Ville de Québec

Québec and Eastern Canada- on board the Seabourn Quest

Feature image: Québec City Skyline
Copyright and credits: Ville de Québec

We set sail on board the Seabourn Quest from the port of Montreal on the St Lawrence River, Canada’s most important commercial waterway. This massive river was the route of earlier French and British explorers and the gateway to North America at the beginning of the 16th century. Seeing Montreal from the deck as we slowly sailed at dusk was a dreamlike experience. Montreal looked so pretty with twinkling lights from its historic and modern buildings and the autumn foliage dotting the landscape still visible in the soft glow of the setting sun.

Seabourn Quest
Our first port of call the next morning was Québec City in the province of Québec. Founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain as a fur-trading base in 1608, Kebek in the language of the Hurons means “ the place where the river narrows”. (the Huron Indians were part of the Iroquoian people who were named Hurons by the French in the 17th century)
Set in one of the most stunning locations in North America , high up on Cap Diamant cliffs (Cape Diamond) and overlooking the St Lawrence River, Québec is Canada’s oldest and safest major city. We had a full day to discover this pretty and historic town, so quintessentially French. Its 400-year history is rich and exciting, palpable in its language, culture and old buildings.

The Seabourn Quest docked in the Vieux-Port de Québec (Old Port) right next to the historic city. Québec city is small and compact, about 7 square kilometres and therefore easy to explore on foot. It is divided into two parts; the Upper town (Haute Ville) and Lower town (Basse Ville).

As soon as we were allowed to disembark we promptly set off to discover this ‘European like’ city on foot with no itinerary in mind. We commenced our stroll from the pier and headed straight for the Upper Town, climbing the steep stairs that led to the top of the hill. It was a glorious autumn morning and the walk was invigorating. Admiring the view atop the hill overlooking the St Lawrence River below us and the Appalachians and Laurentian mountains to the south and north respectively, we reached Québec’s Fortifications, a defence system that surrounded Old Québec. It was built by the British two centuries ago and has earned Québec the distinction as North America’s only walled city north of Mexico. The fortifications surrounding Old Québec are close to 4.6 km in length enclosing three centuries of the city’s history, architecture and culture. This is one of the main reasons why UNESCO designated this area a world heritage site in 1985. Within the remains of the walls is a charming town with cobblestoned narrow streets littered with bistros, cafés and boutiques. The granite copper roofed houses, churches, parks and several museums and monuments speak volumes of the city’s interesting colonial past.

Dominating the quarter perched on top of Cape Diamond overlooking Dufferin Terrace and the St. Lawrence River is the iconic Chateau Frontenac (Le Château Frontenac). The Canadian and Pacific Railway built this grand and imposing building with its towers and spires reminiscent of France. It was actually conceived of in the 1800’s by William Van Horne, who was then the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He wanted to build castle like luxury hotels along the railway to entice discerning and well-heeled railway travellers to make these hotels their luxurious pied–à–terre. Le Château Frontenac was completed in 1892 and has hosted countless celebrities and royalty since then. A Fairmont hotel, the castle was named in honour of Louis de Buade, Compte de Frontenac who was governor of New France from 1672 to 1682 and 1689 to 1698.

Château Frontenac in Autumn Copyright and credits: Luc-Antoine Couturier

Château Frontenac in Autumn
Copyright and credits: Luc-Antoine Couturier

There are tours that begin at the Frontenac kiosk on Dufferin Terrace but we opted to do our own from the Dufferin Terrace to visit Artillery Park. We thought it interesting inasmuch as our walking exploration was a brief history lesson on the fight for supremacy between the British and the French. Of course we all know that the British ultimately gained control of this French colony but Québec city is unmistakably a reminder that the French were indeed its early occupants.

Dufferin Terrace and Château Frontenac Copyright and credits: Audet Photo/ Stephane Audet

Dufferin Terrace and Château Frontenac
Copyright and credits: Audet Photo/ Stephane Audet

Note: There is a tourism office Frontenac Kiosk, Dufferin Terrace that organises tours and sells guidebooks.

Frontenac

We continued our walk and headed down towards Quartier Petit-Champlain on the south edge of Old Québec. Known to be the oldest shopping district in North America, it was packed with little shops selling souvenirs, art galleries, antique shops and specialty boutiques.

Petit- Champlain Street at Christmas, Quartier Petit Champlain Copyright and credits: Ville de Québec

Petit- Champlain Street at Christmas, Quartier Petit Champlain
Copyright and credits: Ville de Québec

The narrow streets and sidewalk cafés crowded with tourists gave the neighbourhood a festive atmosphere. We ended our visit at the Place-Royale and at the square outside the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, the oldest stone church in North America (1688) where our attention was captured by the display of Halloween decorations, pumpkins of all sizes and the like. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to venture to the Musée de la Civilisation and only caught a glimpse of the Old Port public market. It was time to head back to our ship where we bid goodbye to this historic, quaint and charming Canadian city with a French twist.

Halloween display at the Square
 

Halloween display at the Square

Halloween display at the Sqaure

La Fresque des Québécois Copyright and Credits: Jean- François Bergeron, Enviro Photo

La Fresque des Québécois
Copyright and Credits: Jean- François Bergeron, Enviro Photo

After a day at sea indulging on the Seabourn’s luxuriously appointed facilities, we were looking forward to visiting the Eastern Canadian harbour towns and Maritime provinces. The first stop was Cap-Aux-Meules (Grindstone), one of the dozen or so islands that comprise the archipelago of La Madeleine. Despite the cold, gusty wind, we traipsed along the small fishing village admiring the beautiful desolated coastline and visited the church of St. Pierre at Laverniere. This wooden church was constructed from the wreckage of ships that ran aground or from some that were found submerged on the offshore ridges. One can imagine how frightening it must have been to get blown off course and sunk or lost at sea. The wrecks found in the deep around these islands tell a lot of stories that keep maritime archaeologists occupied. Now of course, a lighthouse stands at Cap-Aux-Meules to guide all types of ships (regardless of their sophisticated radars and GPS).

The cruise aimed to show us the breathtaking beauty of these parts of Canada. It also provided the travellers brief lessons in Canada’s maritime history. What was advantageous for us was the fact that it was an easy way to catch glimpses of the cluster of peninsulas and islands that form what is collectively known as the Canadian Maritime provinces, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The Seaborn Quest took us to the town of Sydney in Nova Scotia affording us amazing views of the rugged coastline, hills and the picture perfect valleys of Nova Scotia and a day later to the busy port of St John, New Brunswick for a day of excursion.

At St John’s we acquainted ourselves with the many delights of this harbour town, notably the Market Square and the New Brunswick museum. The city is distinctly more British than French although about 30% of the population still speak Quebec French or français québécois. The highlight of our short excursion was witnessing a unique phenomenon known as the Reversing Rapids of New Brunswick, best seen from Reversing Falls Bridge. The reversing rapids are a result of the great rise and fall of the tides of the Bay of Fundy. The 28-foot tide change in the Bay of Fundy to the St. John’s River which flows right through town actually reverses direction for a few hours at high tide.

The Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island was the second region in Canada to be occupied by the Europeans after Newfoundland. Vikings were thought to have also settled there but the French still has the distinction of being ‘the colonisers’ of these parts of Canada. In fact it was known then as Acadie or Acadia. The British of course forcibly removed the Acadians during the French and Indian War in 1755–1764. Many fled to Louisiana USA while others were deported back to France.

We made our way towards the US eastern ports, sailing across the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and southeast of Newfoundland on the North American continental shelf. Found in this area is a group of underwater plateaus known as Grand Banks. Discovered by the English explorer John Cabot during his transatlantic voyage in 1497, the Grand Banks turned out to be one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Home to dolphins, whales, Atlantic cod, swordfish, haddock, capelin, scallops and lobsters, the waters were plundered and exploited by fishing vessels from Europe, Russia and South America. The consequence of 500 years of overfishing was devastating to the marine life. Due to this, the Canadian government declared a ‘moratorium ‘ on fishing in 1992. Unfortunately, this move resulted to an economic catastrophe for the Newfoundland northeastern Canadian fishing industry.

Food glorious food…Food on board the Seabourn never disappoints. Spoilt for choice, the traveller can choose to dine in any of the Seabourn’s several restaurants. Award-winning cuisines guaranteed to be made from fresh ingredients purchased in every port stop is a delight and a boon for passengers. Whether one has a hankering for fine dining or conversely, a laid back casual meal, the meticulously thought of menus designed by Seabourn chefs are regionally themed in all of it’s restaurants. The open bars serve a huge variety of very good wine and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. This particular cruise indulged the ‘inner foodie’ in us on the array of seafood from the waters of Newfoundland but my carnivore husband was not neglected, as the best quality meats were always sure to be tender, juicy and tasty.

Note: Saveur magazine (gourmet, food, wine, and travel magazine) recognised the Seabourn as the Best Culinary Cruise Line in 2013 and 2014 for their premier Culinary Travel Awards

One of the many appeals of experiencing the Seabourn Atlantic Coast Harbour Cruise was the ease of being transported from port to port in luxurious comfort and relative tranquility. No connecting ferries, trains or airplanes to worry about and most of all, the traveller gets to unpack and pack only once. In isolated locations that are otherwise difficult to reach like Eastern Canada, for us, the Seabourn Atlantic Coast Harbours was the way to go.

Many thanks to Québec City Tourism for allowing us to use professional images featured above.

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Montreal

Feature Image: Mary Queen of the World Cathedral and 1000 de La Gauchetière/ Downtown
Credit : © Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin

It was the end of our sojourn in New York and time to depart for the ‘land at the top’. New York to Montreal is approximately 381 miles (613.6 km) and 11 hours on the train, not that far really. Ever since our first Amtrak train journey on the California Zephyr we had the Adirondack on our sights. Destination Montreal was the perfect excuse to board the Adirondack train from NYC Penn station, a daily service operated by Amtrak. Looking forward to simply taking our time to get to Montreal, we were content to take this 11 hour journey and indulge in the gradual change of scenery going north, along the Hudson River Valley to Albany and slowly up to Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, in the foothills of the Adirondack mountain range. Friends who have done this trip warned us of delays so we were pleasantly surprised it didn’t happen. However, we were somewhat disappointed that this much-touted scenic train route did not have the dramatic sceneries we saw while on the California Zephyr or the Rocky Mountaineer trains. Nevertheless, it was a delightful way to see the outskirts of New York and beyond plus the spectacular autumn foliage.

Montreal
Montreal
Montreal
Montreal

Montreal, the biggest city in Quebec province, certainly one of the most historic in North America, and the seat of bilingualism and culture in Canada was cold when we arrived in the evening. A sophisticated city juxtaposing distinct Franco features with Anglo characteristics, despite the rain and cold weather, Montreal stood with its bright lights, waiting to be explored.

I’ve always associated Montreal with the international jazz festival, Quebec French or Québécois French and the Québecoise (French-speaking native of Quebec) . The glorious food we have heard so much about at Au Pied de Cochon was another feature. Montreal is in fact more than these.

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal Credit : © Canadian Tourism Commission

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Credit : © Canadian Tourism Commission

Long before the Europeans settled in Montreal and Quebec, First Nations native people (aboriginal natives of Canada) the Hurons, Algonquins and Iroquois were its inhabitants. Sooner than later, seafaring European explorers reached the shores of eastern Canada. In 1535, French explorer Jacques Cartier came across a large settlement, called the Hochelaga (it is an Iroquoian fortified village) on the St Lawrence River and Stadacona, another fortified Iroquoian village near present day Quebec City. In a few decades, French navigator Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post there, hence is credited for founding ‘New France’ and the French settlements.

As we know, the British began its colonisation of the ‘New World’ (the Americas) in 1607 and was considered a serious threat by the early French colonisers. Without delving into the various skirmishes and struggles for supremacy among the colonists during that era,the British won in 1673 and Canada was integrated into the British colonial system in North America. Despite the British rule, to this very day, colonial French influence is clearly stamped in Montreal’s culture, architecture and language.

As an avid Francophile myself, I was looking forward to hearing the charming and old-fashioned lilt of français québécois. It is said that it still sounds like the French language spoken 300 years ago apparently because when the British took Quebec, the French settlers were cut off from France and the French language used at the time, didn’t evolve to its modern day form.(Though written French and grammar is exactly the same as standard French). Despite British rule, French prevailed and is still widely spoken in Montreal with 56.9% of its population speaking French at home. Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. In fact, French was named the official language of Quebec province after Bill 101 or the Charter of the French Language was passed in 1977.

We opted to stay in the historic and restored district of Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) for many reasons; one of them was its proximity to the cruise terminal on the Alexandra Pier (we were going to embark on the Seabourn Quest from Montreal for our Eastern Canada and New England, USA cruise). We chose to stay at Le Petit hotel, a hip and chic boutique hotel in a century old building. It came highly recommended and is well situated in the oldest street in Montreal, the Rue Saint Paul Ouest. This street is the heart of the art and food scene. Some of the buildings date back to the 17th century.

Old Montreal

Old Montreal, Credit : © Orlando G. Cerocchi

hotel

We didn’t waste time. After checking in, notwithstanding the light rain and freezing cold weather we walked down the cobbled stones of the narrow streets, to explore the food scene. We happened upon Bocata and Barroco restaurants.

Buzzing and lively, image courtesy of Tourisme Montréal

Buzzing and lively, image courtesy of Tourisme Montréal

Barroco Restaurants, image courtesy of Tourisme Montréal

Barroco Restaurants, image courtesy of Tourisme Montréal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the name suggests, we expected Italian food on the menu. We were pleasantly surprised however with the varied selection of modern fusion food and an extensive wine list, some served by the glass. It was crowded and having made no reservations, we sat right up at the bar and sampled various plates from the specials board and the menu. The restaurant had great ambience and a rustic décor but somehow managed to exude a very cool, funky feel, thanks to the trendy looking waiters and waitresses and young patrons. It was busy and vibrant. We enjoyed the whole experience so much we thought we would try another meal here before our departure.

Having no fixed itinerary nor a booked tour we planned to indulge our interest in architecture and visit some of the old buildings that date as far back as the 16th century as well as check out the other cultural attractions in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal). The district is so compact, about one square km (or 0.4 square mile) that we thought we would explore it on foot. The original quarter (known as Ville Marie) is bordered by Rue Saint-Antoine, the St. Lawrence River, Rue Berri and Rue McGil and can be explored with ease within a day. A self-guided tour map can be obtained from the tourist bureau located at 174 Notre-Dame St. East – corner of Place Jacques-Cartie.
So, the next day, armed with this information and useful advice from the helpful hotel concierge, for our first ‘must see’, we set off to visit the square known as Place d’Armes and the Notre Dame Basilica.

This beautiful church, the Notre Dame, is for me one of the focal points in the neighbourhood. Architecture, craftsmanship, history and religious heritage are evident upon entering this big church. Designed after the Sainte-Chapelle church in Paris, this Gothic inspired revival features beautiful stained glass windows by Quebec artist Jean-Baptiste Lagacé. Commissioned in 1929 for the Basilica’s centenary celebration, the windows depict the history of the early settlement of Ville Marie. The blue and gold colours dominating the altar and glass are stunning. The craftsmanship of the pulpit, statues and other pieces deserved closer inspection. We went back later in the evening to see the multimedia ‘Let there be light’ show, a brief history of the church and the settlement.

Basilica

We then headed east on Notre Dame Street for the next stop, which was the Place Jacques-Cartier. Wandering down, on the way, we stopped to admire the town hall, built between 1872 and 1878 in the ‘Second Empire ‘ style. Though it was a cold day, the walk was made interesting by the surrounding buildings and shops (art galleries caught our eye). On reaching Place Jacques Cartier we needed to quench our thirst and were feeling a bit peckish so we had a light lunch at one of the cafés, dining al fresco albeit, in the somewhat fresh weather. ‘People watching’ was called for. Just like most squares, Place Jacques-Cartier is the heart of the old district where locals and tourists hang out. The cobbled square is closed to traffic but made lively by various street performers, the flower market and other touristy shops. Before the ‘Place’ was built in 1804, the Château de Vaudreuil was located there. For many years, the Place Jacques-Cartier was used as a public market and was restored in 1998.

Artists' Row

Artists’ Row, Credit : © Canadian Tourism Commission

Revived from our pit stop, we proceeded down towards the edge of the road and found Marché Bonsecours (Bonsecours Market) at 350 rue Saint Paul. The Palladian style domed two-storey building was built in 1847 and was a public market for over 100 years. Specialty boutiques, art and craft shops and restaurants lure the tourists. An hour of browsing and a brief visit to the adjacent Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours(Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel – or Our Lady of Good Help) was next on the agenda. Walking further down towards Rue de la Commune, we could see the old port and the Pavilion Jacques Cartier.

We intended to have dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, (Address: 536 Avenue Duluth E, Montréal, QC H2L 1A9, Canada) which was highly recommended by my cousin (another foodie who lives in Toronto) but Dolcetto and Co nearby from our hotel looked so appealing with its nautical décor and scrumptious menu of light fare. An Italian bistro serving share plates and antipastos, the bar was well stocked and the service friendly and efficient. Anticipating 14 days of fine dining on board the Seabourn Quest in a couple of days, we thought we would go easy on our meals while in Montreal. My husband and I shared several small plates but the capresse è burrata, fig and foie gras flatbread stood out, washed with a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio. Delizioso (delicious)!

To market to market… Next on our list was the Marché Jean-Talon (Jean-Talon Market) at 7070, Henri-Julien St, south of Jean-Talon St in the Little Italy district. The next morning, we took the metro blue line toward Saint-Michel and got off at Jean-Talon station then walked a few yards heading west. (The compass app on my iPhone helped us get our bearings) We easily found one of Montréal’s farmers market. This market was opened in 1933 and is well patronised by the locals. It was crowded when we got there as this market has also become popular among tourists although it was not intended to be a tourist destination. In fact this is where chefs purchase their produce and ingredients. It is a covered market with a diverse selection of fresh produce, meat, fish fruit and vegetables. Merchants and vendors of cheese, bulk food, food stands, spices and imported goods are also found inside the covered area. Specialty shops such as La Boite Aux Huitres (seafood shop), Havre aux Glaces (ice cream and sorbet shop), Boulangerie Première Moisson (artisanal bakery with lots of delicious pastries and quiches on offer) make the market even more interesting. Having said that, what really caught our attention were the giant pumpkins on display for the Halloween pumpkin competition. As we were there in October jut a few weeks away from Halloween, the theme was evidently those of witches and ghouls, pumpkin lanterns that made the market all the more festive. After taking lots of photos, we purchased a variety of snack food of diverse origin and had those for lunch. There were in fact tables made available for people who wanted to eat their take out right there.Great way to soak in the ambience while tasting the influences of various ethnic groups that make up modern Montreal.

Markets
Markets
Markets
Markets
Markets
Markets
Markets
Markets
Markets
Jean-Talot

If food tells a story about a culture, its people and history, then one can indeed get a glimpse of Montreal’s interesting past right at the Jean Talon market. The French influence layered with the British is evident in the array of food and produce available. Canada’s immigrants from all over the world also take credit for the evolution of dishes with its layers and layers of complex tastes and ingredients. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, Spanish, middle eastern food…you name it, Montreal has it.

A good 3 hours later, we headed back to the subway and took the train for downtown to the Underground city, known to the locals as the RÉSO. Well not exactly true, as it is not a city underground because it is in actual fact a réseau (network) of multilevel tunnels and stairs connected to metro stations and sheltered pedestrian complex of shopping malls, offices, hotels, metro stations, concert halls. This city started from the interconnected tunnels of the subway system. Completed in 1966, it was really built to make shopping and getting around the city a bit more bearable during the harsh winters of Quebec.
It didn’t take long to satisfy our curiosity with this ‘must see’ place in Montreal as historic Old Montréal was waiting to be re-visited.

Underground City

That evening we went to browse a few of the art galleries at Rue St Paul Ouest and nearly bought a beautiful (small) sculpture from the Galerie Le Luxart(66 Rue Saint Paul O, Montréal, QC H2Y 1Y8, Canada). Unfortunately, it would have meant carting this around for the next leg of our journey and to have it shipped was not practical due to the weight. So we didn’t buy it. Pity!

Because we loved the atmosphere so much, that evening we returned to Bocata for our final meal in Montreal. This time, we had a heartier main course of the milk fed veal chop with gnocchi for me, and the maple roasted duck magret for my husband- Italian and French fusion. This is what food in Montreal is all about. Fusion! It was a night to remember, a truly great way to end our stay in Montreal. Loved it!

The next day, we meandered around some parts of the old town again before rolling our suitcases (literally) from our hotel down the cobbled narrow street leading to the cruise terminal where we were to embark on the Seabourn Quest for a 14 day cruise of eastern Canada, New England USA, South Carolina and Florida.

Cruises

Cruises, Credit : © Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin

Many thanks to Tourisme Montréal for allowing us to use these beautiful professional images

times-square-3

New York to Montreal via the Adirondacks

Autumn in New York and New England were on our globe trotting list so when our son went to Vancouver Canada for an indefinite stay, we decided to pay him a visit…in autumn. But, since flying out of Australia beyond the Asia Pacific region is a long haul we always make the most of a trip by visiting as many places as we possibly can. For this journey, it was an opportunity to revisit New York and to savour outstanding cuisine. It was also a perfectly good excuse to see the autumn foliage in the New England coastline before we make our way to Vancouver in the west Coast of Canada. As if these were not enough, it was a perfect time to satisfy our interest to try the Adirondack (Amtrak) service from New York to Montreal where we would board a Seabourn cruise bound for ports of interest in Eastern Canada, the east coast of USA- New England then Charleston and Florida. A ridiculously long way to get to Vancouver, but why not? So, from Australia, the first stop was New York.

During our last trip to New York, Central Park was knee deep in snow. It was a magical sight! At the time, my husband was in New York on business but we managed to include the usual sightseeing around Lower Manhattan and Wall Street, Battery Park and Staten Island, Tribeca and Little Italy. This time around, we wanted to see Central Park in autumn and enjoy the cool weather, that nip in the air conducive to sightseeing on foot and see the fabulous landscape and colours associated with autumn leaves…red, gold, orange. New York is always an exciting place to visit. So much to see and do but if a traveller only has a few days like we did, it’s best to plan and prioritise. On this trip, other than a stroll to Central park, we chose to explore the streets around the Upper East Side, Midtown and to visit a couple of our favourite galleries and museum.

Central Park is huge…more than 750 acres of urban garden, the first landscaped park in the USA, and an oasis in a concrete jungle right smack in the middle of upper Manhattan. In the 19th century, thanks to the wealthy merchants and residents of New York who agitated for the state government to allocate land to create a park, a place of recreation for the public was designed. It was at the time, America’s answer to the gardens in Paris, London and other European cities. There are different ways to see and explore the park. On our first day, we devoted time to walk from the south entrance and see specific sights right up to the eastern side, the middle and the west. Having said that, there were many tourists who chose to cycle (rent a bike) hire a pedicab tour or take the horse drawn carriage. Of particular interest to us were the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, the Obelisk, Conservatory Pond, Belvedere lake and Castle (mid –park) and up the northern end, the Harlem Meer and the picturesque Huddlestone Arch.

Central Park NY
Central Park NY
Central Park NY
Central Park NY
Central Park NY
Central Park NY

It took us nearly the entire day to enjoy the park but we still had time to have a quick look at the exterior of The Guggenheim museum on our stroll back along 5th avenue (corner 89th). The interesting cylindrical building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is now on our ‘must visit’ place for the next New York visit; one that will be exclusively for a trip to galleries and museums that dot Manhattan’s streets.

A visit to New York has to include a stop at the iconic Grand Central Station, regarded as the busiest rail terminal in the world. Built in 1871 this engineering and architectural marvel is linked to 19th century legendary American rail and shipping magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt. The New York Times has a very interesting YouTube video video about the Grand Central and its secrets.

Grand Central Station NY
Grand Central Station NY
Grand Central Station NY
Grand Central Station NY
Grand Central Station NY

Not only is this building one of New York’s famous landmarks, it is also where one of New York’s older culinary establishments is located (at the basement). Fondly known as The Oyster Bar, we think of this restaurant as the place to go to for some of the freshest and succulent seafood. I sort of knew that oysters were associated with ‘New York food’ along with hotdogs, pretzels and the like but it wasn’t until I saw an image at the New York public library that I was educated about the history of oysters as a staple in New York eateries. According to food historians, this was the case even as early as when the Europeans settled after Henry Hudson sailed into the Hudson river. In fact, even before the Europeans came, the Indians were already harvesting and shucking oysters which were abundant. Oysters were plentiful in the lower Hudson estuary and the waters around Ellis and Liberty islands. In time, enterprising colonists opened up what they called the oyster cellars which became commonplace in the city’s early history. The rich supply of oysters at the time meant that even those who were not wealthy could afford to have the large and succulent New York oysters from street vendors. These were consumed in the streets just like one does these days with hotdogs. According to a former New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes, oysters were regular and common ingredients to New York food. His book, Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York is a fascinating read for foodies. It was with oysters in mind that we had dinner at The Oyster Bar. Not only does this celebrated restaurant have an interesting menu of raw and a variety of cooked oysters, there are options of other seafood and non-seafood meals as well. The Oyster Bar was established in 1913 in the lower concourse of Grand Central station and has become a New York attraction since then. We think it is a fine testament to New York’s early culinary history.

The Oyster Bar - Grand Central Station
The Oyster Bar - Grand Central Station
The Oyster Bar - Grand Central Station

Celebrity travel writer, Paul Theroux said that travellers (as opposed to tourists) ‘observe’. On every journey, we are by definition ‘tourists’ trying to cram as many things to do, see and experience. However, we do try and make every effort to observe and engage other travellers and locals, simply because we learn from them. We found that by doing so , we are guaranteed to have travel experiences that are more enjoyable and unforgettable. At our dinner at The Oyster Bar, the waiter entertained and educated us with tidbits, trivia and facts about the restaurant, its history and the food we ordered. Next to our table, dining by herself was an elegantly dressed lady, an obvious regular client at The Oyster Bar. We initiated a conversation with her, seeing she was dining alone. We had a most interesting and informative evening as it turned out that she was a former resident of New York. She gave us plenty of advice to chew on for our next intended visit to New York; the one which will focus on galleries and museums. As it turned out, she is heavily involved with the arts herself and was in New York City for a few days to attend gallery function and exhibits.

Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
Location: Grand Central Terminal
Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, United States
Phone:+1 212-490-6650
Hours: Monday to Saturday 11;30 a.m. to 9:30 pm
Sunday and major holidays: Closed

MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) was the next on our list for this trip. A walking distance from our hotel in upper Manhattan, it is located in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Established in 1929, MOMA has almost 200,000 works of art from around the world; Picasso, Calo, Warhol, Dali… some obscure, most are by famous artists.The list goes on and on. One needs a day to explore the extensive collection and exhibition of modern art expressed in various mediums. Even then, it won’t be a comprehensive viewing. There is so much to see it warrants another visit.
Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York
Hours: Daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30

A leisurely stroll to explore Midtown was invigorating. New York has a unique and exhilarating energy, which is contagious. We could have just kept on walking, absorbing, observing and admiring buildings, monuments and surrounds. A stop at Bryant Garden behind the Public Library took us to the Bryant Park Grill, a charming Parisian style bistro set in the middle of one of Manhattan’s beautiful gardens. Resting our weary feet we could only have drinks enjoyed at their rooftop as we already have made dinner reservations at the Red Eye Grill, across Carnegie Hall. A pity, because a glance at their menu promised what I’m sure would be delicious options of good modern American cuisine. One can choose casual dining in the alfresco setting and the Grill for a more formal dinner.

Bryant Garden
Bryant Garden

New York is a major point of entry for immigrants. Haven’t we all seen and know of the statue of Liberty, an enduring symbol of welcome to those who fled their countries and seek freedom from oppression? A quote from Emma Lazarus ‘poem, The New Colossus, associated with the statue of Liberty- “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – says it all. Consequently, New York is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. From its early beginnings as a Dutch enclave, early European colonists populated New York but in the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century, the Irish, Germans, Russians, many South East Asians, Central Americans and Caribbean came to America via New York and stayed there to call it home. Can you imagine then the variety of food that has since evolved and are identified with New York? The city’s cuisine is so varied and speaks of its rich history. One can find the ethnic influence on street food (stands or trucks serving tacos, hot dogs to name a few), bakeries and delis (bagels, pretzels, pastrami in Reuben sandwiches) diners (clam chowder, Waldorf salad) and yes, restaurants such as The Oyster Bar and the Grill at Bryant Park…both have food in their menu that speak of the layers of flavours influenced by New York’s multi ethnic population.

Our last meal in New York was at the Red Eye Grill, a buzzing and hip restaurant located at 890, 7Th Avenue. Needless to say, the offerings were varied, from seafood, steak and a very modern fusion American cuisine; the restaurant also has a sushi and oyster bar. Surely this has to be indication of the varied mix of cuisine in New York? We had a thoroughly fun evening served by very able hostesses and the live band providing the right mood.

Ending our last night in New York was a stroll back to Midtown to join the hundreds of tourists and pedestrians milling around Times Square. Renowned as the place to be on New Year’s Eve to witness the ‘ball drop’ from the roof of the old New York Times building (now known as One Times Square) this junction between Broadway and Seventh Avenue attract as many as an estimated 50 million tourists every year. The best time to visit Times Square is at night when, as you can imagine, brightly coloured billboards and other outdoor advertising are lit up and street performers and buskers entertain the visitors. Every night, Times Square being the hub of the Broadway theatre district is alive and buzzing and for the tourists, visitors and residents alike there’s a myriad of entertain options. It’s one big party!

Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square

Although excited to move on, we were hesitant to leave New York but Eastern Canada beckoned. The next morning we dutifully boarded the Amtrak Adirondack service for Montreal at Penn station.