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And suddenly I’m home again! On the plane ride home I was definitely ready to hop on another flight and start a new adventure, but after 161 days away it will be nice to have some comforts of home again.  I’m not sure when I’ll have another trip like this, but I hope to have some smaller (but just as interesting!) trips soon – fingers crossed!

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St. Marys

I had such a wonderful weekend discovering a little more of Ontario. Gina, Maria and I have been speaking about getting to St. Marys (Gina’s hometown) since we met at work in 2013, and we finally made it happen!

St. Marys is a small town (described by Gina as having three major streetlights), but it has lots of history.  Known as The Stone City, limestone has played a huge part in the settling of this town.  The quarry created a lot of jobs, brought people to the town, and provided limestone for all the new buildings.

Once the quarries were mined of the limestone, they let them fill with waters, and now one of them is the largest outdoor swimming pool in Canada.  The other quarry is closed, but people do fish there (at their own risk).  Allegedly they are connected under the road, but Gina admits that could be a myth.  However it is deep enough to go scuba diving.

We only had time to drive by the quarry, not actually stop, so here’s a promotional picture off the internet.  It really is that big.

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After driving by the quarry, we went to Gina’s house, and were surprised by a beautiful brunch spread, put together by Gina’s lovely mom Laura.

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And then we were off! Gina came up with quite a schedule for us, and we wanted to ensure we had time to see everything she planned for. We started with a walking tour of the town.  Gina lives on Church Street, which, as its name suggests, is the home to many churches.

We found the world’s smallest farmer’s market and got some lovely warm apple cider, because St. Marys decided it was winter.  Also, we were headed to the Thames River and suspected it’d be colder there.

This section of the Thames River used to feature a flour mill, so they kept one of the gears to remind everyone of the town’s history.

Next up was Little Falls!  Gina was insistent on the fact that we had to visit St. Marys while the leaves were still on the trees, and it was clear why – the changing colours just add so much to this already beautiful place.

From here we started to make our way to that big bridge you see in the distance. We passed Trout Creek (where there actually is no trout but lots of tad poles and salmanders).

And Millennium Park, which as big as it looks.

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Next up was The Flats.  It’s a baseball field, and also the home of a very large nativity scene at Christmas.  They’ve already started setting it up and it’s only mid-October.

And then we made it to the Grand Trunk Trail! Saint Marys used to exist on two rail lines: Sarnia and London.  The Toronto-London train still runs, but the Sarnia train doesn’t run anymore, so they’ve turned it into into a really beautiful walking path with a bridge.  We explored the trail under the bridge, then climbed up and did some exploring up top.

Apparently this section of the Thames River looks like Winnie-the-Pooh.  Maria and I couldn’t see it, so Gina demonstrated where the ears and his honey pot were.

We walked down to the Toronto – London train track, and checked out St. Marys’ train station.

Unfortunately closed for the season, Hearn’s Ice Cream has been declared real ice cream by Gina, the likes of which we don’t get in the big city.

For the last spot on our morning tour, we hit the library to check out their book sale (c’mon we all work in publishing, we had to go to the library!).

And then lunch at the cutest restuarant, Little Red’s.  Seriously so cute, and so delicious!

We spend the afternoon supporting St. Marys economically.  I’m pretty sure someone purchased something in every store we entered.  Here’s the downtown core.

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And then it was back to Gina’s to get the car, and move on to our last stop of the day …

…which was McCully’s farm!

We arrived after the fall festival finished, but they still let us go back and try the corn maze, and it was actually so fun.

It was a seriously fantastic day, and I’m so glad we finally made it happen.

Ottawa

My dear friend Aidan, who I met in Ireland but is from BC, was going to be in Ottawa for work, so I went up for a short visit.

Aidan wasn’t arriving until around 6 on Saturday night, so I bused up during the day and amused myself at the Rideau Centre until she arrived.  She arrived just as the mall closed (perfect timing), and we went down to the Byward Market for dinner.  One of my best friends went to university in Ottawa, so I had a vague recollection of where everything is from my visit while she was in school.

The cool spot to go on a Saturday night in Ottawa is obviously parliament (no, but really) so we walked that way, stopping by the canal for a quick pic.

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I’m really excited.

Parliament was all lit up, and there were crowds of people watching it, so we stayed for a while.

This became pretty boring really fast, so we just kept on walking.  We heard music playing in the distance, so decided to fine it. We ended up in Quebec at a bluesfest. Neither of us were super interested in staying so we turned around and walked back to Ottawa.

On our way past parliament we realized the light on the building has turned into a history of Canada, so we stayed until the end of the show. I told you parliament was the place to be!

Aidan was going to be at work all day Sunday, so we split up pretty early, and I caught the bus home.  It was a long journey for just a few hours together, but it’s not often that I get to see her, so I’ll take any opportunity when we’re geographically close.

Quebec City, Day 4

The rest of our time was spent in the city itself. We started Day 4 at the Citadelle of Quebec, an active military installation and official residence of the Governor General of Canada.  We also happened to witness the changing of the guard.

Our next stop was a tour of parliament, and lunch in their cafeteria.

We wandered through the old city for the rest of the afternoon, and then did a ghost tour at night.  I’ll admit, I was jumpy by the end.

Quebec City, Day 3

We also did a half-day trip on Wednesday.  My aunt and uncle kept telling me about this waterfall they had been too, so mom and I decided to do a little more exploring outside the city.

The tour started with the traditional villages and farms of the Beauport Coast. We stopped by the Chocolaterie de l’Ile d’Orléans, a really delicious ice cream chocolate shop on the Île d’Orleans, and bought enough treats to keep us full for the rest of the day.

Next up was the Cuivres D’Art Albert Gilles, a family run copper art museum, where I got some stunning handmade earrings.

My aunt recommended we go to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, which was next. It is believed the miracles are performed at the basilica. There was a garden out front, which was nice, and the basilica itself was massive.

But what we were most excited for was Montmorency Falls.  There’s a cable car that will take you up and down, or you can climb. We decided to take the car up and walk down, so to have most time to spend at the top.

There’s various platforms levels you can go on to see the falls.There’s a wooden bridge over the falls that I couldn’t get mom to step on.  But I did get her on the side platform.  And of course there was the view from the bottom.

If we had a little more time we might have eaten lunch at the restaurant at the top of the falls, but this way it meant we would actually have some more time to explore Quebec City itself.

We decided to spend some time in the Lower Town, just wandering around and checking out various artisan shops.

And in order to get a good view of the Château Frontenac, we took the ferry to Levis and back.  For $6 each, it was totally worth it.

Quebec City, Day 2

On day 2 we got far out of the city to go whale watching! Rather than rent a car and drive to Baie-Sainte-Catherine, we did a day trip and it was fantastic. It was a full day, but totally worth it. It’d been awhile since I’d been on a boat but we both had a great time.

We even saw a few whales, including a family of Belugas! Plus the scenery was gorgeous even when there were no whales around. We just had to adjust to the cold.

Quebec City, Day 1

Yep, I definitely got my mom into travel.  She loved Ireland and Chicago trips so much that she wanted to make them an annual event, which is more than fine with me. My aunt and uncle had gone to Quebec City last year and sang its praises, so we decided to go there for a few days.

Mom loved Chicago, but it was hard for her to get back home on Monday and have to start work on Tuesday, so this time we decided to do a Monday – Friday trip instead.

By the time we arrive on Monday, there wasn’t much time to do a lot, so we did my mom’s favourite activity and hopped on a bus tour to get situated.

Toronto

It was time for a mini-Ireland reunion!  Janetta moved to Toronto in January for 6 months (which was amazing), so Kate couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see two of us at the same time!

We had two full days together, and it was glorious. Each day started with brunch (my first real brunches in the city!) and included a LOT of walking.  We went to the AGO then walked down Queen St West to Roncesvalles, and then walked along the lake all the way back to the city centre.  We went to the aquarium, Steam Whistle Brewery, and thoroughly explored Kesington Market. And we even pulled out the Toronto Walks book I’d been gifted by Lise and discovered some things in the downtown core that I didn’t know about.

Pictures are few (all taken by Kate which explains why she’s not in most of them), but memories last forever.

Toronto

I had another visitor! One of my closest friends from Ireland, Kate, was coming up to Toronto just to visit!

I was still in school full time, but we still managed to do some sight seeing. Thursday night, we saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream through Shakespeare in the Park. (It was fantastic, not that any y’all had any doubts about that).

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On Friday, Kate went to Niagara Falls, and then we met with another Torontonian from Ireland, Manfred, for dinner. And also made sure Kate got herself some Timmies.

Our full day of adventuring was Saturday, and our first stop had to be the Islands! It was a beautiful day, and I hadn’t been since I was a kid.

We decided to do some more touristy stuff. I anticipated many more visits from Kate, so it would be nice get it out of the way now and do less touristy stuff on future visits.  So, obviously, our next stop was the CN Tower.

Whenever my family goes to the CN Tower, we eat in the restaurant. We do this firstly for the view, but secondly so we don’t have to wait in line to get up.

I thought she’d love the distillery district, and I’m always down to spend time there.

We made sure to go by Kensington Market and walk through UofT, and just generally had a full day exploring the city.