Monthly Archives: August 2012

Into The Woods (Dundas Valley Conservation Area)

My one-day record on my recent walk in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area: Five sightings of deer, with a total number of 18! I was ecstatic because I could capture this family of six on my smart phone before the sound of the click sent them dashing away.

The weather was more pleasant for walking these day. There was a coolness in the air while the sun was shining for my morning walks. My group walk this particular day started off from Sanctuary Park , Dundas, ON and we soon found ourselves meandering along the trails of Dundas Valley. We were deep into the woods and twice, we had to lower our heads in order to follow the trail even though a tree had fallen across it.

We were rewarded with nature’s blessings: the streams, the rapids, the trees and wildlife.

We were equipped for the rocky climb and for the change of underfoot from stones, to roots and to softer padding.

The vegetation changed suddenly  from the Carolinian deciduous which is typical of this area to a rare stretch of pine. They were neatly planted in row, which was also a nice reminder of man’s contribution to preserve nature.

When we walked in silence and mindful of the stillness surrounding us, a rabbit, a chimpmunk and sometimes a squirrel crossed our path. Looking up the forest hill and down into the dale, there were the deer sightings of course.

I not only became aware of what nature was offering us in the present, but I was struck by what it had left for us from the past in the form of rock formations and remains of ancient tress.

Halfway up the Monarch Trail, we reached an open air auditorium with seats and an altar.

 I remembered coming across a bridal party jogging along the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail on one of my walks. The bride was wearing a lace tennis frock , and her bridesmaids also in white tennis attire. They passed me and left me wondering where they were heading for. I think I had got my answer when I saw that altar. One question remained unanswered though: How are the relatives and guests going to get there?

The Dundas Valley Conservation Area has over 40 interconnected trails. Just on this hike, we walked parts of the Spring Creek Trail, the Sawmill Trail, a considerable section of the Bruce Trail Main Loop and the Monarch Trail, which took us back to the Rail Trail and to where we started at Sanctuary Park.


Sightseeing in Montreal for the First Time

Never been to Montreal before? Then you are like me, before my recent visit to Montreal for the first time. In the two days that I had,  I walked a lot and  I saw a lot, and felt very happy with this visit. I have written about local food, and now I want to conclude my two-day visit to Montreal with my recommendations where to walk around.

1. Parc de Mont Royal 

The park is situated on top of a hill, Mont Royal, in the center of Montreal. The easiest way to visit the park is to take a car or bus to Smith House, which is the information center of the park.

Take a short walk to the Chalet, where you have a panoramic view of the city.

There are other trails in the park for walkers, joggers and cyclists.

This park was designed by Federick Omsted, who also designed Central Park in New York.


2. Saint Joseph’s Oratory

This is as much a place for worship as it is a museum. The Basilica rises on a knoll and  a flight of steps is designated for pilgrims who visit the place.

There are much to see inside and outside, depending on what is open. There are a crypt,  a votive chapel, a museum and a garden which is designed for meditation in the outdoors. The chimes or Carillon in the courtyard has 56 bells. They were brought over from Paris when these bells, originally made for the Eiffel Tower but could not be used due to technical difficulties. These bells are played at fixed hours.

I was fortunate to be there at the concert hour and I found myself mesmerized by these bells ringing the Toccata by Bach.

3. Notre Dame Basilica

Situated in Place d-Arme in Old Montreal, this is a church worth visiting, because it represented an important page in the history of Montreal. Nowadays, many weddings and funerals of celebrities and dignitaries are held in this church.

Stain glass windows in this church depict early lives of Montreal. The bells of this church were manufactured by the same factory that made the Big Ben in London. The organ of this church has 4 keyboards, 90 stops and 7000 pipes. It is worth attending a service here to listen to the organ music.

Since the Basilica is in the center of the old town, it is convenient to walk around Old Montreal to get a feel of the old banking area, the old warehouses and the old port.

4. Atwater Market

Even though it is “on the other side of town”, getting there by car is not a problem, nor is parking. I am amazed the by range of fresh produce and meat available. There are delis, pastry shops and a bread store which is sold out every day. I am impressed by the colors and tastes this market can offer.

5. Musee des Beaux-Arts

The two buildings of the art museum is linked by an underground walkway. There is an impressive collection of art work and this is a place to visit and to revisit and revisit.

Although one may want to see Montreal as much as possible on the first visit, an experience of Montreal cannot go without tasting some of its local specialties. Even for bragging rights, you must try the Montreal poutine, bagels and smoked meat. Check out my food guide link.

Montreal: Jardin Nelson for Repas

I could not believe how long the line was outside Jardin Nelson on Rue Saint-Jacques when I got there at 5 p.m. “This is a good sign,” I said to myself, “I’ve come to the right place for my repas (French for meal).”There was a large area for open-air seating at the back of the restaurant in addition to the front porch. The back offered a garden-like ambience, but I chose to sit in the front porch to enjoy the energy and bustling of the artistic sector of Old Montreal.

Service was prompt and friendly, and after finding out that I was from out-of-town, the waiter was very helpful in recommending to me local specialties, from drinks to food. I orded a Boreale Blonde which was a light beer and my husband picked the Blanche de Chambly, a beer that tasted like wine, with a fruity taste.

My meal was a savory crepe with saddle of rabbit (Rable de lapin). The filling was creamy and tasty. The rabbit was lean and tender, and the sauce had a delicate hint of wine and mustard. My husband also enjoyed his mushroom crepe (Forestiere), which had a creamy sauce with different mushroom and cheeses. Both of us, however, would prefer to have the crepe to be thinner. The diakon salad that came with our crepes was refreshing–shredded daikon was combined with dried cranberries with morsels of red cabbage, plus a light dressing which seemed to be was rice-wine based. I liked the tartness of the daikon, for it was a contrast to the cream sauce. Both our crepes were plated in the same way. Perhaps the chef could  use different garnishes to give more variation in the presentation.

The highlight was dessert. The waiter recommended Pouding Chumeur. It was pound cake soaked in maple syrup and served warm in a cast iron container. It had a thin layer of crusty syrup the top. Together with the vanilla ice cream which came in the shooter glass, the taste of the warm and the cold in the same mouthful was simply divine. I rate this as one of the must-try local specialty in Montreal.

Jardin Nelson, 407 Rue Jacques Cartier, Montreal, Quebec.

Jardin Nelson on Urbanspoon

Montreal: Le Cartet for Brunch

The line outside Le Cartet Resto Boutique told me that I had chosen the right place to have brunch in Montreal. Situated near the river on Rue McGill, the restaurant is close to the popular tourist area of Old Montreal, yet sheltered from its crowds.

While waiting in line, I  visually sampled the delicacies for sale at the front store.


The brunch menu includes both hearty and healthy choices. Each brunch order (about CDN $16) comes with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee with refills. I ordered the Brunch de L’Atlantique and my husband ordered the Brunch Sucre.

The salmon brunch came with a generous serving of smoked salmon on top of half a bagel, topped with onion and capers. The smoked salmon cake was tasty, and so was the salmon omelette. The mesclun salad was delightful with its vinaigrette dressing, and the fresh fruit balanced off the savoriness of the salmon. 

The Brunch Sucre came with a bowl of granola cereal, crepes topped with raspberry saurce, and french toast drizzled with honey. This is no doubt a healthy energy booster.

For additional indulgence, I also ordered a cafe latte in a bowl.The latte was good, yet it was the presentation that topped it all.

The place was crowded and but service did not seem slow for a Sunday morning brunch. This may not be the place for a quiet, intimate chat with your friend at this time of the day, but certainly I will come back for the decor and the energy this restaurant exudes.

Le Cartet is at 106 Rue McGill, Montreal, Quebec.

Le Cartet on Urbanspoon

Five Must-Try Local Specialties in Montreal

No visits to Montreal would be complete without your trying these famous (speaking for your palate) or infamous (speaking for your calories count) local food.

1. Poutine

Do not respond by saying that it is only French fries, because poutine is NOT only French fries, it is French fries at its ultimate. There was a line outside Poutine La Barquise when we arrived.

While in line inside, we studied the ingredients in the over 25 kinds of poutine–all in French–on the menu written on the wall. Now, take a look at what we ordered.

La Classique (top right) is the basic poutine with French fries, cheese curd and gravy. We unanimously said “YUM” the moment we tasted the fries. There was a hint of sweetness in the potatoes. The entire dish was simple but absolutely tasty.

La Petite Vie (bottom right) has beef, onion and corn on top of the Classique. It is the richest dish among the ones we have ordered, but with each mouthful, we all feel the need to take another one. The topping and the gravy blends together well.

La Rachel (bottom left) has onions, green pepper and mushroom for topping. This is a delicious vegetarian poutine, especially for the mushroom lovers.

La Taquise (top left) has guacamole, sour cream and tomatoes. The contrast of the warm poutine and the cool toppings make this special. There is a freshness in this dish, which makes it my favorite.

2. Smoked Meat

Even the rain could not deter the two long lines of customers waiting outside Swartz’s. One line was waiting to go inside for a sit-down meal, while the other for take-out. I was in the take-out line and I estimated that there were about 60 people in front of me and it took half an hour before I came out with my smoked meat sandwiches.

Inside the ordinary sandwich bread with a little mustard spread on it was about two inches thick of smoked meat. The sensation of biting through the meat was a unique experience that must not be missed. It was worth all the wait.

3. Chocolates

Anything to do with chocolates, you can find it at Juliette et Chocolat. The chocolate bar menu includes chocolate shots made from chocolates from different plantations and different countries, chocolate shoorters, alcoholic chocolates and cold and hot chocolate drinks. The dessert menu inlcudes all kinds of pastries, brownies, ice cream, crepes and  fondues.

There is a youthful and cheerful atmosphere inside. The servers wear a black uniform and a red beret.

We ordered a chocolate fondue for two to share. It came with fresh fruits and a bowl each of melted mild chocolate and white chocolate.

How can one resist this colorful presentation?

The choco folie was literally chocolate madness with three toppings consisting of dark chocolate sauce, milk chocolate sauce and white chocolate sauce, and sprinkled with icing sugar. One of my companions also ordered the Petit Pot au Caramel, which was chocolate brownie with caramel topping in a little jar (like a baby food container).It was dainty and delicate in taste and in presentation.   My other companion had the Vila Granada 67% from Sao Tome and the drink was served in a small brandy glass. The aroma of the chocolate was intoxicating even in the absence of alcohol.

The food and drinks here are decadent! For chocolate lovers, this place is heaven.

4. Pouding Chumeur

The waitor at Jardin Nelson told me that it was a traditional Quebec dessert and promised that I would like it.

This is a warm dessert served in an iron container. The pound cake is soaked in maple syrup, and the crust is a thin layer of hardened syrup. Spoon some vanilla ice cream from the shot glass and eat it with the pudding. It is sublime, and you will surely like it.

5. Bagels

You cannot leave Montreal until you have tasted or bought some Montreal bagels. The Original Fairmount Bagels Bakery boasts itself to be the first bagel factory in town, and their bagels are still rolled by hand and baked in a wood fire oven.

There were 25 flavors to choose from, and the aroma inside the shop was a treat to your olfactory sense even before you get to taste the bagels. Montreal bagels are chewy and crusty. Definitely the must-try flavours: garlic, sesame, flaxseed, pumpernickel, multi-grain, mueslix and the power bagel.

Follow my food guide, and you will not leave Montreal disappointed.

Walking in Old Montreal

When I travel, I am never content with being taken around in a tour bus, hop off for a photo op and then back onto the bus for the next stop. I like to walk and walking is the best way to know a city.

I just had a delicious brunch at Le Cartet, which was on Rue McGill near the river. I took out my walking map in the tourist guide and adapted my route around Old Montreal.

Other tourists may have chosen to explore Old Montreal in a horse-drawn cart, I looked for the cobbled stone streets to trace my way around.

I walked through Rue Saint-Pierre to look at its old warehouses built between the 1850’s and the 1870’s, now turned office buildings or residences. The architectural style had remained unchanged and I liked the homogeneity in this part of town.

I zigged-zagged northwards to join Rue Saint-Jacques and entered the old banking district. Here the buildings were grander in style. Some banks were still in operation in its original buildings, but some had become offices.

The Bank of Montreal headquarters was at the north of Place d-Arme, facing the Notre Dame Basilica.

This was the church where Celine Dion got married and many weddings and funerals of celebrities had taken place here. The statue of Paul de Maisonneuve, founder of the city of Montreal, stood in the center the square.

Rye Saint-Sulprice by the side of the Basilica had some quaint shops. Who could resist the temptation but to enter the Christmas boutique to take a look?

A street musician was playing at the entrance of a lane, which was like an outdoor museum with a display of metal sculpture.

I headed west again on Rue Saint-Paul. Part of the street was a pedestrian zone.  I could leisurely looked around the shops, the cafes and the art shops.

I took Rue Jacques-Cartier to Rue Notre Dame, which was one of the oldest street built in the seventeenth century. Now I saw government buildings and museums, with old architecture juxtaposed among the new. This was where I ended my walk around historical Montreal.

Montreal: The Colors and Tastes of Atwater Market

A multitude of colors greet the visitors the moment they enter the Atwater Market in Montreal. The outdoor market has on display all the seasonal flowers, and fruits and vegetables one can imagine.

The indoor market is air-conditioned. The stores sell fresh meat, sausages, cheeses, dips and pate as well as chocolates and pastries.

Everything here appears enticing to the eyes and to the taste buds. Imagine all the delicious meals one can have after shopping here!

The Amazing Trail “Loop”

The subtitle of this post is “The Interconnections of Hamilton’s Trails “. I walked about 13K with my group this recent weekend, and we went through the most varied of terrain and scenery, and above all, we remained relatively close to the city without feeling its presence; well, for the most part.

The last time I walked on the Chedoke Radial Trail, I turned towards Hillcrest Avenue. This time I walked on the escarpment towards Scenic Dirve.

This section of the trail passed through a wooded section, which then opened up to the view of the city of Hamilton. On the other side, the trail offered the rugged rock face of the escarpment.

We walked on the new Bailey Bridge at Chekode Fall, now  longer, wider and stronger to withstand the eroding of the escarpment and the instability of the water course it crossed. This bridge was opened in January, 2012.

The Chedoke Radial Trail also belonged to the main Bruce Trail. We had a choice of staying on the main trail all the way to the Scenic Drive Side Trail or take the Iroquoia Height Side Trail to get to the same point. We continued on the main trail and crossed another bridge over Hwy 403.

This probably was the least attractive part of the trail which paralleled the highway alongside its noise barrier.

The main Bruce Trail then led to the Filman Side Trail, which offered a more hllly and rugged terrain until it came out onto Wilson Street.

We walked along Wilson Street (which joined Main Street) and took a flight of stairs to the the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail.

From here, we headed towards Hamilton using the Ewen Road entrance.  We continued on the new extension of the Rail Trail. This was a 2.25 K  paved trail which passed the rail yard and ending at the residential area bordering the Chekdoke Golf Course. It was opened in 2011 and formed part of the Canadian Pacific Link.

We rejoined the road where we walked uphill to the golf course earlier and headed back to Westdale, our usual starting point. When I downloaded my walking data from my Garmin, I realized that we had completed an amazing loop by connecting several trails that ran through the city!