Hard-won Tips from our Trip

Prince Edward Island

Don’t go on a rainy day if you can help it, and DON”T stay in Georgetown.  Linger near the bigger populations centers if you are a tourist, as you don’t have the luxury of a fixing a meal in your own kitchen.  I think of PEI as sort of one of those places where you’d rent a cottage on the shore, pack up an extra suitcase full of books, and lay around recovering from the rat race.  I also think we were more worried about lodging than we needed to be.  If you have a car, hit the Tourist Office and let them help you book a place.  Risky, but maybe less risky than what we did.

Although it doesn’t look like a big place, the travel on the roads is slower, so leave yourself enough time to get places.  I also enjoyed the ferry ride, but if the bridge drive had been on a sunny day, I may have enjoyed that too.

Nova Scotia

Favorite place, hands down: Cape Breton.  Why? Certainly our bed and breakfast in Mabou had something to do with it, but I also like the idea that there’s this sense of pride in craftmanship and music and that you can find both, easily.  Make sure you hit a ceilidh (“kay-lee”), which in the loosest sense is just a community gathering.  Ours was on a Tuesday, and was a little more formal.  I wanted something a little more random, a little wilder, but we were too early in the season, I think.

Cabot Trail is lovely, but sparsely populated.  You can find eats and drink on the way–but as usual the prices are a bit high.  We stopped at a grocery store and picked up bread and ham and a package of oat shortbread cookies that we munched on all week.  Try to have some flexibility to time your drive to the weather–hard to do, I know.  I think that’s why it’s so popular with RV-ers, who seem to be more flexible.  Baddeck is a good base because you could go either forwards or backwards around the trail.  Consult the web for people’s preferences.  We went eastward, and it was fine (clockwise).

There’s basically only one way in and one way out of Cape Breton Island, and the average time from Baddeck to Halifax airport is about 3 and 1/2 hours.

Halifax Area
Skip Prospect, in spite of what the Lonely Planet guidebook tells you.

Avoid going to Peggy’s Cove on a day when there is going to be a cruise ship in town (check with the  harbor-front Tourist Office–they seemed to know and were VERY helpful in so many ways).  It’s a small place.

Do your homework, because even if the Tourist Office is very helpful, you don’t always know what questions to ask.  I found out only later, when we were home, about the large memorial to the victims of the Halifax Explosion.  I would have liked to have seen it.  The movie we watched to get a sense of it is available on Netflix: “Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion.”  I recommend it.

If you are not a gift shop enthusiast, be aware that this is one of the main things to do in both Mahone Bay and Lunenburg.  They have a good network of art galleries in Lunenburg that you can visit, but also keep in mind that you are not in New York or San Francisco.  The quality of the gallery art will vary, but I do think it is a good way to get into the local scene.

Approach Halifax like you would explorations in a big city: break it down by neighborhoods and enjoy those.  Take some time in the Public Gardens.  I wish we’d gone to the Citadel as well, but didn’t leave time for it.

To get from the airport to your hotel, buy a pass at the Tourist Office in the airport, or if they are closed, head to the Change place (that’s what we did).  The ride from the airport on a 747 Express Bus is quick, runs 24-7 and costs as much as a one-day pass that’s good on all the Metros and busses, so we bought that.  We actually bought a three-day pass for $14 dollars, then another one-day pass ($7) for our last day.  We ended up giving our passes to a couple of tourists who were trying to head to Montreal for the day.

There’s a very good map that when opened has been folded so that only certain sections of the city are visible–and it’s labeled really well on the edges–kind of like tabs.  It’s called “Official Tourist Map” and worth trying to get (we snagged ours at the airport).  We also made a lot of use of Frommer’s Montreal Day by Day (ISBN 9780470507346) as it was small, tote-able and well-organized with a good metro map and a good map of the main area of Montreal.

This is a Big City.  Harder to access than would be a European city, but I must admit finding good food helped a lot.  The Old Town has its charms, but it does not remind me of a European city (sorry).  If the weather permits, walk around.  We found more things that way that we enjoyed (eg: Suite 88 chocolate shop). If the weather doesn’t permit, head to the Underground.  We didn’t leave very much time for that, and it is a city all by itself.

Hit a mass at the Notre-Dame Basilica, when you can see the church AND hear the organ.  We opted for Vespers at the Anglican and while it was lovely, it was a quieter experience and all in French. (While my husband speaks French, I don’t.)

Leave time for a tour of the Chapelle Notre Dame de  Bonsecours and their museum, heading to the top of the tower for good views of the St. Lawrence river.

Have fun!

Last Day in Montreal

Premiere Moisson saw us twice this day: first up for breakfast.  This man was slicing the tops of all his bread with a razor, just before sliding them into the oven.  He was really quick with that blade.

We took it all back to the room and looking out at our view, enjoyed our meal at our own little sky-cafe.

I was determined to shop, or at the very least, look.  So we walked over to Roots (a clothing shop).  I couldn’t fathom paying some of these prices, and besides I’d spent the morning packing, which included getting the wooden box we’d bought yesterday in the bottom of my suitcase, much to my husband’s amazement and delight.  So, I walked down into the underground mall and found Dave there, snapping away with his camera.

These are vast spaces, that I’m sure are hooked into the office towers we see all around us downtown.  Flying sculptures fill some of the space, as well as a runway, for fashion shows (Dave figured it out).

Looking up into one of the open space towers.

I think the whole place was on sale.  Clever punning here.

We made one more stop to Premeire Moisson for our airplane meal, then grabbed our suitcases and checked out.  Our bus stop for the 747 Express Bus was right across from the Maria Queen of the World cathedral.  These statues on top represent the patron saints of all the parishes that constituted the Montreal diocese in 1890, when it was completed.  I like to think of them as bidding us farewell.

Au revoir, Montreal!


This deserves its own post for one reason: Première Moisson Bakery. Première Moisson means “First Harvest,” which I assume refers to the wheat in their flour, or possibly the fact that everything is so fresh looking in the morning.  I’d read about it before coming to Montreal and was delighted to find out how close one of their shops was: about a five minute walk and then down into the underground Main Train Station.

You’ve already seen some of this place in the post on Montreal.  I went along the entire case that morning, snapping photos, like any dumb and besotted tourist in love. So here’s selection of what I saw that morning.

Three shelves of pastries, with duplications.

Baked goods.  The special for the first day was a Apricot-Almond-Coconut loaf.  We didn’t get that one, but we did buy the next day’s special of Raspberry Bread.  It was like a large folded over half-circle, with a layer of fresh raspberries inserted in the folded-over space before baking.  The result (which we bought and took with us on the airplane and ate mid-flight) was like a slightly tart raspberry jam inside of a lightly sweetened soft dough.  It was divine.  They actually have a book on baking, but it’s all in French and Metric measurements–a little difficult for us American bakers.

Cakes.  Dave was temped to try and figure out how to take one of these on the plane.

This was the next section over and some had shiny chocolate ganache as a frosting.

This is the sandwich section.  We bought the pear-cheese on hazelnut-golden raisin bread and the roast beef on an herbed roll for our “airplane food” on Wednesday morning.  I don’t see them here.

This was a close-up of the lentil salad from their salads section (we took a small container for our travel lunch).

You’ve seen this case already but it’s worth a second look.

Première Moisson has figured out how to do what I wish the French would have done: combine an almond croissant with a pain du chocolat.  I had a chocolate-almond croissant both mornings; it was heavenly.

We ate this little treat right after our lunch of Vietnamese Spring Rolls which we’d picked up in the underground.

Backing up, this was Dave’s Croque Monsieur (grilled cheese and ham sandwich) that he had at L’Express on Sunday.  The french fries had such a unique and wonderful flavor that the waiter offered to find out for me which kind of potatoes were used.  He came back with the answer “The Chef says it’s a secret.”  I do know that Canadians pride themselves on their new potatoes that were appearing in all the stores and on menus, but this didn’t remind me of a new potato.  The little sauce was fresh mayonaise.  Dave said when he was in France it took some getting used to, but now if feels normal (although he still uses catsup when we’re at home).

A little luncheon quiche, with green salad.

That night we went to L’Academie (check map on Canada page for restaurant info) and we both had the same thing (it was a special): gazpacho, which was very good–cool and a bit piquante.

Then nothing-to-write-home-about ziti in sauce.

Monday’s lunch was at Cafe des Arts in the Marche Bonsecours.  Grilled panini, two drinks, a cool place to sit for a while and a most unusual biscotti that was studded with nuts and chocolate chips.  We bought another for the road.

We dined that night in Old Town, where we nabbed (by 10 minutes) the early-bird dinner.  This was Modavie and that table is not set because they had a jazz singer and guitarist in for entertainment.  As we were eating we saw a group of six older customers come in and sit at the bar.  They enthusiastically applauded the duo and after a couple of drinks, they left, but not without one woman coming up and kissing the singer.  Her grandmother?

Sometimes you can tell a lot about a place by their breadbasket.  These all tasted like store-bought breads.  The long roll was especially grocery-store like.

Mine was a raspberry sauce over salmon.  That’s a bottled raspberry sauce dripped on top of over-cooked salmon.

Dave’s was chicken something-or-other, which even he didn’t finish.  The potatoes and vegetables were good, though.

But on the other hand, I can’t say enough good things about Olive et Gourmando, an extrememly busy, but efficient place in Old Town.

Several walls (and surfaces) are coated with blackboard paint.  This one says something to the effect of “eat your vegetables.  No, brownies don’t count.”

This was our salad–so refreshing on a day where the weather was about 104 degrees in feeling, when the temperature and humidity were combined (in their “humidex”).  I’ve posted the recipe over on Elizabeth Cooks.

We also had this panini, and I’m pretty sure it was The Cubain: ham, braised pork, homemade mayonnaise (chipotle peppers, pickles, lime, and coriander), with gruyère cheese.  I didn’t write it down, but took it from their website later on.

On Sunday, we passed by this young man handing out pizza samples–they looked great.  Notice the heart-shaped trash can below.

This is the famous St. Viatueur bagel shop.

Fresh bagels are in a mound to the right of the wood-burning oven.  Watching the fellow in black was poetry in motion.  (I should have watched the man in white shape the bagels.)  After they were shaped, he threw them in a “honeyed water” (from Frommer’s guidebook) and the fellow in black scooped them out with a strainer and coated both sides with sesame seeds.

He lined them up on the long narrow boards, then put them on the left side of the oven (below).

When they were done to some degree of doneness, he took the spare board, scooted the bagels all to the right, then flipped those on the board onto the floor of the oven in one deft move.

And those on the very far right, were removed by sliding that thinner, spare board underneath them, then flipping them out into the sloping channel, where they’d tumble down into the mound.  The nearby fellow would bag them up.  We shared one.  It was really good.

Last eating adventure for that day was a Schwartz’ viande fumee–smoked brisket, stacked really high.  We knew to order the garlicky dill pickle.  To eat it,  I would cut a bite of sandwich, add some mustard and a pickle slice and pop it in my mouth.  They charge you an extra dollar-fifty to share the sandwich, but I don’t know how I could ever eat one by myself.  The fellow waiting on us had the answer: “Skip lunch.”

I forgot to take a photo of  Suite 88, the chocolate shop we went to in Mont Royal, but this one from their website will do.  I liked their chocolate bars (favorite was the”Gingembre”–ginger in dark chocolate, and “Cinq Epices” with had five different spices in the milk chocolate).  A fitting end to eating in Montreal.


This is in two parts–Nova Scotia and Montreal.

We learned quickly to dial down our aspirations for food in Nova Scotia, with occasional exceptions.  Sorry to let you in a big secret, but in a land where Tim Hortons is as big as McDonald’s in the States, you can also expect some of the same mediocre food as you would find in the States.  This is frustrating for travellers, but we soon learned to adapt–full was the only criteria in some places–not flavorful or wonderful.  We weren’t in France or Italy, after all.

In order to spare you the agony of another Tim Hortons sandwich (which really isn’t bad, if you get used to it), not all of our meals are here.

First breakfast at our B&B in Truro: cheesy turnover, a slice of Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs and three halves of grape tomatoes.  It was all set on lovely china, and they had really good hot chocolate for me.  Dave and I didn’t end up sitting next to each other because of the way the first two couples sat at the table–I had the better meal partners (they were from England, and funny).

Our restaurant in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island: Clam Diggers.

Charming design, with peeling paint as an accent.

The only reason why I show these two meals is to give you an idea of the adjustment we were trying to make, racheting down the expectation level.  Later, when I mentioned to the American innkeeper at Glendyer Inn that we’d had a wrap, she slowly shook her head.  “They don’t do wraps here very well,” she said.  No, they don’t.  Notice that the wrap is grilled/toasted.

Things picked up in Mabou at the Red Shoe Pub, although the texture of the hummus was not typical.  This was the starter to a fine meal, where I had the linguini with lobster and asparagus, but the photos didn’t turn out very well.

We saw these in a grocery store in Truro–they give a thermometer to approximate the temperature of the peppers inside.  I could use that kind of help at the grocery store.

At the Bell Buoy Restaurant in Baddeck, we each had lobster, and it was great fun as well as fresh and flavorful.

Don’t we look pretty dorky in these dumb bibs, but there is some squirting as you dig out the lobster meat with these:

The first night we were in Halifax, we ate here, at The Carleton, in the oldest building in downtown Halifax.  We both had linguini with seafood and it was very good.  It was served with (what else?) toasted bread.

The second night was Subway in the Halifax Performing Arts Center (we were running late so had to eat stadium food), but the last night we came to FID.  With the delivery of the bread basket, we knew we were in new territory, insofar as Nova Scotian food was concerned.

The “Mayhem” salad was a work of art, which we planned to share, bit by savory bit.  We wrote down what was in it as we went:
thin slice of turnip
wedges of radish, roasted zucchini, roasted yellow squash
“quickled” beet–a beet pickled quickly, in other words
pea pod
puree of butternut squash
smear of balsamiced honey
shiitake mushroom jelly (that was a new on on us–kind of like clear little lumps)
quickled fiddlehead
quickled cucumber (English-type, julienned)
confit of quickled onion
poached whole shallot
plump dried cranberries, softened

All on a little tiny plate.

Even Dave’s knife was beautiful.

Dave ordered “7-day marinated hanger steak with roasted garlic mashed potatoes.”

I had “caramelized sea scallops with pork belly, young beets and chard.”

We both had smiles on our faces.

Dessert was sticky toffee pudding.  The toffee was the sauce, the pudding was the super-moist cake.

That’s the end of Nova Scotia.

Canadian Transit

The little black car to the right was our main mode of transit around Canada, and we logged some 1202 miles driving around Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island (thats 1934.4 kilometers, which sounds like a whole lot more than the miles equivalent).  Here it’s parked on the car/people ferry from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia, heading across the Northumberland Strait.

Like good little passengers, we hung around for a few minutes, but then went upstairs to the Feeding Frenzy Lounge, where it smelled like scrambled eggs and bacon.  I guess all the Asian tourists were hungry; there wasn’t a seat available inside.  So we headed outside into the wind and cold.

Because it was a rainy day, and the usual scenery was obscured by fog and damp, I tried to see the ferry in terms of shape and color, instead of looking for the usual tourist views.  What follows is a few of our shots on that gray day.

I wore this coat three times.  Here’s one.  The other two were schlepping around Green Gables, and watching fireworks in Halifax on Canada Day.

The name of our ferry was the Charlottetown, even though it sailed from Wood Islands.  The rope mooring the ship to the dock is about to be cast off, which made me wonder how in heavens name did they get the rope out to that peg in the first place?  You could lose sleep over these little questions of life.

The bolts have an almost sculptural quality to them, smothered as they are in white paint.


Any color pops out on this white ship.

Like this orangey-red deck atop the navigation module.

And this blue padlock.

We went up on observation deck, where the wind was whipping around at a good clip.

These modular benches appeared somewhat two-dimensional, flattened in the low light.

The girl in pink backed into the shot, and I liked that spark of color.

As you can see, we had the place mostly to ourselves.

But the wind became too cold, so we went back down to the Lounge, and then snuck down to the car deck, where we climbed in and let the boat rock us to sleep.

We awoke when we heard the voice over the loudspeaker tell us to return to our cars.
Land is sighted: Pictou Harbor on Nova Scotia.

Another day we took the rope-drawn ferry across St. Anne’s Bay.  There was about a 5 minute wait, then the ferry showed up, off-loaded, loaded and we had about a five minute ride across.

The Torquil MacLean is the name.  I thought it was tradition to think of all boats as feminine, but I’d sure like to meet a lady with the first name of Torquil.  According to the locals, this is known as the Englishtown Ferry, because it lands in Englishtown (where we were headed to).  The website explains the name and few other tidbits:

The Torquil MacLean holds 15 passenger cars but can handle larger vehicles (including semi-trailer) as well. It operates 24 hours a day and is the busiest of the 7 inland ferries operated by the province of Nova Scotia, handling an average of 600 vehicles a day.  The Torquil MacLean is named after the man who ran the first ferry (a row boat) at this location in about 1871.

Of course the other types of transport were jet airplanes, but that’s nothing unusual in this day and age, and you can imagine them yourself, although none probably have the name like Torquil MacLean.