Montreal, a City Unlike Any Other

When I started writing this post, I almost put “Montreal, a little slice of France,” as the title, but then I stopped myself for a few reasons.  1) I have never been to France before so I can’t really say that.  2) I might seriously make some Canadians upset by saying this (or French people). 3) Montreal really is a unique city unlike any other.  However, there is definitely a strong French influence in the food and culture. French is the city’s official language and is the language spoken at home by the majority of people living there.  If you’re into food, architecture, and/or history, this is a city for you!

Some of my favorite sites in Montreal include Old Port, Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, Biodome, Jardin Botanique, just to name a few.  Old Port, or Vieux Port de Montreal, has a lot going on.  During warmer months, there are pedal boats and jet skis for rent, Voiles en Voiles where you can climb about a life-size replica of a pirate ship, you can cruise on a schooner, take the Decalade challenge at the Conveyor Quay Tower or if that’s not thrilling enough you can sky jump.  There are numerous special events in Old Port throughout the year as well.  Last but not least, there is the Montreal Science Centre full of fun exhibits and an IMAX theatre.

The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is like visiting a museum as well as a massive, ornate church.  There are many tours offered including a 60 minute guided tour that will take you in very private areas of the Basilica as the galleries and the baptistery.  You can also sit in the balcony of the organ to listen to classical organ music and meet organist Pierre Grandmaison.  The original chapel was much smaller and was operated by the Jesuits.  In 1657, the Sulpician Fathers took over operation and started construction of a larger church.  Construction of this Baroque style church was completed in 1683.  However, by 1800, this church was also deemed too small and construction of a larger Gothic Revival style church began and was completed in 1829.  In 1889, the architects Perreault and Mansard were commissioned to build a chapel that would accommodate ceremonies for smaller ceremonies. Named the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) it was built in Gothic Revival style and consecrated on December 8, 1891, only to be seriously damaged by a fire in 1978.  The new chapel was opened in 1982.

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The Biodome, Botanical Garden, Insectarium and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium are all part of Space for Life, which has the purpose to raise individual and collective awareness about the need to get involved in protecting the Canadian heritage.  This mission is carried out through educational, conservation, research and outreach efforts.  The Biodome recreates ecosystems of the Americas including a Tropical Rainforest, the Laurentian Maple Forest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Labrador Coast, and the Sub-Antarctic Islands. When the Biodome opened in 1992, its ecosystem concept was a world first.  With over 4,500 animals from 250 different species and 500 plant species, the Biodome is bound to have something for everyone.  The Insectarium has both permanent and traveling exhibitions and includes one of the most comprehensive collections of insects in North America.  The Botanical Garden is full of themed gardens such as the Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden as well as 10 greenhouses open to the public.  The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium has one of the largest collections of meteorites in Quebec, the permanent exhibit called EXO:  Our Search for Life in the Universe, as well as rotating shows in the immersive theater.  There are several options for tickets for these four places.  You can combine two or more places to get a better deal on pricing and tailor your tickets depending on your interests and income.

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Montreal has some stunning architecture, with some buildings going back to the 16th century.  In 2006 Montreal was named a UNESCO City of Design, only one of three design capitals of the world (the others being Berlin and Buenos Aires).  There are 50 National Historic Sites of Canada in Montreal, more than any other city according to Wikipedia. Many of these historic sites are churches and battle sites but there are others as well.  I enjoyed just walking around the city and admiring the beautiful buildings around me.

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Finally, to the food of Montreal!  Some foods in Montreal are unique to the city itself or to Canada in general and are definitely worth trying.  One example is Montreal smoked meat and one of the best places to get it is Schwartz’s Deli.  Believe me, it’s worth the wait. Another famous example is poutine.  These are french fries smothered in gravy, cheese, and curds but you can get all kind of different toppings on them.  One place to try them is Poutini’s House of Poutine but you’ll find them at restaurants scattered throughout the city.  There are so many different phenomenal restaurants in Montreal, you should have no problem finding good food.  The only problem may be in deciding which place to go to since there are so many to choose from!  Some of the current top restaurants include Bouillon Bilk and Le Robin Square.  While the restaurants in Montreal tend to be a bit expensive, they’re an experience you won’t forget and that is priceless.  Come to think of it, your whole vacation in Montreal will be a priceless experience that you won’t forget.

Garmin Marathon, Kansas-18th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Kansas was my 18th state.

How many of you have heard of Olathe, Kansas?   Now how many of you have heard of the company Garmin?  I’ll bet most of you have at least heard of Garmin, but probably none or very few of you knew Olathe, Kansas is the headquarters for Garmin.  Or maybe it was just me that wasn’t aware of that until I went there.

The start and finish of the Olathe Kansas Marathon and Half Marathon was at the Garmin headquarters.  This race was a nice size with 703 finishers for the half marathon and the average finish time was 2:09:22.  The course is flat except for some small hills near the finish.  Although when I ran this race, the medals were small and cheap-looking, the medals for the 2017 race look awesome!  They’ve definitely stepped up their game.

Olathe is a suburb of Kansas City, which is where my family and I spent the majority of our time before and after the race.  Kansas City was surprisingly beautiful when I was there in April 2010, with so many flowers in bloom, and fountains everywhere. Kansas City, Missouri has more fountains than any other city in the world except Rome, Italy.  We had a lot of fun going to the museums and enjoying delicious Kansas City style BBQ. Of course my husband couldn’t resist saying (multiple times) “We’re not in Kansas anymore” every time we would cross the state border going to and from Missouri. That never got old to him.

From my post-race notes:

“The course was mostly flat with some rolling hills toward the end, going through industrial areas then neighborhoods.  Not particularly scenic, but not bad.  Weather was good- mid to upper 50’s at start and low 60’s at finish.  Water and Gatorade were plentiful. Nice course overall, but nothing extraordinary.  Pacers were great and right on target times.  Finished on a track.  Usual food (bananas, oranges, bagels) and drinks afterwards. Shirts and medals were cheap and very plain.  My finish time was 2:06:01.”

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Garmin Marathon

Facebook page

Well, I have finally created a Facebook page.  I’d love for you to join me there to write comments and connect with others.  Since it’s new, there isn’t a ton of content there yet, but hopefully soon!  I’ll add my posts from my wordpress blog here as well, and would love to connect with anyone that follows me from there (or have new followers of course).

I’d love to hear opinions, comments, suggestions from others on travel, running, or whatever strikes your mood!

Here’s the link to the Facebook page:  Running to travel.

Hope to see you there!

Colorado in June- Estes Park and RMNP

As I stated in my previous post Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder although some people that are avid skiers wouldn’t consider traveling to Colorado during the summer, I found it to be spectacular and highly recommend it.  The home base for our vacation was in Boulder, but an easy day trip is to Estes Park and on to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Estes Park is only about an hour from Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park is just a few minutes from Estes Park.  We spent several hours walking around the town of Estes Park and Lake Estes.  While Estes Park is much more touristy than Boulder, it is still a beautiful area of Colorado.  The Stanley Hotel, most famous as the inspirational role in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” is also in Estes Park.  We wanted to catch a glimpse inside but decided to skip it when we were told there was a parking fee.  Since we were limited on time, we didn’t think it would be worth it for just a few minutes.  After  a short walk around the lake and some souvenir shopping we had a delicious lunch at Moon Kats Tea Shoppe, which was a fun little place full of all kinds of cat-themed merchandise and really good tea and sandwiches.

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From Estes Park, we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park and spent the rest of our daylight hours here before driving back to Boulder.  This is a park where you never even have to get out of your car if you can’t walk much or just don’t want to.  Since we had a limited amount of time here, we decided to drive and see as much as we could rather than hike and see less.  Normally we are avid hikers and jump at the opportunity to hike up and down beautiful mountains, but in this case it just made sense to limit our time on the trails.  We saw more elk than we had ever seen anywhere else, including Canada and Montana.  We also saw a new creature to us, the marmet.  They look kind of like a groundhog and they were everywhere at Rocky Mountain National Park.  The snowdrifts were quite high and there was a good amount of snow on the ground at the highest elevations, but for the most part, the weather was pretty nice.  It doesn’t get much more beautiful than at Rocky Mountain National Park.

IMG_20160607_131545356_HDRIMG_20160607_132607921_HDRDSC03583DSC03604As I said in my post Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder vacationing in Colorado during June is a fun way to spend a summer vacation and I can’t recommend it enough if you enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors!  I know we only scratched the surface of places to explore in Colorado and we’re already excited about going back another summer and exploring other areas like Colorado Springs, Durango, Steamboat Springs, or Mesa Verde National Park.  Any other suggestions?

Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder

Some people I know that enjoy skiing wouldn’t even consider going to Colorado during the summer.  I think they would be missing out.  I am not a skier and in fact hated it the one time I went, so for me, Colorado in June was ideal.  I am a hiker and enjoy a good hike any day of the week but I am a bit elevationally-challenged where I live since there aren’t many places to go within a 30 minute drive that I would consider hiking (climbing up and down mountains).  When I ran a half marathon in Colorado in June (blog post will be coming although not for some time, titled Colorado- 37th state), I was thrilled at the idea of doing a lot of real hiking.  I had been to Colorado twice before for work meetings but both times during the snowy months so I had not experienced the beautiful state during the summer months.

My half marathon was in Boulder so that is where we spent the majority of our time.  The college students were on summer break so it wasn’t as crowded as during the school year and most importantly, it wasn’t quite so impossible to find a parking spot.  Boulder is 5,430 feet above sea level, which is manageable for those of us who live closer to sea level, whereas when you get around 8,000 feet above sea level and higher, you can develop altitude sickness.

For our first hike in Boulder, we chose Gregory Canyon Trail.  Gregory Canyon Trail is a 3.4 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and walking and is accessible from May until October.  It was very quiet when we hiked this trail, although it was a Thursday so that may have been part of the reason.  The views from the top were great!

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View from the top of Gregory Canyon Trail

We also went to the popular Chautauqua Park and hiked the First-Second Flatiron Trail (1.1 mile; 960 ft. ) which starts from the Bluebell-Baird Trail, goes south to two trail signs, then west to begin switching back and forth between the First and Second Flatirons. It ends at the saddle between the First Flatiron and Sunset Rock.  These trails were much less shaded than the Gregory Canyon Trail and I was very glad I was wearing sunscreen and a hat.  There were also a lot more people on these trails but it was a Sunday so that may have been part of the reason.

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University Colorado Boulder (red buildings)

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View of Flatirons from Chautauqua Park

Colorado in June is a fun way to spend a summer vacation and I can’t recommend it enough if you enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors!  I know we only scratched the surface of places to explore in Colorado and we’re already excited about going back another summer and exploring other areas like Colorado Springs, Durango, Steamboat Springs, or Mesa Verde National Park.

Also see my next post “Colorado in June- Estes Park and RMNP” coming soon!

Ole Man River Half Marathon, Louisiana-17th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Louisiana was my 17th state.

If you’re looking for a flat half marathon in December with temperatures relatively warm compared to much of the United States, where you can tack on a vacation afterwards for an unforgettable racecation, look no further than the Ole Man River Half Marathon.  I had never been to New Orleans when I signed up for the Ole Man River Half Marathon, but I was very much looking forward to spending some time there before and after the race.

New Orleans is such a unique city full of character and not like any other place in the world.  I was there with my husband and young daughter and we had a blast, even on the day when it was drizzling and quite chilly and we were wandering around the streets trying to find a bakery.  We obviously weren’t partying on Bourbon Street but I found New Orleans to be a city that I will never forget.

The race wasn’t quite as fun as I had hoped but it wasn’t bad.  Much of the course is on top of the levee overlooking the Mississippi River and it is about as flat as races come.  The shirts are long-sleeve technical material.  An 8 am start was fine given the cooler temperatures in December.  There were absolutely no locals out cheering along the course but there were plenty of volunteers at the aid stations and they did a good job.

Verdict:  it’s a good half marathon to run in December to escape the cold weather from northern states.  Grab a beignet from Cafe Du Monde for me if you go!

From my post-race notes:

“The course looped through City Park, a very large park that was scenic and of course very flat (being that it’s New Orleans).  Weather was a bit cool- upper 40’s at the start, lower 50’s for the high that day, and it was cloudy for the duration of the race.  Crowd support was zero.  Water stations were plenty and well-manned.  There were no locals cheering runners on at any part of the course, at least that I saw.  Finished on track at Tad Gormley stadium, which was fun.  Medals were decent, as were the shirts.  Plenty of food and water at the finish.  My finish time was 2:07:02.”

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Camping in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is perhaps best known for Biltmore Estate, the mansion built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895.  It is currently the largest privately owned house in the United States.  In 1956, portions of the house were opened to the public for tours and since then more rooms have been restored and opened for viewing.  I have toured the Biltmore several times, during different seasons of the year.  However, on my most recent visit to Asheville, the Biltmore Estate was nowhere on my agenda.  If anything, we would be doing the exact opposite of touring a huge mansion.  We would be camping in a tent and hiking for the weekend.

Where to camp?

Set in the western end of North Carolina very close to South Carolina, Asheville lies between Pigsah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Dupont State Forest is a short drive away.  Hiking, biking, camping, and rock climbing are all extremely popular in this area.  We chose to camp at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area Campground based on a recommendation from someone who lives in Asheville.  Lake Powhatan is deep in the Appalachian Mountains with an elevation of 2,200 feet.  The campground has tent as well as RV sites, a bathhouse, and a lake that is suitable for swimming (in the roped-off section) or fishing.  That being said, my daughter and her friend swam in the lake for a while but pretty quickly were done, saying the water was “gross.”  I did not get in the water but it didn’t look very clean.  That didn’t stop several other people who were in the water while we were there.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive from Lake Powhatan Campground, as is an arboretum, the Biltmore Estate, countless trails for hiking or biking, the French Broad River, and if you forget something there are several stores within a short drive.  We arrived late on a Friday and immediately set up our tent and got settled for the night.  The next day we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway and found Mt. Pigsah Trail and a few other shorter trails nearby.

Hiking Trails

Mt. Pigsah Trail is at milepost 407.6 from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is in Pigsah National Forest.  At the parking lot for the trail, the elevation is just under 5,000 feet.  You’ll reach the summit at 5,721 feet after a 1.5 mile hike and be rewarded with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and Asheville and Mount Mitchell to the north.  Other trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway include Skinny Dip Falls, Graveyard Fields, and Devil’s Courthouse. After hiking a few trails, we went back to our campsite and went to the lake for a while, then relaxed by a crackling fire until it was time to turn in for the night.

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Waterfalls

The next day, we decided to check out some of the waterfalls in the Brevard, NC area.  For our first stop, we drove to Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pigsah National Forest.  There is easy access to this waterfall with only a short walk from the parking area, then stairs to get a closer look.  You can even get in the water and swim up to the waterfall to feel the power of the water pounding on your shoulders.  The water was quite cold in June but maybe it warms up later in the summer.  The waterfall is 60 feet tall and is beautiful.

Just a short drive from Looking Glass Falls is Sliding Rock.  There is a nominal fee to enter this area, but it was the only fee other than at the campground that we had to pay the entire weekend.  Sliding Rock is actually a waterfall along a large rock that is relatively smooth so you can slide 60 feet down the rock into the 6 foot deep plunge pool at the bottom.  The water was quite bracing when we were there, so when you hit the water, you’re breathless for a second.  On a hot day I’m sure this would feel refreshing but it was cooler and overcast when we were there so we only went down a few times before we were ready to dry off and get into some dry clothes.  Lifeguards are on duty here during the summer months, if you’re concerned about safety and there did seem to be lifejackets available.

Next on our agenda was Moore Cove Falls.  The parking area for Moore Cove Falls is one mile from Looking Glass Falls so we back-tracked a bit and parked here.  The trail is a short 0.7 miles and is listed as moderate.  It was a nice way to end our hiking in Asheville.

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Refuel for the Drive Home

For lunch we stopped at The Hub and Pigsah Tavern, a bicycle shop and tavern in Pigsah Forest, NC.  The Tavern only serves beer but has a nice selection of beers on tap, bottles, and cans.  Asheville is also known for its abundance of breweries and has been called “The Napa Valley of Beer” by NPR.  While we were at the Tavern, two food trucks were also there, Aloha Hot Dog Co. and Blue Smoke BBQ.  I got the Pulled Pork Sandwich on a bun and my husband got the BBQ plate from Blue Smoke BBQ.  We both agreed that was the best BBQ we had eaten in a long time.  We were pleasantly full and ready for the drive back home after a fun weekend in Asheville.