Canada

Over the mountain: road tripping from Victoria to Tofino

The drive from Victoria north along the East side of Vancouver Island and then west over the Beaufort Mountain Range is an attraction in and of itself, especially if, like me, you love to drive winding coastal roads through the wilderness. I stopped several times on this drive, making it significantly longer than the Google  Maps estimate of 4.5 hours from the Victoria airport. It’s worth taking your time to stop off at the roadside lookouts between Victoria and Nanaimo, including the impressive Malahat, and to pull to the side of the road to explore short trails and stream and lakeside vistas as you cut across the island.  It took me almost 6.5 hours, including a brief stop at Rusticana Coffee Shop in Mill Bay for a delicious smoked salmon sandwich, complete with delicious locally-made artichoke pesto and tons of veggies.

 

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Quebec City

One of the oldest cities in North America, Quebec is the perfect place to let yourself slip into timelessness and spend a couple of days wandering. True to its French roots, the provincial capital has decadent food, dramatic architecture, excellent service, impressive museums, and the unique Quebecois dialect. Another bonus to visiting Quebec? Completely different social systems from the rest of Canada make Quebec a very affordable option, especially compared to cities in neighbouring Ontario.

The cobbled streets of the walled old city, the cliched but still amiable lower town tourist shops, and some of the gentrified neighbourhoods nearby are exceptionally walkable. This was my second visit to Quebec, and I hadn’t had a true vacation in a long time, so there was zero agenda for this trip besides some serious relaxation and adventuring on foot.

My trip to Quebec began with a train ride. I’ve heard that the drive into Quebec is not very exciting, and my travel companion had never been on a train, so we boarded in Ottawa early morning and spent a relaxing 6 hours journeying along the St. Lawrence River and snacking on some of the food I’d packed for the road, including a delicious quinoa salad and pumpkin chia pudding.


Once we arrived, it was a quick 15 minute walk to the AirBnb in the new ‘it’ neighbourhood of Quebec: Saint-Roch. This was the perfect location to set up a home base for three nights. It was a quick 15-minute walk from the old town and the apartment was the perfect cozy little spot.

Getting outside and being active in Quebec was easy, as walking is definitely the best way to get around, and all the must-visit neighbourhoods are relatively close together. The stairs to Basse-Ville (lower town) and to Saint-Roch were also a great way to get a bit more of a workout in.  The Governor’s Walk is another fantastic route beside the steep cliff face and overlooking the river. The 15 to 20 minute walk along the boardwalk leads from just behind the Chateau Laurier, and a is a nice way to get from the Chateau to the Plains of Abraham. The Plains themselves, where the infamous 1759 battle between the French and the English occurred, has historical plaques, a museum, and is now the site of the Citadel, a large fortification that is still an active military base. It’s well worth taking the hour-long tour of this fortress, which includes tours of some of the buildings, a walk through the grounds, and one of the best vantage points over the river, all led by a knowledgeable and engaging guide. Plan to spend some time afterwards on the Plains, which is now called Battlefields Park and is a gorgeous greenspace with a stunning view of the river,  perfect for summertime picnics, frisbee, or some outdoor yoga .

On a sunny day, the ferry is an inexpensive way to take in Quebec from a different perspective. It makes the 1 km crossing from lower town to Levis on the other side of the St. Lawrence about every 20 minutes to half hour. There’s not much to see in Levis, but it’s fun to take the little cruise and when we did there were couples having picnics on the deck, families enjoying the fresh air, and other sightseers.  The little exhibits on the history of river crossing on the ferry are also worth taking a peek at.  Just $7.10 for the round trip.

If you’re looking for a relaxed and wholesome, fun night out after all that walking and are into board games, La Revanche (‘the payback’) is the best board game café I’ve been to. Their excellent ‘concierges’ are eager to suggest some fun games and teach you how to play. A $5 cover charge gets you in and gives you access to hundreds of board games.


After a night out playing board games, and all that walking, a massage was the perfect way to spend the last morning. I chose a spot for its convenience to the Airbnb, and wasn’t disappointed. The entrance to Shanti Massotherapie may throw you off, but their interior is calming and beautiful, with barn board accents and a lovely waiting room area, complete with tea and quiet music. Shanti offers a number of different types of massage; I opted for the basic Swedish massage  at only $73.50 for 60 minutes. My therapist was communicative, professional and talented. Definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to indulge and relax.

In my explorations I did spot two yoga studios, but ended up doing my own practice in the Airbnb, which had the perfect little spot complete with a rug made out of turf and a comfy yoga blanket. The schedules for the two studios, Soham Yoga Bis in centretown, and Yoga Fitness in Saint-Roch look like they have some good offerings, and I would highly recommend that yogis try a class in a different language as it can really bring you back into your body and cultivate a beginner’s mind.

Quebec boasts lots of festivals and events in summer and winter months, and can get a bit overrun with tourists. Visiting in the off season meant even lower than usual prices, quieter restaurants, and still plenty to explore. There are lots of healthy options for activities, as well as for dining, making Quebec an excellent destination.

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It’s Spring (Water) Time

Spring_dayI’ve been wanting to get out of the city for a while now (a while being the last month and half since I got back from Costa Rica) and have also been itching to get some clean water ever since I discovered last sumer that there are numerous freshwater springs around Ottawa. With warmer weather and spring finally on our doorstep, I thought the timing was right. I used Find A Spring, a great resource that maps out the location of springs around the world, to get directions to the Wakefield Spring, and recruited another health-conscious friend and her daughter for the fun afternoon. And for the car, to transport the many litres of water. It ended up being a beautiful day for the little road trip.

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