Category Archives: Travels

Three dam good ideas for a summer activity near Montreal

Hydro-Quebec Riviere des prairies dam

Rivière-des-prairies Generating Station, courtesy of Hydro-Quebec

That’s not a spelling mistake in the headline. It’s a hint on how you can spend a few cool hours this summer learning, exploring and discovering something electrifying. Have you ever wanted to see a real hydro-electric dam up close and personal? You don’t have to travel to the North to see one. Hydro-Quebec has opened several hydro dams in the Montreal area to the public and they’re absolutely free to visit.

The daily 90-minute tours are scheduled in French at 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. and are also given in English by request.

The daily tours run until August 30. Arrive 15 minutes before the start of your tour to clear security. Simply make a reservation by calling 1-800-365-5229.

Website

The hydro-electric dams are also open for school tours as of September.

Rivière-des-prairies Generating Station

Address: 3400 Du Barrage Laval, Quebec H7E 5A2

Distance from Montreal : 20 minutes north of Montreal

Located in the middle of the river between Montreal and Laval, the guided tour lets you go down into a turbine pit and walk along the spillway – the walkway along the top of the dam.

Fun Fact: Just one of the plant’s generating units weighs as much as 22 elephants.

Beauharnois Generating Station

Address: 80, boul. de Melocheville Beauharnois, Quebec J6N 0M1

Distance from Montreal : 45 minutes west of Montreal

Beauharnois Generating Station

The Beauharnois Generating Station, courtesy of Hydro-Quebec

This generating station was once one of the world’s largest hydro-power plants and it’s still Hydro-Quebec’s most powerful river plant. Yet, its construction more than 80 years ago was started with a pick and shovel. Imagine doing that today. The Art-Deco style hydro dam is also a National Historic Site.

Fun fact: The generating station is as long as three Eiffel Towers laid end-to-end.

Carillion Generating Station

240, rue du Barrage Saint-André-d’Argenteuil, Quebec J0V 1X0

Distance from Montreal : 1 hour west of Montreal

Carillion generating station

Carillion Generating Station, courtesy of Hydro-Quebec

This hydro dam on the Ottawa River in the Laurentians has a lock feature that allows boats to go right through the dam. A park next door makes for a great family picnic spot.

Fun fact: The Carillion generating station makes enough electricity to power 150,000 households.

Social distancing and extra hygiene measures are in place at all the dams so book your tour several days before you plan on visiting.

Be a star at the Warner Bros. studio tour in Hollywood

Visiting a Hollywood studio has been on my bucket list since I was a child. Now that I’ve done it – it was everything I had hoped it would be.

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Warner Bros. Studio sound-stage

My husband and I along with our teenage son had a blast. This attraction is a top-ten LA must-see.
Located in Burbank, north of LA, it’s hard to get to without a car. We arrived as part of a day-long tour of LA and were dropped off for a couple of hours.
The tour starts with a video presentation and then you board a trolley driven by a guide through the Warner Bros. back-lot.

Along the way, you get off the trolley and walk around the open-air sets designed to look like city streets. There are more brief video presentations along the way. You’re also left to tour some departments on your own.

A highlight for our family was visiting the Ellen set. The sound-stage is enormous and her set, as seen on TV, occupies a small part of the building. You can’t take photos of active sets.

Harry Potter

We also walked around the props building (West Wing Oval Office furniture), costume museum (Harry Potter and DC Comics movies). There’s also an any-town USA street. The cottages are fronts for various production offices.

Friends TV Show

Another highlight was taking photos on the set of the Central Perk Café from the Friends sitcom on Stage 48. Stage 48 is a self-guided tour of the movie process from script and filming to post-production. You can feel like a star and hold a real Academy Award, presented to Warner Bros. for a “best picture” win in the 1930s.

My husband and son enjoyed the Batman-cars garage.


The movie La La Land was filmed on the lot and my husband and I got a kick out of picking out the movie locations. Parts of Jurassic Park (original) were filmed here too (the rainforest close-ups). Yes, there’s a cultivated rainforest on the lot!

Tickets cost about $60 for ages 13 and up. It’s worth the money. Allow three-hours for the tour. The guides are mostly film students and you guessed it, they want to work in the movie business when they graduate. In LA, everyone we met at their workplace said they really wanted to be a ‘producer’ or ‘director’ and that this was just their ‘day job’. It’s a cliché but true. Welcome to LA.

The southern beaches of LA County

If I asked you to name one beach in the LA area you’d probably reply, Santa Monica or Malibu. I bet you’ve never heard of Manhattan Beach or Hermosa and Redondo beaches. The three beach cities of southern Los Angeles County are easy day-trips from LA. They all have that envious mellow beach-vibe that is the quintessential California of our day dreams.

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Image from Google Maps

The beaches are located in the southern end of Santa Monica Bay and stretch several miles to the northern side of the Palos Verde Peninsula. Leaving Santa Monica, you come across Manhattan Beach first followed in quick succession by Hermosa and Redondo.

Winter temperatures in the beach cities average about 55 degrees (12 Celsius)and 70 degrees (21 Celsius) in summer thanks to westerly winds that also help keep the smog away.

Along the eastern border of the beaches lies the Strand, a concrete bike path that starts in Redondo Beach and leads all the way to Will Rodgers State Beach north of Santa Monica.

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The Strand on Redondo Beach. Image courtesy of Airbnb

Unfortunately, the Pacific Coast Highway cuts the beach cities into east and west neighbourhoods. The west-ends are all about the beach.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is 21 miles (34 km) south of LA on the Pacific Coast Highway and a world away from the carnival atmosphere of Santa Monica. Its clean, wide beach attracts  visitors from around the world.

Along the Manhattan Beach Strand are multi-million-dollar homes that will make you want to run out and buy lottery tickets. Thirty-six thousand residents call this city home.

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Image courtesy of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP)

Manhattan Beach is most famous for beach volleyball and is home to the annual Manhattan Beach Volleyball Open held in July.

Manhattan Beach Pier is located at the end of Manhattan Beach Blvd. and juts out almost 1000 feet into the ocean and is home to the Roundhouse Aquarium.

Lights, camera, action

Manhattan Beach is home to the Manhattan Beach Studios, a film and TV production facility where America’s Funniest Home Videos was recorded and Marvel Movies like Iron Man 2 were filmed.

Things to do in Manhattan Beach

Beach volleyball, swimming, surfing, body-surfing, cycling, shopping, Roundhouse Aquarium.

Hermosa Beach

Just 1.7 miles (3 km) south of Manhattan Beach lies Hermosa City Beach. Hermosa’s claim to fame is surfing. In January, when we were here, surfers in wet suits braved the waves while families tobogganed down a sand dune on surfboards. This unofficial beach sport brought a smile to my face as I had only ever seen people slide down snow-covered hills.

The city is the smallest of the three beach cities. It has a population of about 20,000 and spans 15 blocks from east to west and about 40 blocks from north to south. But within its border, you’ll find many bars and restaurants as well as shops.

The Hermosa Beach Pier is at the end of Pier Avenue, which is a hub of bars, restaurants and shops. At the start of the pier is the Surfer’s Walk of Fame. There’s a statue of a local surf hero and bronze plaques engraved with the names of surfing luminaries.

The restaurant and bar scene seems more alive here than in Manhattan beach.

Things to do in Hermosa Beach

Surfing, swimming, paddle boarding, fishing off the pier, beach volleyball, cycling, shopping, dining and partying.

Redondo Beach

Just one-and-half miles south of Hermosa, Redondo has triple the population of Hermosa and a Mediterranean vibe that is unique among the three beach cities. Palm trees line the Strand and a concrete wall protects the promenade, much like the in the towns that line the Italian Riviera. Million dollar homes line the east side of the Strand and the beachfront is quieter than Hermosa’s.

The wide and flat beach is ideal for playing volleyball and permanent nets are maintained by the city year-round just like on the other two beaches.

Things to do in Redondo Beach

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Redondo Beach Pier is full of amusements and dining spots.

The Redondo Beach Pier also juts 1000 feet out into the Pacific Ocean, but unlike Manhattan’s pier, on Redondo’s, you can shop, dine and enjoy amusement games.

Other typical activities include surfing, swimming, beach volleyball, fishing, shopping and dining.

All in a day

We visited the three beach cities in a single afternoon. I wish we had a full day. That’s all you really need to experience the laid-back California beach lifestyle far from the maddening crowd.

What to do in Gaspé

The Gaspé peninsula is a road-trip holiday. There’s no public transportation to speak of and the distances between towns are significant. You’re here for the scenery, which is free. But in between magnificent vistas there are some worthwhile fee-based attractions. In this last Gaspé blog, I share what stoked my family.

Percé Rock in Percé

This is the raison d’être for our road trip. Over 1,000 feet long and 300 feet high and wide, the rock is a monolith jutting out from the ocean. It made its way to Quebec from Africa in prehistoric times. It’s imposing and impressive and it will take your breath away. A boat tour is the best way to see Percé Rock up close. You can walk out to the rock in low tide but expect to get very wet. Also, chunks of the rock are falling into the ocean so it’s dangerous to wade out to the rock just to touch it. Signs warn of falling rocks.

Julien Cloutier boat tour in Percé

My husband, teenage son and I took two boat trips on the same day in August. Both trips were okay.

The first, was the trip to Bonaventure Island. Good commentary on the island and on Percé Rock. The captain took the boat around the rock and the Island. We didn’t get off on the island. It was a cool, cloudy day and it was fresh at sea. No coffee or refreshments on board.

The second trip was the 1 p.m. whale watching tour. We were gone 2-and-a-half hrs. on choppy seas and saw two harbor porpoises and one Minke whale (barely and briefly). So, the second trip was a bust. It cost $240 for the three of us.

Apparently, chips, water and the like were offered on board but an announcement was never made. Thankfully, info on life-vests and how to use them and where to find them, was presented in English and French.

Julien Cloutier is the only tour-boat operator in Percé. You have to drive to the town of Gaspé for a competitor. I just wish we had better luck.

GeoParc in Percé

We had run out of things to do in town and were waiting for the whale watching boat tour when we stumbled upon this gem. It’s behind businesses on the main road, near a camp ground. Easy to miss but worth it.

We were not sure what the attraction was about and had to ask at the front desk. It’s a presentation of Percé’s geological history. It’s designed to capture your attention and imagination.

You’re given what looks like Tarot cards at the entrance to the exhibit. You’ll need to insert the cards into individual stations to active the station. Each symbol on the card is representative of that station’s information. The first station looks like a carnival fortune-teller stand. Sure enough, a crystal ball illuminates and an audio track kicks off the ‘mystical and magic’ history of how Percé Rock came to be.

It’s very dark inside and very young children may be frightened. There are three video presentations. Nothing ordinary about the videos. It’s all Industrial Light and Magic stuff!
The stations incorporate audio tracks, video, and for lack of better words, trick lighting. At one point you appear to be walking through a brook, with babbling water and all. Yet, you remain perfectly dry. The second floor has information boards designed in glass. Beautiful.

Expensive. 15$ per adult. Lasts one hour. There’s also a kids’ jungle gym/climbing room across the hall. We saw young adults climbing the day we were here!

Metis Gardens/Reford Gardens in Grand Métis

We stopped at the gardens en route to Gaspé National Park. It was pouring rain and we thought twice about it and I’m glad we went.

Our inn-keeper gave us coupons for 15 per cent off the entrance fee, which made the detour even sweeter. The staff had a supply of enormous umbrellas at the entrance, which we were thankful for. It would have been impossible to see the gardens without them.

Despite the rain, we visited for over an hour. Elsie Reford is the woman behind the gardens and she dedicated herself to creating an English garden setting in the wilds of Quebec.
The gardens are lush, rich and colourful. The setting is natural, wooded, hilly and rocky in places. There’s a natural stream running through a portion of the gardens. A naturalist’s dream. Thanks to a micro-climate, she cultivated gardens where there were only trees and rocks. Reford introduced species of flowers new to Quebec.

At the end of the garden is a lodge, which was Reford’s summer home. It’s open to the public as a museum of what life was like at the home in the early 1900s. Fascinating.
Even our teen didn’t seem to mind walking around flower beds and touring the lodge. Must see.

Gaspé National Park in Ste. Anne des Monts

This national park is actually a provincial one but that’s Quebec for you. The Chic-Choc and McGerrigle Mountains cross the park. Some of the highest peaks in Quebec are found in these mountain ranges. Between the mountains are valleys with streams, forests and lakes where depending on the season, you can hike, swim, boat, fish, cycle, ski and snowshoe.

A visitors’ centre in the middle of the park provides information as well as supplies and equipment rentals. And, the service here is bilingual.

Accommodations in the park range from upscale hotel rooms in the Gîte Mont. Albert to un-serviced camp grounds in the woods. We stayed in a ready-to-camp huttopia. There are also isolated wood cabins and comfortably furnished cottages and bungalows near the Gîte, which are ideal for large groups.

We stayed a couple of days but honestly, you could spend a week here.

 

 

Gaspé accommodations

This blog on Gaspé is all about where to stay. There’s plenty of places to rest your weary head but none will be at a chain. There wasn’t a single hotel chain to be found during our seven-day trip. Welcome to mom and pop inns, B&Bs and motel/hotels. Good-bye Best Western, Holiday Inn and the like. A break from the standard highway hotels gave us a chance to meet and speak casually with local workers and experience small-town hospitality.

Gite la Roseraie in Ste. Flavie

We stayed in the “Familiale” suite on the second floor. It consists of one room with a double bed and a twin bed in an alcove with a curtain divider. The room has its own bathroom with shower. There’s no air-conditioning but there are two windows, which provide a decent breeze. Many trucks drove by through the night and it was too hot to sleep with the windows closed in summer.
I stepped on nail clippings on the floor early in the morning on my way to the bathroom and when I picked it up, I got long strands of hair in my hand as well (not mine). Apart from that, the room, sheets and bathroom were clean. The shower is minuscule but functional.
However, the caveat is that the beds are rock solid and immensely uncomfortable! My husband and I were in pain in the morning and our son, who can sleep anywhere, complained that his back hurt. The inn-keeper needs to change the mattresses in the “Familiale” room, not to be confused with the “Famille” room on the same floor. Maybe the other beds are more comfortable.
Breakfast is included and it’s homemade, hardy and delicious. Between us we had crepes, French toast, eggs and bacon, orange juice and coffee, fresh fruit and toast! Everything is included in the price ($95). Can’t beat that, or the inn-keeper’s hospitality.

Huttopia in Gaspé National Park

My son loves to camp and since I don’t, a huttopia was our compromise. We both loved it. This is glamping at its best. Just show up with your sleeping bag and some food. And, don’t forget wine. You can store it in the fridge! Yes, this ready-to-camp-tent has a fridge, outdoor stove, all the cutlery, plates, pots and pans and glasses you’ll need for four people. There’s even a toaster and kettle plus dish-washing accessories including dish soap and clean rags.

A picnic table and chairs are placed in the middle of the A-frame tent. To the right is the kitchen counter with cupboards below and a small fridge. At the back are beds, which consist of a raised wood platform with four plastic mattresses. Just plunk your sleeping bag on top and you’re ready for bed. Right outside the front door to the tent is a propane stove. The canvas roof is high enough so you don’t have to stoop inside (except on the beds) and the front door has a pad lock. There are also zipper-windows.

One night was about $150, which included taxes and the daily park entry fee for three people. Your kids will love it and so will the kid in you.

Hotel-Motel Manoir de Percé in Percé

Manoir de Percé is a good deal. It’s located across the street from Percé Rock on HWY 132. It’s super clean, offers free Wi-Fi, complementary coffee at reception and a small fridge in the room.
The bathroom and room décor are dated and the towels are rough. Those are my only two criticisms. Our room, 157, is the last room on the second floor; accessed by outdoor stairs. The porch and room window overlook the rock! We had the best view in town. And no one walked passed our room!
We took the hotel up on its dégustation (tasting) menu. The package was a five-course dinner and a hardy breakfast. The restaurant is located on the main floor. The décor is also dated and a little stuffy, but the food is delicious and the service friendly and attentive.
The room, with two double beds, was $104 a night. We all agreed that we would stay here again.