Sometimes you have an urge to hit the road and take a euphoric drive to the lap of nature. We too get this kind of rush sometimes which coerces us to head out to somewhere new and delve into the world of exploration. This time we decided to take a road trip across countries. Thus, we planned to take a road trip to Canada from Philadelphia. The joy of riding across different countries can’t match. We had 5 days with us and wanted to make the most of it.
The itinerary was very flexible. We wanted to take it as it comes.
Philadelphia -> Lake Champlain, Burlington, VT -> Montreal, Canada -> Ottawa, Canada -> Philadelphia
Around noon, we started our journey to Lake Champlain (/sham-pleyn/). It was a 7-hour journey which we intended to complete in around 8 hours. The concrete jungle beside the highway led us to lush green mountains in NY and as we entered Vermont, we experienced the verdant countryside. Awestruck, we watched the sun slip down behind the mountains casting the beautiful yellow and orange hues across the cloud-speckled sky. After a tiring 8-hour journey, we checked into our hotel in Burlington on the banks of Lake Champlain. We could view the dinner cruises ferrying the lake while we waited for the morning to catch the lovely morning glimpse of this freshwater lake.
The morning lights gave view to the marvelous vista of the magnificent lake that is bordered by 3 states – NY, Vermont (USA) and Quebec (Canada).
The views were so inviting, that we dashed out to the boardwalk to experience it up and close. The placid waters, cool breeze blowing, docked boats, mountains in the backgrounds – everything was picture-perfect!
After a hearty breakfast at famous “The Skinny Pancake“, we took the kids to Vermont Teddy bear factory. It was a sweet 30-minute fun tour through the factory where each bear is handmade and has a lifetime guarantee. After big bear hugs, it was time to head onto the road again for some panoramic sights.
Nestled on the lake are several islands called Lake Champlain islands connected on scenic route US 2, a must drive route to witness the enthralling beauty. The 40-mile road following into quaint towns sandwiched between the lake, surrounded by green mountains and connected by bridges and hearts. The grey clouds and sprinkles of rain added to the charm. We didn’t even realize how many stops we had taken en route to indulge in these breathtaking views.
We reached the border and with another stamp in our passports, we entered Canada. The first thing we noticed was a change in language on signboards. No, it was not English, but French.
After a 2-hour drive from Lake Champlain, we reached our hotel in Montreal in evening. Wanting to view the city in its full charm, we headed to Mount Royal which gives its name to the city.
Mount Royal (pronounced /mawn row-yal/ as in French) park is on the volcanic hill in the city which has a beautiful lake and lookout points to get spectacular panoramic views of the city. The cool evening breeze, cup of hot coffee, an expanse of skyscrapers and St. Lawrence River in the backdrop was a perfect way to end the day.
A good night sleep and yearning to visit the famous Notre Dame Basilica brought us to the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal in morning. The exterior beauty of the basilica was a minuscule of what we experienced inside. Behind the blue hues inside was a magnificent Sanctuary, beautiful stained-window panels, artistic ceiling, ornate spiral staircase and sparkling pipe organ. It was so mesmerizing. An option of tours of the basilica both in English and French. We were lucky to have experienced the playing of the pipe organ. Truly enchanting!!
Still swaying in the tunes, we were treated to more music by a band playing outside in the plaza. Soaring desire to unfold the charm of this city of spires, we made our way to Place Jacques-Cartier. What a colorful plaza – a street lined by restaurants with patios, vibrant flowers, caricature artists exaggerating its subjects, bands playing their talents. Sitting by the fountains, eating our Thai noodles and admiring the freshness in that place was all we could ask for.
Montreal surely made a special place in our hearts. With a desire to visit again, it was time to hit the roads for 2.5-hour drive to the Capital city – Ottawa.
Canada is celebrating its 150 years with many events. “The Northern lights” – a bilingual 30 minute light and sound show on the Parliament Hill in the nights run during summer. It’s a thrilling journey of Canada’s history of 150 years with impressive images and sound depicted in the parliament building. This open-air theater kind experience enchanted our kids.
After watching the spectacular show last night, there was excitement to see the grandeur of Parliament from inside. But the excitement was dismayed by long queues to get the free tour tickets on first come first serve basis. The wait was over after 1 ½ hour and we had our tickets to Center and East block.
With time in our hand for Parliament tour, we headed out to see the Ottawa locks on Rideau Canal which connects to Ottawa river. The manually operated locks on Rideau canal let the boats navigate through it. It is a marvel to watch it – the water gets filled in the next chamber till it is leveled with the current after which the lock gates are opened and boat crosses over to next chamber. Thus a boat might take about 1 ½ hour to cross about 8 locks. We even walked through the closed gates. My son was amazed to view how patiently the boats were waiting to cross over.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is must visit stop to get a sneak into how the water navigation system worked in old times.
From an engineering marvel to the architectural jewel, we walked our way to Parliament Hill adjacent from Ottawa locks. The Parliament hill has 3 buildings built in Victorian Gothic style- Center, East, and West block. After a strenuous security check, the first guide took us inside East block with offices of parliamentarians dating back more than 150 years even before Confederation. Many of the old offices of major dignitaries Governor-general, Prime minister, Fathers of Confederation are preserved to its full grandeur. The intricate details of the possessions and design will surely impress.
Still, in the enchanted world of history and beautiful architecture, we walked with our tour guide to the Center block. Wait, you have two levels of security checks before you enter this iconic building which houses the Senate, House of Commons and library apart from other offices of members of parliament. The intricate carvings on the walls and wood, large domed ceilings, beautiful stained windows and arched arcades are stunning.
We could see the influence of British monarchy on the interior designs.
Walking down the history lanes, listening to the interesting stories, marveled by the elegant architecture is worth the wait and long queues.
The last leg of our journey was driving back to our sweet home. With special moments from the vacation in our hearts, we bade adieu to Canada. But with a strong desire to be back soon. With a short halt at Thousand island national park, we traversed our way back to the US.
Canada Travel Tips
- Canada uses the metric system of measurement, hence use of km instead of miles.
- Use of French language is most predominant in Montreal and Ottawa.
- It is difficult to get parking in old Montreal.
- There are long queues to get tour tickets at 90 Wellington street, so plan to come around 8 a.m. (office opens at 9) to get tickets. You need separate tour tickets for East Block and Center block. The tour has an option of English or French.
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