A couple of weekends ago Geoff and I took a short trip to Montreal, and since we got so many great tips on where to go from friends, I thought I would pass them along! I am in no way a Montreal expert but the Toronto-Montreal corridor is one that is well travelled among my group of friends. It’s silly, really: Montreal isn’t too far away (about a six hour drive or about four and a half hours on the train, or a quick one hour flight), and it’s such a fun place to visit, but Geoff & I hadn’t been since 2006. After spending time with Montrealers in Kingston, we decided that we needed to fix that. We took the train and stayed in an AirBnB apartment on Boulevard St-Laurent in the heart of the Plateau neighbourhood (we had a perfect view of the cross at the top of Mont Royal from our front window).

When I was growing up, Montreal was thought of as a permissive party city because one could legally drink at 18, rather than 19. It definitely has a relaxed joie de vivre, and its citizens take great pleasure in food and wine and coffee. There is a festival happening every weekend in summer, and with tree-covered Mount Royal in the centre of the city and rivers all around, it feels as though nature isn’t too far away. Old Montreal, by the Basilica of Notre-Dame, is beautiful and historic, and having spent so many years in French immersion programs at school, I find it a treat to be surrounded by French speakers (although if you want to visit and don’t speak French, it’s no problem; nearly everyone speaks English, which is good because my French has definitely gotten rusty). It has Europe in its heart still, I think. And like anyone raised on a diet of CanLit I couldn’t help thinking of writers such as Mordechai Richler, Gabrielle Roy, Mavis Gallant, and Leonard Cohen of course, particularly while walking along St-Urbain.

We bought three day unlimited Métro passes; getting around via bus and subway was very easy, particularly since we didn’t have to worry about incurring data charges as we do when we leave the country. Google Maps and the Moovit app on our phones came in very handy.

A couple of other places worth checking for tips: our friend Ali has two great Instagram accounts that we cribbed from: his personal account, and mtlcafecrawl; another friend, Francis, has a wonderful personal account as well. Tamera has a Pinterest board for Montreal that is also useful and pretty.

Three photos above taken at Ibiki; Les Etoffes on the left and Ikibi on the right

We didn’t do much shopping, but there were a couple of shops on St-Laurent that we really liked: Ibiki, Les Etoffes, and Boutique Unicorn. All quite minimal in design and beautifully styled. We also enjoyed a visit to Librarie Drawn and Quarterly, the storefront of the publisher, and loved having the grocery store La Vieille Europe a few blocks away from where we were staying (the most beautiful tins of olive oil I have ever seen & a huge array of cheeses). The Mile End neighbourhood (sorry, the article in that link has an annoying title) is full of vintage shops, record shops, and is good for a stroll.

Places to visit (these are all fairly major, obvious points)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: The permanent collection is wonderful!
Canadian Centre for Architecture: Hosts different exhibitions, and houses a significant archive. Free on Thursday nights.
The Westmount Conservatory and Greenhouse: A highlight from this trip, but I’ll save it for its own post.
Old Montreal/Vieux-Montreal: We walked through and didn’t make many stops, but this area has a number of specialized museums, squares, the Old Port, as well as lots of tourist shops and restaurants that are probably overpriced. Much of it is closed to traffic and is it is all very pretty. Also, we didn’t visit any spas, but both Scandinave and Bota Bota came highly recommended and they are both in this area.
Jean-Talon Market: We wanted to buy all the produce! We settled for ice pops and candy (that I hope I will one day find again because it was so delicious).
Parc du Mont-Royal: Climb to the top, past the people doing crossfit exercises on the stairs making you feel very lazy and embarrassed of being so breathless, and enjoy stunning views of the city (see picture at the top of this post). On Sundays all the hills at the base are covered in people having picnics (and Tam Tams) but it rained the Sunday we were there, and was the World Cup final besides! Ghost town.

Places to visit that came highly recommended but that we didn’t make it to: Espace pour la vie (in particular the Biodome); the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (we went in 2006? If that counts for anything); Habitat 67 and the Parc Olympique (also visited in 2006); Casa del Popolo, which I have seen listed on tour calendars since I started looking at tour dates; the Oratory, which is apparently quite a sight during golden hour. We also missed out on any smaller art galleries and film centres and the like, but if you know of any, be sure to let me know for next time!

Food, coffee, cocktails
In 2006 we didn’t do much research and ended up eating in mediocre places and even an Indian restaurant that has a location here in Toronto. It was a shame because Montreal is such a great city for food. This time things went very differently, luckily! Most of the places we ate are mid-range in price. We didn’t splash out on any one meal but we didn’t feel we needed to.

Dépanneur Le Pick-Up
This place isn’t fancy but it’s a local favourite. We had sandwiches here because we weren’t that hungry and didn’t want to spend too much money on dinner that night. A little greasy but really hit the spot. I had the Vendantanator (eggplant, mozzarella, roasted red peppers) and Geoff had grilled halloumi.

Arts Café
Lovely breakfast.

Kitsuné Espresso
Cute spot, great coffee.

Arts Café

Kitsuné exterior; our breakfasts at Arts Café

Café Parvis
This ended up being one of my favourite places! We went at an awkward hour after spending the afternoon at the museum, so they weren't quite set up for dinner. We shared a pizza and a salad and enjoyed the relaxed vibe while sitting in the huge window in the front. Café Parvis is covered in plants, and was once a fur warehouse, I believe, and the walls have a wonderful patina. I know, who cares about the walls, right? But very photogenic. They also have an outdoor seating area set up on the sidewalk that is really cute.

Rotisserie Romanos
Once again, on Friday evening we weren’t very hungry and didn’t feel like doing much for dinner, so we stopped for take-out at this place that is popular with locals. We were staying in a part of Montreal that was filled with Portuguese restaurants, and we noticed that the barbeque chicken joints smelled more like the ones in Lisbon than the ones in Toronto do. Just a smokier smell in the air, hard to explain. We decided to do a taste test—well, Geoff did, since I haven’t eaten chicken in years. I had fries and salad and while it wasn’t the healthiest dinner, it was all I wanted that night. By all accounts the chicken was delicious! And we got a ton of food & Sumol for about $15 total.

This place came highly recommended and it was delightful. Very British slant (I had kedgeree). We had anticipated a long wait but it wasn’t so bad. My mouth is watering as I revisit the menu. Our friend Ali posted our breakfasts on Instagram here.

Café Sardine
We stopped in at Café Sardine before breakfast at Lawrence and had some of their homemade beignets. It turns into an izakaya place in the evening.

Pizzeria Napoletana
Old school pizzeria that has been around for a long time. We had dinner with friends who brought in their own wine, which felt very festive.

Seems to me that Montreal isn’t as much of an ice cream town as Toronto is, but we had to try the rose/raspberry/lychee soft serve here. It was definitely worth waiting in line for half an hour!

La Buvette chez Simon
We went here for afternoon patio drinks with friends, and it was lovely. Really good nibbles as well.

The Sparrow
Another really great breakfast. Apparently they have amazing cocktails as well.

Other coffee shops: Café OdessaPikolo Espresso BarCafé Olympico, Caffè Italia. Geoff got into the habit of ordering un café allongé, rather than an Americano.

Buvette chez Simon

Places we didn’t try, but that are on the list for next time:
Dinette Triple Crown: I was so sad that this one didn’t work out for us (the timing was bad) because it seems so fun: they pack you a basket and you take it for a picnic in the park. You can drink alcohol in public if you are having a picnic. Their speciality seems to be fried chicken but they also have mac & cheese and some vegetarian sides.
Joe Beef: Lots of meat and an oyster bar too.
Au Pied du Cochon: Another famous meat-heavy place.
Aux Vivres: Alternately, healthy vegan food!
Maison Publique: One of the most highly recommended places, but we just never made it.
Griffintown Café
Big in Japan: For ramen, and for drinking.
Cardinal Tea Room: This beautiful spot is above The Sparrow. We wanted to stay for some tea but we were so full from breakfast we couldn’t do it!
Hotel Herman: If you want to get fancy.
Damas: Syrian food.
Poutineville and Patatis Patata: Apparently the best poutine! We never had any.
ChuChai: Buddhist vegetarian.
Glacier Bilboquet: Ice cream.
Le Sainte-Élisabeth: I have admired the patio via Instagram quite often!
Juliette et Chocolate: Chocolate bar! There were a few locations but we never made it in.
Khyber Pass: Afghani, bring your own wine available.
Clube Espagnol du Quebec: Spanish food, tapas.

Le Place d’Armes hotel in Old Montreal (I would love to stay there one day); the Canadian Centre for Architecture

Jean-Talon market

Little Italy

Bagels! I love a Montreal bagel so much! Dense and sweet and so delicious.

Solair chairs at the Museum of Fine Arts

Old Montreal

Square St-Louis

The restaurant on the right is Korean; I dont know much about it but I loved the sign.

Thank you, Montreal! And thanks to our friends who kindly helped us with recommendations.


a weekend in kingston and prince edward county

In the spring, Geoff and I decided that we would spend this summer taking advantage of our car and taking as many weekend day trips around Ontario as we could, searching for things we hadn’t seen before, fresh air, and for new beaches! So I was thrilled when I got an email from a sweet woman named Carolynn who offered us a weekend away in Kingston, Ontario and Prince Edward County, in conjunction with Kingston Accommodation Partners. Kingston is a historic city a three hour drive away from Toronto with one of the highest number of restaurants per capita in all of Canada, and Prince Edward County is a part of the province that is quickly becoming known for its wineries and food. I had never been to either place before, so how could I turn down this proposition? Impossible. We were given first class VIA Rail tickets, which was a pretty wonderful experience, and joined a group of really lovely people from Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, all of whom love food and photography. Our first night we had dinner at Tango Nuevo in downtown Kingston, and laughed and chatted the hours away while nibbling on delicious tapas, and started filling Instagram with our #visitkingston hashtag.

The next morning we woke up in our waterfront hotel and walked through a farmers market to get to our diner breakfast (at Morrison’s) before a full day visiting wineries in the sunshine in Prince Edward County.

Our first stop was Hinterland Wine Company, which produces sparkling wines, where we met our host for the day, Alex Fida, who runs Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield. Then off to Norman Hardie for more tastings and delicious pizza.

We visited three other wineries: Karlo Estates, Hubbs Creek, and The Old Third. I learned so much about wine that day, even though I haven’t been drinking much for the past year or so, and even though I only allowed myself a few sips. Everything was so tasty.

Eventually we found our way back to Hinterland where there was a food truck festival happening. Despite the multiple pizzas consumed at lunch, we were treated to some seafood from Buster’s Sea Cove.

Chuck photographs his tacos while Gabrielle relaxes; Zack, Kelly, Carolynn, and Francis at The Old Third

Once back in Kingston, we had some time to freshen up and explore, and share an ice cream at White Mountain (seriously consumed my weight in snax and dinners that weekend!). Downtown Kingston has some really beautiful architecture and it was so nice to walk along the water as well.

That evening we had an incredible seafood feast at Dianne’s. Some members of our group partied all night, but not us!

On Sunday Geoff and I woke up early to meet Ali and Francis for coffee and croissants from Pan Chancho. We also checked out the antiques market in the square and went for another waterfront walk.

After breakfast we didn’t have much time before we had to catch our train back to Toronto, and because some of our group had opted to take later trains home, they were able to go sailing later that day (lucky!). We were given the opportunity to rent bikes, which we rode to check out the Queen’s University campus and other parts of town we hadn’t seen. The weather was glorious and we were on a high from such a fun, food-filled, lovely weekend.

Thanks, Carolynn, and thanks, Kingston! We will definitely be back!


my latest beauty essentials

As I mentioned in my post about Fresh Faced, I have become increasingly more interested in replacing my beauty products with healthier alternatives. I’ve stuck with natural deodorants since last fall (to be honest, I had moments where I was sure I would go back to antiperspirant!), which was a good start, and my visit with Julie from Province Apothecary certainly helped. In the past few months I’ve whittled down my routine to a few basics, and a few multi-purpose products, and here are the ones that are working well for me at the moment. It’s not perfect and I still have a few products I need to find. For example, a healthier foundation would be great, since I use foundation/tinted moisturizer every day (I’m currently using one from Bourjois). I really don’t mind that my choices look more like the inside of a health food store basket than a fancy department store one.

Aura Cacia Sweet Almond Oil: I’ve been using the oil-cleansing method to get makeup off, and it has been working well for me. I rinse my face with warm water, rub some oil gently for a few moments, then wipe off with a clean washcloth. When I’m feeling lazy I use a Desert Essence cleanser that works well, but I think the oil gets out more city grime and whatnot.

Heritage Products Rosewater & Glycerin: I’ve been using this for a long time now. It’s great in summer to refresh your skin & help you cool down, but I also use it as a toner. It smells so good.

Elovi Body Butter: I was sent this body butter to try out (thanks, Elovi!) and honestly, it is so good. I’ve never really cared for body butters, but this one absorbs quickly, has a delicate, pleasant smell, and only six ingredients. I’ve been using it as a multi-purpose balm, including putting it on the areas that I’m having laser tattoo removal on! The ingredients are really nourishing and massaging it in helps with blood circulation to make them heal faster.

Pai Rosehip Oil: I received this as part of a gift bag at the Green + Good event, and I’ve been trying to remember to apply it before bed. I haven’t been super consistent with it yet, because I’m pretty forgetful about applying things to my face in the evening. But I feel really good about it and I always wake up with softer skin when I do use it.

Graydon Sun Cream: This also came from the gift bag, and I was stoked to get it! I use this every morning in between my moisturizer/serum and my makeup, and it’s worked really well. I’m pretty paranoid about getting too much sun on my face, but luckily I have a good collection of hats to use in conjunction with sunscreens. Plus I like that this one isn’t full of scary ingredients and is made in Canada.

Ilia lipstick: Neon Angel is my daily lipstick lately. It’s bright, but not alarmingly so (I like a bold lip). It’s matte, which I like, and has decent staying power. One of the few lipsticks I’ve been reaching for lately.

Leaves of Tress Argan Oil: I am so lazy when it comes to my hair, especially lately, since I cannot win any battles against humidity. I wash it every few days (I just use whatever looks okay and is on sale at the health food store—currently a Giovanni shampoo), and sometimes I’ll just air dry it and let it do it’s thing, or once in a while I’ll straighten it. I’ve tried lots of different products for frizz and heat protection but mostly I don’t notice much of a difference, other than the fact that my hair gets gunked up faster. I’ll usually just run a tiny amount of argan oil through at the tips (I used to use the OLO hair tonic but I dropped it on the bathroom floor, tragically). I like to try conditioning masks with food or coconut oil once in a while, so if you know of any good ones, let me know!

Lulu Organics Hair Powder: Ive had the Patchouli & Amber powder for ages now and I really only use it in emergency situations for a little freshening up. I love the smell.

Province Apothecary Facial Serum and Lip Balm: I am an unabashed fan of Province Apothecary and would own all of the products if I could. Julie gave me a custom serum in early January in exchange for something I did for her, and I used it as a moisturizer until it ran out last week. I think it really saved my skin over the winter because I never had any dryness or really any trouble. Now that it’s basically summer I’ve switched to her moisturizer, which I picked up at The Detox Market. It’s only been a few days but so far so good (I think you have to use a product for a few weeks to get a real feel for it!). And her lip balm is my current favourite, really silky and long-lasting.

Bergamot essential oil: For Christmas Geoff gave me an aromatherapy diffuser and I’ve enjoyed learning about different oils and their effects. Most of the time I use lavender only, since it’s so calming, but I also use bergamot quite a bit—it’s a little more energizing and good for low moods. I got this one at Dynasty.

Chakra by Nova: I ordered a sample of this and wore it on our trip to Lisbon. Ever since then it’s reminded me of Lisbon, which I love. It has that perfect combination of musk & floral that makes my nose so happy.

Lovefresh Natural Cream Deodorant in Moroccan Rose Absolute: Okay, I have found the one! This is my absolute favourite natural deodorant. I liked many of the ones that I wrote about in my deodorant post, but if I were to revise that post, this one would be my top pick. It smells lovely, it is easy to apply (I’ve gotten used to applying deodorant with my fingers), and the company is local. I transferred a little of the cream to a small container to carry it around with me, but I don’t often have to reapply throughout the day (except on the muggiest days, of course).

I’d love to hear about your favourite beauty products, particularly those that happen to be organic & all-natural!