It's always been a dream of ours to visit Newfoundland ever since we read The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston in college. Also, there's this amazing tourism campaign they did. It would have been a dream to complete that trip with Elsie, our travel trailer, but after a round trip ferry ride estimated at just over $1,000 USD, we decided that trip would need to take place in another time. One in which we had money and time to spare.
Alas, we did cross the border for some fabulous days in Montreal and Toronto. As two new RV'ers, going international with our setup was a little daunting. I did a lot of research and expert Googling and have the following advice to impart:
- Pay Your Taxes -- Most people online complained heavily about HST or Harmonized Sales Tax. Think of this as a federal and state sales tax rolled into one. For a 4 night stay near Montreal we paid just over $20 in HST. We didn't think it was bad at all, but we stayed in Ontario, not Quebec. I know that taxes were higher in Quebec.
- Some Dogs Allowed -- Unlike most U.S. state parks, Provincial Parks are still in the trial phase of full-on camping with pets. In fact, we had a little trouble locating some parks near Montreal that would allow us to bring Costello and also have electric hookups. Most parks that do allow pets often only allow it in certain sectors, most of which don't usually have hookups. So, double check that fido is allowed before you jump in and reserve.
Now that's out of the way, let's talk about Montreal. Why aren't you vacationing there RIGHT NOW?! Honestly, that's all we could think while visiting. It's got all the beguiles and charms of Europe, but it's only a 2.5 hour drive from Vermont. So if flying across the pond isn't in your cards this year, GO TO MONTREAL.
We camped at Voyageur Provincial Park just outside of Quebec in Ontario. It was about an hours drive away, but allowed us to camp with Costello. We parked at a train station during our 3 days in the city. Here's our top recommendations for Montreal:
- Mont Royal -- Such a cool feature for a city. It's a public park whose defining feature is its amazing overlook at the top of a big hill, aka Mont Royal. There's a nice little viewing platform area at the top where tourists snap photos of Montreal day and night. We preferred the night view as the atmosphere was more relaxed and city lights are pretty beautiful. There's a piano that wanderers often stop by to play and a big building with a small gift shop and spaces to rent out. We trekked to the top everyday and we didn't regret it once.
- Mile End -- A trendy area with lots of neat retail shops and restaurants to delight anyone. We thoroughly walked this area and its surrounding neighborhoods, where we fell particularly in love with Bar Waverly for its rosé and poutine and Fairmount Bagels for their, well, bagels. We bought a brown bag filled with multigrain and blueberry and cinnamon raisin and snacked on them 24/7.
- Old Port -- This is the older, more historic part of the city. Some of the buildings have been around long before the U.S. was even a place and it's pretty fun to wander the streets, snap pics and stop at any one of the restaurants by the St. Lawrence River for lunch. The crowning jewel of this area is the Notre Dame Cathedral.
- Jean-Talon Market -- In the heart of Little Italy is a fantastic open-air market with plants, veggies, fruit and so much more. We thoroughly enjoyed an hour or so here and a good stroll in the streets of Little Italy. Come hungry!
Finally, Toronto. Someone give me a job in this city and I'll stay for life. I just loved this place so much. It sort of compared to Chicago for me in that it's a city of neighborhoods, each with distinct features, culture and feel. We stayed at Bronte Creek Provincial Park, which was really a dream. It's about an hour from city center and easily accessible by train. It's also just a neat, clean wonderful park with an off-leash dog run that Costello enjoyed thoroughly. We tried to stay at Darlington Beach, but it was full for the days we visited. At any rate, here were our fave stops in Toronto:
- Kensington Market -- An amazing neighborhood for eating, shopping, reading and being/feeling as if you're incredibly hip. We spent a couple afternoons here just people watching, eating and drinking our hearts our and reading our books in the sunshine. What else do you want in life? Oh, you want handmade delicious greek yogurt? Well then go to Kensington Market ASAP because Grk Ygrt is the best freaking froyo I've ever had and let me tell you -- I've had a lot of frozen yogurt.
- Toronto Islands -- Grab the ferry over to Toronto Islands and spend the day walking around this fun tourist destination. There are plenty of beach areas if you want to dip your toes in the cool waters of Lake Ontario. If you're feeling particularly brave, you can even visit the nudist beach for a more adventurous beach experience. You can rent bikes and trollies to traverse the island at a quicker clip. You can drink beer at the boat docks. All in all, it's a super fun place. Bring a book and get ready for a fun afternoon.
- St. Lawrence Market -- I don't think Carson and I have adequately explained our love of markets. We've run into so many on the trip and we always enjoy sampling the meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies and sweet confections. We had lunch here -- a meatball sandwich -- and spent a good hour touring the shops before finishing the experience with a fresh berry tartlet. YUM.
- China Town -- Many cities have their own versions of China Town, but I'll boldly say this: Toronto's might be the best. We ate at a local favorite here, Swatow Restaurant, and it was spot on. We also wandered the streets stopping to peruse various shops, trinkets, restaurants and more. It was delightful.
One last thing about Toronto: the public transit is amazing. We took the GO Transit train into Toronto a few times to avoid parking our car. But parking is free on weekends at most train stations, so we drove in a couple times, too. As for the TTC, which is how you get around in Toronto proper, it was easy and clean and quick. We took a mix of subway and trollies, and each time landed in brand new cars. Pretty cool.
There you have it. Get to Canada. Like ASAP. After all, it tops the Times' list of places to visit in 2017. We've already given you a few amazing reasons to visit, but here's another: the dollar is strong there right now. So yes, it's affordable, too.