While I love meandering the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec City, I also enjoy discovering more authentic neighbourhoods nearby.
Saint-Roch is one such area of Quebec that has its own unique charm and vibe not geared towards tourists but to drawing locals to its many pubs, boutiques and bistros.
Stepping outside of the fortification walls of Quebec City and into a real Quebec neighbourhood like Saint-Roch may take visitors out of their comfort zone, but leaving the English speaking sales staff, overpriced restaurants and trinket shops behind is well worth it.
The CN Tower is Toronto's most visited landmark. The view is awesome, but like so many other city towers that offer sky-high views (the Empire State Building for example), the overall experience can be expensive, time-consuming and marred by crowds.
Keltic Lodge, a Nova Scotia resort that offers the best in Cape Breton hospitality, gorgeous maritime scenery and lots of activities, is having its Spring Savings. Guests can save up to 30% off through June 30, 2014, with rates starting from $129.00 per night.
Nova Scotia is an excellent vacation for just about anyone: it is scenic, historic and manageable in size. Its maritime location and rich agricultural landscape means delicious dining options to suit any budget (McDonalds even has a lobster sandwich in Nova Scotia).
Keltic Lodge is a perfect base for visiting the nearby Cabot Trail, a 300 km (185 mi.) long highway circuit famous its vistas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Atlantic Ocean and its lush landscapes, particularly spectacular in fall.
Looks like summer is here to stay after a day of temperatures in the 27°C range. If you are in Toronto this summer and looking for a fun way to cool off, there are a number of big, sprawling water parks in addition to public pools and splash pads to fit the bill.
Monday, May 19th is Victoria Day across Canada (except in Quebec where the holiday is National Patriots Day).
Openings and closings depend on province and region and the best advice is to call ahead if unsure. But generally, it's a long weekend for most Canadians. Some businesses stay open to feed and water the crowds and tourist destinations operate as usual.
Canadians have a reputation as approachable and friendly, however their amiable disposition does not necessarily translate to providing exceptional customer service, especially when compared to the kind of help you get in U.S. stores.
For example, I strolled into a clothing store the other day on Locke Street in Hamilton, Ontario. I was in a mood to buy something: "Fill the void," as my husband calls it.
The store is small with a manageable number of clothes to peruse, but I am not good at picking out stuff to try on, so I browse aimlessly. Eventually, I imagine, the store clerk, who is busying herself with hangers and hasn't spoken to me, will rescue me with expert advice and I will leave happy - void filled.
Well, "eventually" never arrives and I finally break the awkward silence (I mean, how long can two people occupy the same space without acknowledging the other? ) by commenting on how much I like her pants. "Thanks," she says, like she just noticed my presence in her store, "Second Yoga Jeans."
"Second Yoga Jeans?" I respond far too enthusiastically, relieved to be engaged in conversation, "I love my pair....."
There, I've given her the opportunity to sell me my next pair. The purple ones are really nice. I'd buy those. Wait for it.......nothing. The store owner in the comfortable yet stylish slacks smiles wanly and returns to pulling things out of boxes. She doesn't tell me about this season's latest colours or trends; she doesn't ask me if I am looking for anything in particular; she doesn't even make banal comments about the weather.
This kind of dismal retail experience is polar opposite to most interactions I've had with salespeople in the U.S. Retailers and hospitality staff there show keen interest in their customers. After all, it's the land of the Wal-Mart greeter, someone hired specifically to say hello to people walking into the store. The U.S. retail industry is steeped in the culture of delivering outstanding customer service; it's one of the things they do best. Is it phony? Maybe. But good customer service costs less than bad customer service.
Why is customer service lackluster in Canada? Maybe we're too laid back to care. Maybe we're don't buy into the whole idea of capitalism. We don't get trained properly for sure. But whatever it is, when you rub shoulders with a store clerk in Canada and she doesn't even say "Hello," don't take it personally.
If you have taken on the task of arranging a girlfriend getaway, good for you. Finding time to break away with friends who often have busy work and family schedules is important but not easy. In addition, finding one place that suits each group member's budget and tastes can be a challenge (some people care about thread count; others don't know what that even means).
So speaking from experience - I've been to all of these places - here are 5 girlfriend getaways in Ontario for your consideration.
Photo is of Grail Springs Health & Wellness Spa Retreat, Main Room
The Hilton Quebec, located just outside the old part of Quebec City, has one of the best, most panoramic views of the city. Specifically, the 23rd floor, which usually serves as the Hilton member executive lounge, has huge picture windows overlooking this historic city.
The last time I was at the Hilton Quebec, I learned a little secret. Weekdays between noon and 2 pm, the 23rd floor opens to the public as le23, a restaurant that serves a business buffet. Make a reservation at 418 647-2411 and ask for a window seat. You'll get the best view of Quebec City and no crowds. All that and parking is free.