The fun of revisiting places once seen is the familiarity gained from a previous visit. The second time allows focus on what one enjoyed and not on what one did not. So for us, it was on a cruise from New York City to Montréal. We had few expectations since, beyond New York City and Boston, we had never been to any of the scheduled ports of call. So we entertained ourselves in those two cities while we were there but relied on the ship’s excursion offerings in any other port we visited. That was good because we saw interesting places and learned interesting things. But it was also bad because we saw uninteresting places and learned uninteresting things. During this process, we discovered quickly that we liked to take off on our own to explore. Between the organized excursions and our unorganized wanderings in several of the port cities and towns, we quickly realized that we wanted to return in the future to re-experience our favorite places. Specifically, we want to revisit four of the seven ports.
1. Halifax, Nova Scotia
A Maritime Town
Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia and has a centuries-old and storied seafaring, military, and economic history. We loved walking there and hope to explore further in a future visit. There is no better initial destination on a walking tour from the cruise ship than the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. It is a little less than a mile from the cruise terminal, sitting over the waters of Halifax’s harbor. The walk is flat, straight, and along the waterfront. The Museum contains a magnificent display of Atlantic seafaring history. Even my wife, who is not particularly interested in ships and things maritime, seemed to be quite interested. She didn’t hurry me along once! Next destination: Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. It’s a direct walk through downtown Halifax, moderately uphill, finishing with over 50 stairs to gain the summit and entrance into the citadel. The panoramic views of the city and harbor are well worth the effort. If open, you might want to check out the Army Museum inside the Citadel. Our next “must return to” spot is the Halifax Public Gardens, about a 0.6-mile flattish walk from the Citadel. They are the oldest Victorian gardens in North America. Very neat and tidy — quite British! Lunch at The Pressgang Restaurant and Oyster Bar in the middle of downtown. It’s only a half mile or so from the Public Gardens and resides in one of the oldest buildings in Halifax. Built in 1759, get fresh fish and fresh oysters here. It’s a great place for lunch in a maritime town! Return via the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, which is adjacent to the cruise terminal. Round-trip, this walk is approximately 3 miles with uphill and downhill sections and an elevation change of 275 feet.
2. Rivière Saguenay
A North American Fjord
There is a town called Saguenay 65 miles up the Rivière Saguenay, a tributary of the St. Lawrence River. That was one of our ports of call but we never got to visit due to increasingly inclement weather. The ship arrived and anchored but then had to leave because the tenders would not have handled the growing waves well. What I want to revisit is the trip on the river. It is actually a fjord, the only navigable one in North America. The cliffs have a mean height of over 500 feet and a maximum height of 1,150 feet. It ranges in width from approximately 0.9–2.5 miles. It has a maximum depth of almost 900 feet — so it is long, tall, deep, and narrow! While viewing from the deck of the ship, I was awestruck by the massive forested cliffs and the windswept waters. If you look closely, you will see a white 30 foot statue, the Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay on the cliffs above the western shore of the river. And, as an extra bonus, we were lucky enough to see whales passing close by at the confluence of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers. The day we traveled, the weather was cold, grey, and windy with bouts of driving rain; therefore it was exciting. I want to return to experience the sights and drama offered by nature on the Rivière Saguenay once again.
There is much to like in and around Québec but what most appealed to us were the places we want to revisit after our first whirlwind tour of the city and surrounding areas, all located in Old Québec (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Old Québec is divided into Lower Town (along the old port and near the cruise ship docks) and Upper Town — about 150 feet higher and up the hill. We want to revisit the Citadel of Québec on the cliffs overlooking the harbor, and the Plains of Abraham, now a magnificent park of open fields just a short walk from the Citadel. This is where the English army defeated the French army in the Battle of 1759, ceding control of Québec to the British. We then plan to have lunch at Sam Bistro in the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel overlooking the St. Lawrence River — reservations recommended. There is a whole lot of history going on in those spots, as you can see in the above links. The entire walk is 2–3 miles depending on the roads taken. Be careful on the cobblestone streets. Plan for at least 2 hours to get a sense of this historic area, maybe three or four if you stop at Sam Bistro. Or perhaps even more if you like wandering the streets, such as Petit-Champlain or shopping in the Old Québec boutiques and artisanal shops, looking in galleries, and appreciating the architecture of old stone buildings and homes.
A Good Move
Montréal was the last port on our cruise. We could have grabbed a cab and booked it to the airport, but we did not. Instead, we treated ourselves to three nights of additional vacation, exploring Montréal. It turned out to be a great decision; a really great decision! We stayed in a downtown hotel and just walked from there. Day walks included going to and throughout Vieux Montréal (Old Montréal), Mount Royal Park, McGill University, Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, and all over the downtown area. I’m sure we missed some “must-see” spots and we might miss them again next time. But we had such a lovely time just running free in an unfamiliar city that we will definitely return to. Most of the downtown area we roamed was flat and easy for walking. Mount Royal, however, was kind of straight up to the top on a series of stairs or wending on switchback trails. Elevation at the top is 764 feet. But the views of the city from the Kondiaronk Belvedere (outdoor viewing terrace) are spectacular! When walking back down, consider a visit to the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. (Currently, online ticket reservations are required.) The museum is approximately 0.9 miles downhill from the Kondiaronk Belvedere.
We also fell in love with a particular spot on the cruise ship itself. It’s a spot that we visited multiple times and will again if we are fortunate enough to return to cruising. Incredibly, it was a public area that few found or, if found, did not use on the cool October cruise: a covered, outdoor deck area just a door away from an indoor lounge on the stern of the ship. There was comfortable seating, heat lamps, blankets, as needed, well-served drinks, and the most wonderful views of a trailing sea. Many things in life are relaxing, even mesmerizing, but a view such as that with an old fashioned in hand, sailing toward new experiences, is just plain unbeatable.