. Here’s some of what I saw.

With the walk home, my entire circuit for the day was 18 km (roughly 11 miles). Enough to leave my camera full, my body exhausted and my soul refreshed. All proof that you don’t have to journey to the hinterlands to experience Nature; it’s all right here if you but look for it.