Monday, May 30, 2016

Day Trips - St. Jacobs Farmers' Market / Elora Gorge

This will be a new series heading where I will talk about the Day Trips that take place, it will be posted randomly due to when they happen, but I hope you look forward to them. Our day trips will originate from Toronto, Ontario for those that want a point of reference.


During the May long weekend, we did not plan a long weekend trip since we are still in the middle of finalizing things for both our upcoming wedding and house purchase, so we decided to stay in town in case something popped up. With one of the days, we went and visited St Jacobs Farmer's Market located in Woolrich, Ontario which is approximately 1.5 hour drive from Toronto. It is a short drive from Waterloo for those who might know that better.


St Jacobs Farmers Market is something that Allison has been to a lot, however, I have not, so, it was a good experience for me. For those that don't know, St Jacobs Farmers' Market is a staple place to visit for the locals and tourists alike, typically open on Thursdays and Saturdays, make sure to arrive early, otherwise the lines and crowds get quite big as the day goes on. There are TONS of vendors here selling a wide variety of items, things like souvenirs, electronics, video games, custom artwork, fruits, vegetables, and tons more. For a list of shops, check out their website at http://www.stjacobs.com/farmers-market.


Along with the things that you can buy, there are also a lot of shops that you can purchase food from, things like pizza, pies, ice cream, apple fritters, fresh baked bread, and lots more. Although we did bring lunch since we didn't know what time we would be there, you can arrive and just soak in the sights and the food and it is a good way to spend the day.


Aside from the market itself, there is also an outlet mall right across the street as well as a farm area for the kids to enjoy. And if you like, you can always visit St. Jacobs County which is just a short drive away. Note that for those who wonder why it might look different from before, there was a fire in 2013 that completely destroyed the old market and it was only reopened in June 2015.


We arrived at around 10:40am and we spent about 2 hours here and we only did the Farmers' Market portion. After that, we went to Elora Gorge which I heard was a nice sight to visit for tubing and I noticed that there was a small trail here, so I thought it would be good to visit and hike the trail and see if tubing looked fun and we could come back and try that.



Admission is $6 per adult in 2016, and there is additional costs for tubing, but we weren't here for that today. I thought that we would get the chance to see some tubers to see what it would look like, unfortunately the water conditions were not ideal and tubing was closed when we visited. The hike itself is very short and honestly, a bit disappointing. When I compare it to my previous gorge hike, Watkins Glen, there is no comparison, WG is significantly better and more interesting. The hike is very short, and fairly flat with not too much to see honestly. The highlight of the hike was actually the tubing launch area which you can reach by car. The launch area is a set of stairs that brings you to the bottom of the gorge and you can wander around the area. It was a very hot day when we went and we spent a few minutes at the bottom and left and called it a day. It was disappointing that we didn't get to see the tubers, but it looked like it should be fun to do that.



After Elora Gorge, we drove back home and called it a day, but the end, we left the area at around 2:30pm (arrived at 1:20pm).

Overall, it was a well planned out day, however, I was a bit disappointed by Elora, maybe if I saw tubers my opinion would change, but too late for that now! St Jacobs Farmers' Market definitely seems like a must visit if you want something to do that isn't too far from the city. I need to go back and have an apple fritter since I was told it was the best, I'll need to make it early next time because by 11:00am, the wait was about 30 minutes.

Until our next Day Trip!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Past POIs - Belvedere Palace (Schloss Belvedere) [Vienna, Austria]

Belvedere Palace was a quick stop for us but in my mind, still worth the short stop for pictures, especially if you can go before the crowds hit (we arrived in the morning and there was nobody there, by the time we were about finished with photos, tour groups arrived). While we didn't actually go inside the two palaces themselves (called Upper Belvedere and Lower Belvedere), the grounds are open to public and there was no admission cost when we went in 2015.


Construction started in 1712 and both the upper and lower palaces were completed in 1723. It was built for Prince Eugene of Savoy as his summer palace by architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt. Now, both palaces are art museums and feature many Austrian paintings.


It is very easy to access Belvedere by public transportation, by Tram, stop at 'Schloss Belvedere' which is how we got here. You can also take the metro as well.


For more information, visit their official website at: https://www.belvedere.at/en

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Past POIs - Frankenmuth [Frankenmuth, Michigan, United States of America]

During one of our Black Friday trips, we visited Frankenmuth, one of many places that Allison has visited in the past with her family, but I haven't been and it was close to our shopping stop, so we stopped here for a visit.


Frankenmuth's name comes from two parts, Franken, which is a province of Franconica in the Kingdom of Bavaria, and Mut which means courage in German. Frankenmuth was settled in 1845 by immigrants of Franconia Germany, hence the name.


Here, you will find what a lot of people refer to as little Bavaria, with a lot of ties back to Germany, such as the buildings that they have, the classic chicken dinners available and just the overall feel to the area. At only 7.87 km2 (3.04 square miles), it is not a big area, so, don't expect to spend too much time here, but I think 2-3 hours overall is a good amount of time to allocate for a visit. Add another hour if you plan to eat here.


A sample of things that you can visit include Michigan's Military and Space Heroes Museum, the Glockenspiel (a clock tower), and Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, which is the world's largest Christmas store!


While I wouldn't recommend visiting here just for Frankenmuth, if you are in the area, I think it is a worthwhile stopover especially for Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Past POIs - Saint Joseph's Oratory [Montreal, Quebec, Canada]

Saint Joseph's Oratory is the big church in Montreal, in fact, it is the largest church in Canada! It is designated as a minor basilica and a national shrine as well, two titles which the church has to earn based on rules and policies of the churches.


Construction of Saint Joseph's Oratory started in 1924 and was completed in 1966. There is a small chapel off to the side which is what this site began as and that was built in 1904. It is 105 m (341 ft) long, 65 m (210 ft) wide, and 97 m (319 ft) high with a seating capacity of 2,028.


I feel that this was a more modern church with simple decorations inside. It is a big odd when I compare it to Notre Dame which I visited earlier in the day where it seemed to have colours and patterns and stain glass and more everywhere. It was somewhat nice that I was not bombarded with so many things to see and take in.


Visitation is free, however there is a charge for parking which was $5 in 2016 and there is a cost to visit the museum which was also $5. There is ample parking available and if you like, you can take the local metro to Station Snowdon and it is just a short walk from there.


There are guided tours available, check their site for details, however, you can walk the entire site on your own. I tend to like wandering myself so that it is at my own pace and I can take photos at my pace. And yes, photography is allow inside.

For more information, visit the official site at https://www.saint-joseph.org/en

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

2016 - Montreal Summary

Duration: 3 days (left Friday morning, returned on Sunday evening)
Distance Traveled: 1,088 km (544 km each way)
Cost: $875 for the hotel (2 nights, 3 rooms at the Days Inn Montreal), $288 for minivan rental (even though we ended up with a 7 seat SUV), $137 on gas, all divided by 5 people.

Highlights

Notre Dame Basilica, I was surprised that the site actually looked like the pictures that you can find on the internet. The Basilica is a very colourful place and I found that to be quite different from churches that I have visited in the past. Make sure to visit the chapel in the back while you are there.

Notre Dame Basilica - Exterior
Notre Dame Basilica - Interior 
Notre Dame Basilica - Interior
Saint Joseph Oratory, I feel a bit disappointed in this one since we visited Notre Dame first, if we swapped it, it might be a bit different. I felt that this place was just BIG, and it was more modern in decoration by comparison to other churches that I normally visit. I do feel that you should visit it while there though since it is the largest church in Canada.

Saint Joseph's Oratory - Exterior 
Saint Joseph's Oratory - Organ 
Saint Joseph's Oratory - Interior
Lowlights

No complaints about the sites that were visited.

Food suggestions

I think that in general, all the food ranged from good to really good, so I'll just cover the ones that I think are worth a visit in the order that we went to them.

Moishes is a really old steakhouse in Montreal and worth a visit if you are willing to wait until 9pm. At 9pm, they have a 3 hour happy hour that ends at midnight where you get an appetizer, entree, and tea/coffee for only $25. Have a look at their site for the menu, but for $25, the value that you get I feel is very very good. This was our first actual meal here and I thought it was really good at the time and definitely worth a stop if you can. You get free coleslaw, bread, and pickles as well. The servers were good, water was filled, table was cleaned between courses.

Moishes - Salmon tartare 
Moishes - Rib steak and potato
Liverpool House is the sister restaurant of Joe Beef and was opened since they were so popular here. Mike, when making reservations, only had the option of 5:30pm or 9:30pm for a Saturday and I believe this was 2 weeks before, so do plan accordingly. The service was really good here, all table items were switches between courses, water was never empty of long or at all. I found the music to be a bit loud on the bar side, but I assume it is fine on the other side. The food was really good here and even though it is pricier, I thought that it wasn't too crazy for what you get, especially since the portions were fairly big.

Liverpool House - Oysters 
Liverpool House - Croquettes 
Liverpool House - Horse tartare 
Liverpool House - Steak 
Liverpool House - Lobster spaghetti
What would I change?

I don't really have any issue with how things worked out for us. I wish that we had a hotel which had parking included, but I believe that that is rare in downtown Montreal.

Tips

You can park on the streets overnight at the public street parking spots, just make sure to read the hours correctly. We couldn't figure it out ourselves and we always just resorted to paying for underground parking. Note that vandalism and theft of cars is actually pretty high here, so it probably was worth paying for parking.

Final thoughts

Montreal is the food place to visit in all of Canada. There are several articles that talk about this and after this trip, I would agree that it is true. I normally don't travel for food, so it was a different experience and I'm glad that Mike was able to plan out the food stop like he normally does.

Thanks for a great weekend guys, hope you all enjoyed reading about our Montreal experience even if I did exclude certain things!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

2016 - Montreal Day 3

Today, we head back to Toronto after having breakfast and dropping off Mario at the airport.

We went to Schwartz for breakfast, Mike said that it wasn't as good as he remembered, but it seems to change each time he goes. We ordered two large plates which include bread and some coleslaw. They do seem to like their vinegar coleslaw here, it was nice, although I think Moshies was better. The smoked meat was good. Make sure to come before 10:30am, it got really busy then.

Schwartz's - large platter
Headed to Fairmount Bagel after for some bagels. Busy spot! There was a line out the door, but it is pretty quick to get in and out since you don't have a lot of options and it is cash only. You are looking at roughly $1 per bagel, but the fresh ones which come out hot were really good. After it has cooled down, not so much. Make sure to read the instructions on the bag that is included for storage, I didn't and they weren't very good after.

After that, we dropped off Mario at the airport since he needed to fly out for work and the rest of us drove back home with nothing else to really report. I have been to Montreal a few times, however, this was the first time that I've actually visited the famous churches here and they are worth a visit. Coming back to Toronto I learned that Montreal is the food capital of Canada for cuisine and I think it really showed during this trip at least compared to the last time that we came.

I had a great time with the guys since it doesn't happen anymore. I only recall it happening for Mario's bachelor party and it was an overnight thing in Niagara Falls. Hopefully for the next one we try to go something a bit longer like this trip was. Do check out some of the food spots that we tried during this trip, I don't think you could go wrong with the stops that we stopped at.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2016 - Montreal Day 2

We woke up a bit later today and headed to La Maison Kam Fung for dim sum. We actually got here at around 11:00am, which is earlier than most of our regular dim sum meet ups at home. It was cool to see that they have push carts here. It did seem more expensive though. The slip actually has a running total based on what size you order which was neat (it is normally a guessing game until you ask for the bill). We paid in cash and was told that it would be tax free/included depending on how you view it. No issues with the restaurant.

Dim sum!
Went to Notre Dame Basilica next. This church cost $5 admission for a very colourful looking church. Make sure to visit the area in the back for something more normal and less sensory overload. Have a look at the pictures to decide if you want to pay to visit or not. Most pictures give you a good idea of what to expect inside based on my visit.

Notre Dame Basilica exterior
Notre Dame Basilica 
Notre Dame Basilica 
Notre Dame Basilica
After a bit of a discussion on the plan for the rest of the day, we decided to go back to the hotel to get the car and we drove to the Saint Joseph Oratory. $5 for parking, no price for admission unless you want to visit the museum which is another $5. The Oratory is REALLY big, but in my opinion, very plain. At least by comparison to Notre Dame. It also seemed more modernly designed and decorated. Make sure to try to visit the areas off to the side. We missed going back to the Gardens, but on the right (which is south), there is a nice lookout terrace area with a large parking lot.

Saint Joseph Oratory 
Saint Joseph Oratory 
Saint Joseph Oratory 
Saint Joseph Oratory
A short walk away is Duc de Lorraine which is a French pastry shop. We came because they were supposed to have $1 croissants since it is croissant day, however, they were sold out by the time we got there but we stayed for a quick snack.

Duc le Lorraine 
We drove back to the hotel and hung out a bit before heading for pre-dinner and dinner. Saiko Izakaya was for pre-dinner and they served quality dishes of things that I feel like we sometimes get at all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants. The place was nice, service was good (first time I experienced the waitress give out soya sauce plates and fill them a bit for you). I don't know if it is necessary to go, but I didn't have any dislikes about the place.

Saiko Izakaya 
Saiko Izakaya 
Saiko Izakaya 
Saiko Izakaya 
Saiko Izakaya
Next we walked to Liverpool house was for dinner. We ordered the spaghetti with lobster, the steak, horse tartare, and a dozen oysters. Without an appreciation or understanding of seafood, I didn't quite get/appreciate the oysters or the spaghetti with lobster dishes that we got, however, everyone else seemed to love them. I thought the steak was really good. Horse was interesting because it was a tougher meat, nothing else that I could say about it. Best meal of the trip! Service was really good here. Never had an empty cup of water for long, all cutlery was replaced between courses. Good suggestions when we asked our server, nice place. My issue is that the music is fairly loud at the bar-half of the restaurant. I think the other side might be quieter. We did come in with a reservation, however the earliest we got was 9:30pm, so plan ahead for this one if you want to visit.

Liverpool House - Oysters 
Liverpool House - croquettes 
Liverpool House - horse tartare 
Liverpool House - steak 
Liverpool House - lobster spaghetti
We took an Uber to the local arcade spot, Amusement 2000 Plus. This was my first Uber experience, it seemed pretty seemless and I can see why people like it. You order a car based on proximity to you, you get an estimated cost and appropriate arrival time, they come, and they go, since you don't have to tell them where to go, it is already connected to their phone. Once you arrive, you leave! No need to worry about cash or tips. Overall, I enjoyed the experience.

Amusement 2000 Plus
We were at the arcade for maybe an hour. It was fairly small, reminded me of Playdium but more cramped. We had a good time, played some really old games since it doesn't seem like we really have arcade machines here anymore. You do need tokens here, so you can be stuck with a few extra if you don't plan accordingly. Nothing seemed expensive here which was nice.

Went back to the hotel and hung out a bit more before calling it a night. By the end, I think everyone was pretty tired since we don't normally hang out until so late. Tomorrow, we have breakfast, drop off Mario at the local airport, and head back to Toronto.