When people asked me what my favorite part of my vacation was, I kept coming up with different answers.
There was visiting old and new friends and meeting adorable children. There was sitting in a small bar in New York listening to up-and-coming singers. Then there was taking a ferry on the St. Lawrence River from Montreal to Longueuil, Quebec, on my birthday. Eventually, I gave up answering the question.
It's kind of hard to pick a favorite moment when visiting two Canadian provinces - Quebec and Ontario - and seven U.S. states - New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Philadelphia.
My trip was mainly to visit my friend Jean-Luc in Montreal, where I've visited several times but not since 2004. He decided to take me to see Boston and New York, with a side trip to Philadelphia for an authentic cheesesteak. We also spent a weekend in a cottage in eastern Quebec and an overnight in Quebec City and took a day trip to Ottawa.
My favorite part of the trip was not driving in downtown Boston. I don't know why I agree to things like this. I hate driving in big cities. But I ended up driving from rural Quebec all the way to Boston, and didn't insist on switching drivers before we got into greater Boston. It wasn't so bad until I realized there was nowhere to park. Eventually, I ducked into a parking garage.
We saw the Massachusetts State House and Boston Common, followed the Freedom Trail and visited the harbor. The next day, we wandered the streets again and then took off for New York, where we ordered a Domino's pizza from our motel in Queens. (My brother chided me for ordering a chain pizza in New York, but after going to local spots, I have to say the Domino's seemed authentic.)
I had never been to New York, and my primary objective was to see the Statue of Liberty. I didn't necessarily care if I toured it - I mainly wanted to gaze upon it, but I never got the best angle. I saw it once from one side and later from the other side at Liberty Island State Park in New Jersey.
We did get to the top of the Empire State Building, though. We went to the 86th floor observatory at night and looked down on the city. It was an awesome view, but I'm curious what it would have been like during the day.
I think the most impressive thing, though, was that Jean-Luc not only drove in Manhattan, but found a parking spot across the street from the Empire State Building.
We had come from Philly, and it would have taken us a couple of extra hours to drive to Queens and hit the subway to Manhattan, so Jean-Luc just drove.
He, unlike me, likes to drive in big cities. Then again, he, unlike me, lives in a big city. He also knows subway systems pretty well, so I didn't have to pay attention to where we were going most of the time.
We had lunch at Junior's Cheesecake in Brooklyn with Julie (Bratvold) Liew, a former Pioneer reporter. It was great to catch up with her and hear about their new apartment and share cat stories.
We also had wine and appetizers at Winebar in lower Manhattan with Meg Ryan, a former reporter at the Crookston Times, and her friend Marty. We went with them to a small bar to listen to Marty's friend Libbie Shrader sing. She was awesome enough that we bought CDs, and the bar was cozy and cool with great murals on the bathroom walls.
Meg asked if we'd seen Disneyland. We were confused until we realized she meant Times Square, which we saw in both daytime and nighttime. It was interesting to walk through, but I can see why real New Yorkers might want to avoid the signage bling.
After New York, we spent a weekend in a beautiful cabin in eastern Quebec near St. Catherine de Hatley. It was a nice, quiet contrast from the city. Jean-Luc doesn't get much campfire time, so he really liked that part of it. I was bummed we had no marshmallows, but we did have hot dogs to roast on sticks.
We went on to Quebec City, where we went out for dinner with Tom, a longtime chat-room friend guy from Surrey, B.C., who I've known online since 1996. He was traveling, too, and we found a way for our paths to cross.
The next day we saw the Parliament building, which was dressed up with thousands of brightly colored tulips on the grounds, and toured Old Quebec, which was absolutely gorgeous.
I love Old Montreal and always go there when I visit Montreal, but it doesn't have quite the old-world feel as Old Quebec, with its cobblestone streets lined with quaint shops and restaurants. Still, Old Montreal has its own charm, with its open plaza with performers and artists. And the Old Port is a great destination.
I adore old buildings, particularly anything made of stone. Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City was beautiful, and City Hall in Montreal is awe-inspiring, by day or by night.
I've been to a lot of tourist attractions in Montreal over the years, but aside from Old Montreal/Old Port, the only real tourist activity we did there was the ferry ride to Longueuil. I'd never ridden a ferry before, or any kind of big boat. We had a great view of the island of Montreal; it was nice to see it in a different way.
Our last vacation was to Kansas City, where we saw no one. This one was quite a contrast, with all the people we visited. In Montreal, we visited some old friends and their two daughters I'd never met, a toddler and a newborn. We saw Jean-Luc's parents and went to a bar with some of his work friends. We also took a fun day trip to Ottawa, where we toured Parliament Hill and visited an old friend of Jean-Luc's and met her husband and their toddler daughter.
As hard as it is to pick a favorite part of the trip, it's just as hard to pick a favorite food, but the Philly cheesesteaks (with the authentic Cheez Whiz topping) from Pat's King of Steaks, "originators of the steak sandwich," in Philadelphia is a pretty strong contender.
In Quebec, I had poutine (french fries, cheese curds and gravy) four times; once in Quebec City at Ashton, where the not-exactly-low-fat dish originated, and the other three times in Montreal. It's a delicious Quebec staple.
Smoked meat in Montreal was also a must. We twice went to Schwartz's, which is wildly popular with both locals and tourists. It's so busy that the workers had to keep running back and forth with slabs of meat to slice for the huge sandwiches. We also went to Dunn's, another sought-after smoked-meat place.
Of course, we had to go to Planete Oeuf (French for egg), where my favorite dish has for years been french toast with a mountain of fruit covered with English cream.
My favorite pizza in New York was at Little Italy Pizza. Someone told me the mark of good pizza is grease running down your arm. I think the most different part was the crunchy, light crust.
We had a great meal at Ruby Tuesday's, where I discovered muscato, a sweet wine. I don't like wine, but there are exceptions. I had the same wine at Winebar, where we had fancy appetizers that were as delicious as they were expensive.
I missed my daily hike in Bemidji with fellow Pioneer reporter Bethany Wesley, but I was pleased to be able to tell her that despite the calorie overload of the trip, I walked so much - more than our walks - that I didn't gain a pound.
But oh, were my feet sore.