Montreal: More than just smoked meat [though you should definitely still eat the smoked meat].

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Little Al (ma soeur) flew out to meet us in Montreal.  We collected her at Atwater Market and the adventures unfolded from there. 

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For anyone planning to visit Montreal in the near future, we’ve put together a list of our recommendations. 

Boulangerie

When in Montreal:

AlliBixis

Rent bixis.  It’s a super easy, affordable, and efficient way to get around the city. $7 gets you as many 30 minutes rides in 24 hours as you can fit in. 

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Wander the charming cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.  Admire the historic architecture, and stop in to enjoy a croissant, a crepe, or some other tantalizing French delicacy along the way.

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Fireworks. Check out the impressive fireworks on Saturday nights during the summer.  Best viewed under the big green bridge. 

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Hit up the markets.  Jean Talon Market is the more extensive one, and would be recommended for the “true Quebec” experience, but if you’ve got time, a stroll through Atwater Market is lovely too, and a great place to pick up some local cheese and produce for a picnic.

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Climb Mont-Royal for enchanting views of the city.  It’s an easy & lovely 2.2km trek up along a paved path.

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Visit both St. Viteur and Fairmount and make your vote for the best bagel in the city.  The consensus among the group were that Fairmont was the winner.

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For an extensive selection of bean to bar chocolate, look no further than Tablette.  Ask nicely, and you may just have the chance to sample pretty much any bar in the room.  There is a cafe in house as well, for those of you who like a bit of coffee with your chocolate.

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If you’re looking for some inspiring boutique shops, we DON’T recommend you follow Design Sponge’s recommendations for Montreal- they are quite out-of-date and many of the recommended spots are nonexistent.  (We found this out the hard way.)  Instead, what we would recommend is strolling the charming streets of Plateau & Mile End to uncover your own gems (there are lots to be found.)  A few of our fav finds were: Buk & Nola (our favourite), District 54, Raplapla, and Unicorn.

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Eat Schwart’z smoked meat.  Don’t think twice.  Just do it.  The long line out the door will be worth the wait once you sink your teeth into a bit of their tender smoked beef.  If you’re in a hurry, the line up to the take-away shop next door is usually just a fraction of the line to sit and enjoy your Schwart’z in the restaurant.  

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*Side note: The pickle, which normally comes WITH the Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwich when ordered in the restaurant causes EXTRA when ordering take out.  We still recommend getting the pickle.

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For an after-dinner treat (or let’s be serious, whenever you feel like a bit of sweet indulgence) look no further than Juliette et Chocolat.  I was super impressed with their selection of chocolate in all forms, many of which are gluten free.  We highly recommend the fleur de sel brownie (which comes with a pitcher of salted caramel sauce on the side to drizzle at your leisure), as well as the fleur de sel chocolate pot.

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Eat at Au Pied de Cochon.  Or not.  In case you haven’t heard of it, Au Pied is a very renowned restaurant.  A chef friend of ours flew in for a weekend to eat everything on the entire menu.  Many people had raved to us about it, so we considered it a must-stop.  To be honest, we were actually quite disappointed with our experience at Au Pied.  Not with the food, but with the service.  We were quite neglected by our server, and the restaurant was very loud.  Though the food was very tasty, the overall experience was dampened by the low quality service.  I suppose it goes to highlight the importance of good customer service in a dining experience.  (In case you’re wondering, Brendon ordered the “duck in a can,” expecting it to be the richest thing he had ever eaten.  It was.  The dish surpassed his expectations in richness, actually, making the overall dining experience quite unforgettable.)

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Speak French as much as possible.  Seize the opportunity to practice your French with the locals!  Ne pas être timide (don’t be shy)!  Even if you encounter a few locals who are rude and criticize your French skills, don’t let that stop you.  There needs to be a bit more camaraderie between the French and the English in this country.  Let’s just all be friends, ok?

MaSoeuretmoi

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Seek out some good coffee.  We found the coffee scene in Montreal to not be overly impressive, but there is some decent coffee to be found.  You just might have to do a bit of seeking it out.  We’ve saved you some of the trouble and have a few cafes to recommend:

Pikkilo (there is also a cool stationary shop right next door that you should check out).

Flacon Espresso (in Plateau).

PointG

Pay a visit to Point G for an impressive selection of maracrons.  We highly recommend the lime-basilique.

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Take advantage of Air B&B.  Montreal has an amazing selection of cool apartments for rent on Air B&B for very reasonable rates.  We had a fantastic experience staying at Manuel and David’s beautiful 4 level apartment.  Our favourite feature feature was the rooftop terrace.

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Thank you, Montreal, for an invigorating and tasty time in your lovely city!  We definitely got our exercise uncovering your many hidden gems, and we are happy that you are in our country.

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A new abode: An acrostic poem.

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Oh hello there!  Welcome to our new little abode in downtown Red Deer.

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What better way to introduce to you our new place than with an acrostic poem?

53.Kitchen

A- Above ground, three stories up.  Red Deer has never looked as good as it does from up here.

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N- Never will we take for granted the large, south-facing windows, especially after living in our share of basements and dark apartments.

E- Exercise- you get lots of it going up and the 4 flights of stairs a couple times a day.

W- What do you know, we have a dishwasher??

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A- Antlers of white tailed deer and a moose, bestowed to us by a kind nature lover named Don.

B- Built by Brendon- the table, that is.

O- Overlooking the (towering?) buildings of downtown Red Deer, with lovely sunset views in the evening.

D- Down the street from Dose Coffee, and just a 20 minute walk from Mel’s school.

E- Even better than we thought it would be.  Most days, it’s hard to believe we live here, but we are so glad that we do.

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We have been feeling a lot more settled since moving into our new 2-bedroom apartment, and are so thankful to be able to call this space home for the year.

In case are wanting our new mailing address, contact us at neilson.mel@gmail.com and we’ll be happy to send it to you.

Toronto: Speechlessly good.

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The big city of Toronto reunited Brendon with his beloved Jays (go the Jays!), but most importantly with our dear Kiwi friends, Kyle & Bea. 

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Kyle and Bea road tripped through the States last summer, landing in Toronto in October.  We always knew a Canadian reunion was immanent, and were looking forward to this time for months. 

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While in NZ, we journeyed very closely with these two, sharing a meal together nearly weekly.  We’ve missed these times.  We hold these times and these people very dear to our hearts, and so sharing this time together in Toronto was very special.

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We were blown away by Kyle & Bea’s hospitality, and felt so thankful for the times and memories we could share together on Canadian soil.

Toronto was one of our favourite cities for the following reasons:

The Jays.

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At the age of 7 in 1992, young Breno went to watch the Jays play at the Skydome.  (Can you believe the child above is NOT mini Brendon??)

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He recalls having an epic moment of walking out into the staduim and seeing the grand expanse of the Skydome in front of him, and being overcome with a sense of awe. 

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Watching a Jays game was a must, so we went to 2.  Brendon watched the Jays game with the joy of his 7-year old self, shouting “Chicken hot dog” out at Colby Rasmus, who scored a home run while we were there. 

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It was cute seeing how happy he was when the Jays beat the Red Sox 6-1.  Brendon was so proud of his Jays.

The boutiques. 

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Oh my goodness.  The boutiques.  I kind of have a thing for cute design shops.  You know, the ones that carry a mix of cool stationary and prints, locally-made jewellery, home decor items, and potentially even some unique but practical household items?  I find them very inspiring.  Anyways, Toronto is FULL of amazing shops like this.  In all of our travels this summer, I didn’t come across a city that even compares to the volume of inspiring boutiques and design shops we encountered.  Bea was kind enough to do some scouting ahead of time and map out their whereabouts on an adorable set of cue cards, which detailed some extremely well-thought out routes for day trips around Toronto.

The beaches. 

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Toronto has beaches, people.  And being a bit beach-deprived this year, I was all over them.  We took the ferry over to Toronto Island (which is worth the excursion just for the views of the city), found ourselves a nice beach and enjoyed a glorious afternoon in the sun.  They’ve got a great, little organic cafe over there on the island too.

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Sugar Beach is another place beach lovers should be aware of.  This adorable slice of paradise is located directly beside the Redpath Sugar Factory.  The wofts of caramelized sugar that float by are heavenly, and the pink umbrellas are super cute, aren’t they?  And so what that it’s man-made?  It’s super cute and super accessible.  If you work downtown, you can totally beach here on your lunch break.  I mean, I would! 

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We walked to the beach nearby Kyle & Bea’s place, and took in the peaceful glow of the evening light on the Lake.  Amazing to have a gorgeous body of water so accessible from multiple places.

The coffee. 

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Toronto’s got a solid coffee scene.  Favourite spots included:

Te Aro

Te Aro- a Kiwi-founded coffee company.

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Crafted Coffee (Te Aro), where a brief Transcend reunion occurred.

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Sam James- discrete espresso bar set up with a few locations around the city.

Rooster

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White Rabbit (they serve a generous affagato)

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The parks. 

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The way that Toronto does parks was something that really struck and appealed to us.  And the parks are SO accessible.  Green space is very well & purposefully used.  It was neat to see the local parks well-utilized by people of all ages, and for various purposes. 

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Bicycle polo.  Wood fired pizzas.  Mud pits.  Community fire pits.  Skateboard park.  One evening while strolling through Dufferin Park, we happened upon a hipster “storytelling” gathering around a fire pit. 

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Toronto’s slogan “A City Within a Park” is such a neat concept.  Though perhaps their green space is not as plentiful as other Canadian cities, it is extremely well utilized.  Located within the heart of Toronto, one can pop in to grab a coffee at a reputable cafe, then walk a couple blocks and enjoy their coffee.  We think Toronto is on to something with their parks.

The street art. 

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I have yet to visit a city that displays and celebrates street art as much as Toronto does.  There is inspiring street art everywhere, and often in places unexpected. 

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Kyle & Bea’s friend Jeff was commissioned to paint this bear, among many other pieces featured downtown. 

The car-lessness. 

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Toronto is a city where one can definitely live without a car.  We didn’t use our car once during the week we were in Toronto, and loved it.  Our feet, and the occasional use of the subway or streetcar got us any place we wanted to go.  It was a wonderful way to be able to get to know and feel the heartbeat of this vibrant city.  

Other Toronto gems:

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Soma Chocolate- A local chocolate-maker who produces produces bean to bar chocolate.  Go there.  And pick up a Stratus Bar.  Do it.  It could change your life.

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Kensington Market- an eclectic, multicultural gathering place of artisans, vintage shops, cafes, & cultural food vendors.  There’s a definite vibe and energy to Kensington Market, and it’s a good one.  

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Electric Mud BBQ.  Not quite the same as Kansas City BBQ, but with a southern feeling and all the meat and mess of any of the best BBQ joints of the deep south.

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Blackbird Bakery- a relatively new bakery located in Kensington Market, which specializes in delicious, artisan breads.  Brendon recommends the Toronto Sourdough.

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Fat Pasha- we enjoyed a mind-blowing Jewish feast of colour and flavour on their enchanting backyard patio.  

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Bluegrass Brunch- what could be more enchanting & cozy on a Sunday morning than enjoying a family-style brunch while listening to bluegrass tunes?

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Smock- an inspiring cafe/children’s art space.  

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Kid Icarus- an inspiring stationary/design shop located in Kensington Market.  I visited numerous times.  I couldn’t get enough.

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The Distillery district- I totally could have spent more time wandering the red brick streets and perusing all the cool shops tucked away in the Distillery district.

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Toronto, why do you have to be so cool?  Keep this up and we could easily be persuaded to move there… it’s currently Brendon’s retirement dream to live in a condo in downtown Toronto and attend every single Jays game.

We absolutely loved our time in Toronto, especially because of who we got to share it with.  Thanks, Kyle & Bea for showing us an AMAZING time in your super cool adoptive city.

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Chicago: Classsic, tasty, friendly.

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We spent two days in Chicago, one of which was Mel’s birthday.  Our experience in this iconic city can be summed up in three words: Classic, tasty, and friendly.

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Classic.

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Chicago is quite classic in its architecture. 

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Stately towers draw the eye with repetitious rectangles.

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Charming houses share space with nature and businesses below.  The blending of the old with the new is a compelling example of a city aging with style.

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When in Chicago, paying a visit to Anish Kapoor’s “Bean” in Millennium Park is as touristy as it gets, but worthwhile.  

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While you’re there, wander over to Frank Gehry’s band stand shell.  The design of it is really quite impressive, and there’s a good chance you’ll be fortunate enough to take in some live music in the park.

Tasty.

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There are a few things that are ‘must eats’ when in Chicago. For Breno, those were Chicago deep dish pizza and a Chicago dog. 

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We asked around for the best place to get a Chicago deep dish pizza.  At the top of the locals’ picks were Giadano’s, Lou Malnati’s, and Uno’s, and Piquod’s.  We decided on Giordano’s because it was closest to our current location, and took our pizza pie to the beach.  This move seemed to astonish the locals and made for a great moment in our accomplished picnicking history.

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We had just laid out the blanket on North St. Beach when a young man walked by and eyed up the deep dish pizza on Brendon’s plate.  “Oh my god!  That’s amazing,” he says to Breno.  His friend simply gives thumbs and nods up in upmost approval.  Perhaps it never occurred to them to combine these two elements?

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Some locals brought to our attention that there was probably an item left off our list: The Italian Beef Dipped sandwich at Portello’s.  They just raved about it.  So I suppose we had to try one of those too.  We crossed the two remaining food items off our list with a single visit to Portello’s. 

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We got two Italian beef dipped sandwiches (I went bunless) with a Chicago Dog on the side.  The sandwich was flavourful and soggy (like a good beef dip should be). 

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As for the hot dog, Brendon says he’s never quite eaten a hotdog like that one, so I suppose that’s a good sign?  He says the freshness of a juicy pickle and ripe tomatoes on top was a great touch.

Friendly.

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By now, we have visited a few different cities, and must say that some of the best customer service experiences we have ever had were in Chicago. 

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A shout out goes out to Intelligencia Coffee, both the Logan Square location, as well as the new Wicker Park location that just opened the day we visited.  We were greeted so warmly and given such a wonderful experience by the staff at each of their cafes.  Awesome coffee too. 

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Other special mentions go out to Fleur- a very cool floral/textiles design shop, Gaslight Coffee, and the Bang Bang Pie Shop for their super friendly service and praiseworthy offerings. It really doesn’t take much to make an encounter with another human a positive and lasting one, yet most of the time people don’t do it. Chicago on the whole had it together.

Hurricaine

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Our Airbnb host, Merissa, was absolutely lovely and set us up well with a stylish & comfortable place to stay, as well as recommendations of her favorite Chicago spots.  Her pet bunny, Hurricaine, was the cutest.  We had such a great experience staying in her thoughtfully decorated apartment. 

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We were out our first evening in Chicago strolling the well-known Wicker Park area.  Aspiring to tick one item off our Chicago food list, we asked a random duo walking beside us where one could get a good Chicago dog around here.  They didn’t know, but invited us to come to a gig with them that was happening just down the road at an arcade.  We went with it, and were glad for this chance to get a feel of the local indie music scene, get to know a few of the very friendly locals and get some tips for the rest of our time in Chicago.

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Chicago, thanks for being so delicious and welcoming to us Canadians.