I get around.
I get around.
Matt and I had left home after work on Wednesday and driven up to our hotel in Fort Lauderdale, since we had an early flight to San Juan. It turns out the La Quinta near FLL is a great deal – it’s cheap, has free breakfast and a shuttle to the airport 10mn away, and they let you park your car in their lot for up to two weeks. We’ll definitely be doing that again in the future.
One of the benefits of our move much farther south – it’s now only a little over 2-hour flight to San Juan. We landed around noon and took a cab into town. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags at the Hotel Plaza de Armas. I’d forgotten that we’d stayed there before, because it has a different name – it used to be a HoJo. Nothing much had changed, and while the rooms were totally fine, they have no windows. Do not stay in a room with no windows or you’ll never be able to wake up in the morning. It was just one night, thankfully.
San Juan was decorated for the holidays in festive fashion. I love it.
We needed lunch right away, so I suggested checking one of the side streets nearby where I’d seen tables set up in the street on previous visits. We found a cute little place with Mexican food, so we sat down for tacos and Medallas.
After lunch, we walked down to the city gate. It was gorgeous outside, and even warmer than in Florida.
The city is so picturesque it kills me. I want to spend so much more time there.
If you’ve wandered around San Juan, you’ve probably noticed that the streets are blue-tinted cobblestones. (You’ve probably almost broken an ankle on one of them, too.) They’re called adoquines, and they started out as furnace slag in Spain that was then used as ship ballast. Over time they’ve weathered into this color. They’re threatened by car traffic, which is one of the many reasons it would be awesome if Old San Juan banned cars.
I think it’s funny that the facade of the cathedral is perfectly spotless, but the rest looks pretty weathered. (I mean, it’s the oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere, so we can cut it some slack.)
Here’s El Batey, one of the greatest bars on earth. I had to stop and get a picture of it during the day.
This guy seemed pretty chill:
Our friends’ flight was arriving fairly soon, so Matt and I decided to go have a drink at the bar in El Convento. The former convent, now the fanciest hotel in OSJ, is a mere 356 years old. Their central courtyard seems to always be empty, which is kind of amazing. We grabbed seats at the bar, ordered papaya-ginger mojitos, and sat talking to the super-awesome bartender. He gave us samples of his coquito, the traditional Puerto Rican Christmas drink. It’s like eggnog, but better.
Kris and Orsi found their way over to the hotel and joined us at the bar. We hung out there for a while, and then decided to walk down the block to La Barrachina, the restaurant that claims to have invented the pina colada.
Post-colada, we walked down the hill to get dinner at Old Harbor Brewery. I don’t love their food there, but their beers are decent and they had a vegetarian option, which is something. After dinner, we walked back up the hill to a cocktail bar Matt had heard about recently. It was billed as a speakeasy, which made it hard to find, because it wasn’t really hidden at all. OK, there’s a different bar’s sign on the wall, but still.
La Factoria was hopping, but we managed to get a table in the corner. Their cocktails were pretty excellent, too, but there wasn’t anything especially Puerto Rican about it. It was like any city bar anywhere. After a couple drinks there, it was time for the main event: El Batey.
We drank rum and Medalla, and played a half-assed partial game of Moby Dick and then dominoes. Orsi wrote their names on the wall, and I left a Key West sticker in the bathroom. It’s important to leave your mark at El Batey.
Then it was time to go sleep in our dark, windowless hotel rooms, so we could head out of town in the morning.
We got up Friday morning (painfully, since the lack of windows made it seem like it was 3am), and hauled our stuff downstairs on the slowest, tiniest elevator in the world. (It’s the kind with the two gates you have to pull shut yourself.) We found Kris and Orsi’s stuff sitting in the lobby, and Kris texted that they were getting the car. Matt and I walked over to Plaza de Armas. Kris said they were bringing coffee, but the plaza booth sold mallorcas.
I love this giant Christmas tree in the middle of the plaza. At night it’s fantastic.
You see the three wise men all over San Juan. We didn’t figure out what this was about until we got home. Apparently they like to hand out gifts to kids on the 12th night, the Noche de Reyes, when the reyes magos visit.
They arrived with the car and coffee, Matt arrived with the mallorcas, and we were off to Rincón.
Our first destination on our journey was La Ruta de Lechón, i.e. the pork highway. Matt had wanted to go there since he’d learned of its existence long ago, but obviously I was less than excited about visiting a road full of restaurants dedicated to pork. But we figured since there were now three meat eaters, we had to visit. Plus I kind of wanted to see it. (I had lunch backup in my bag just in case.)
When you exit the highway toward Guavate, you end up on a narrow road that winds up and down through the hills. There are restaurants and bars the entire way, and they all specialize in one thing: whole roasted suckling pig, the kind you have to start cooking at midnight the previous day. The lechoneras are up all night, and the places open when the meat is done. And it’s every single place.
For a while there’s a restaurant every half-mile or so, but if you keep going you’ll get to Guavate, which is an ENTIRE TOWN made up of lechón restaurants. It was amazing.
We parked and wandered down the block to find an ATM. We grabbed Medallas and stood around gawking at the sights. Then we went into El Rancho Express, since Kris had read that they were one of the recommended stops. It turns out they just have a pre-made plate, so they decided to cross over to El Rancho Original instead, where they could pick out all the meat they wanted.
The guys went to stand in the food line, and Orsi and I went to get beers and grab a table. We took note of the giant SANGRIIIA sign on the building across the street, because we’d seen that same banner at every single place along the way. (It was even more amusing knowing it’s made by a company called Gasolina, and comes in a pouch like Capri-Sun.)
Matt and Kris arrived with a giant spread that included various kinds of pig and pig skin, turkey, blood sausage, rice and peas, and roasted yam. And Sangriiia, of course. (Sadly, not in a pouch.) I was thrilled, because the rice and peas and yam were really good and I didn’t have to get out my Suncake.
While we ate, we watched the entertainment in the covered area next to us. It was full of picnic tables, and had a big stage where a couple of old guys were singing and playing. We didn’t know exactly what he was singing about, but one of the guys on stage had the old ladies swooning. People were dancing and singing along. It was fantastic. Every restaurant seemed to have their own version of that, too.
After lunch, we got back in the car and headed back to the highway toward Ponce. We hadn’t visited the western half of Puerto Rico before, but the landscape was really familiar since we’d flown over it on the way to and from Vieques. It’s very rural, with rolling hills and a constant view of the ocean.
We exited in Ponce, because Kris had a few stops there on his list. He told us there was a place called Cafe Cafe and another called Ponce Ponce. We found one of them (I don’t even remember which), and went in for coffee and beer. The other place didn’t exist. I think he was making the whole thing up.
Ponce is an adorable little town. (It’s actually second-largest in PR, but the historic downtown is small.) It has the same narrow streets as San Juan, and gorgeous old buildings. The town centers around a large square that features the Parque de Bombas. I’d seen photos of it before, but it was still kind of shocking to see sitting there. It’s such a weird, awesome building.
There’s a museum inside, with this awesome smoking goat in the lobby. (Note the cop not wanting to be photographed in the background.)
We did a lap of the square, picked up some souvenirs, and then headed down a pedestrian side street toward the town market that Kris had read about. The shops along the street were all kind of shady-looking, like stuff that fell off the back of a truck. We found the market, but it was closed. We couldn’t tell if it was closed for the day (it was mid-afternoon) or for renovations, but it seemed like the latter. I’d really like to go back and see it at some point, because it looked awesome. Also, Ponce was really cute.
We walked back to the car and headed toward Rincón. The highway was pretty fast until we hit Mayaguez, which appeared to be a town entirely made up of about 250 car dealerships and the brewery that makes Medalla and its much-crappier cousin, Silver Key. It took forever, between the traffic and the stoplights, since it was rush hour time. We finally made it to the far side of town where the turnoff for Rincón was, and found that the road was closed.
So we got to sit in more traffic, and finally got to the alternate route. From there, it wasn’t far into town. From the second we saw it, I knew we were going to like Rincón.
Orsi had rented a condo for us that was right across the street from the main beach. We drove through the tiny downtown and found the condo complex about a half-mile away. It was indeed across the street from the Balneario de Rincón.
They were quicker into the condo and claimed the master bedroom, so we were stuck with the room with the double bed, and bunk bed. The bunk bed was at least queen-sized, and ended up being fine. It’s a miracle neither of us got a concussion, though.
We unpacked and sat out on the patio while the sun set over the beach. We noted that there was some music and activity at the building right next to the beach, so we decided we’d need to check that out later.
We then went back down to the car and headed into town. We stopped at the grocery store to get supplies for our stay there (stuff to make breakfast, mixers, and snacks). Of course it took us forever to shop because people kept wandering off. After that, we went into the little downtown. The main square was all decorated for Christmas, and was adorable.
We stopped into Rincón Beer Company, where we got a table out on the sidewalk. Unfortunately they didn’t have any of their own beers on tap at the moment, but they had a good selection from other breweries (plus cocktails, and a small food menu).
After a couple rounds there, it was time to get dinner. We decided on La Cambija, because it had really good reviews. I was a little wary because it was a seafood restaurant, but it turned out they could make a few things vegetarian. (If there’s a note about it on the menu, that’s always a good sign.) Their mojitos were good, and the food was excellent. Plus it was just down the block from our condo.
After dinner, we stopped into the little restaurant/bar next door because they had a sign advertising that they sold ice, and the icemaker in our freezer didn’t work. Of course it just made sense to get a beer while were there, so we ended up sitting at the bar talking to the super-nice girl who worked there for a long time. Her name was Stefania, and she was Colombian. (Her English was excellent, and she told us she liked having the excuse to practice.) A couple guys we assumed were local came in, and Kris overheard them saying something about Minnesota, so he asked. It turned out that one of them lived in Maple Grove part-time, so he ended up being mercilessly hassled over that. Before they left, they gave us advice on other places to go in town, but the gist of it was “wait til it’s really late, drink a lot, get in your car, and drive up some winding mountain roads til you find a club”. So that wasn’t going to happen.
We said bye to Stefania and walked over to see what the music was about at the beach bar. It turned out to be a tiny hut with a big patio space full of tables, where old people hung out drinking cheap beer and singing karaoke. It was fantastic.
We grabbed a beer, then went back to the condo to play dominoes on the patio.
Sunday morning, I got up and did the dishes while waiting for Matt to get up. Kris and Orsi wanted to go to the market in town, so I told them to go do that and I would hang out. I discovered that the coffeemaker was useless, so when Matt woke up, he and I walked into town to get coffee. It was really hot outside – much warmer than Key West.
We walked through the market and I wished we had more time to spend there. It was really nice.
We got coffee and walked back to the condo using the shortcut past the baseball fields. Kris and Orsi showed up downstairs, so we closed everything up and took the bags down to meet them. We got on the road back to San Juan.
We had some time to kill before our flight, so we went into Miramar to get lunch. Matt wanted to go to Soda, but we found it closed. There was a big street market going on there, too, so we walked through it and found Bartola right down the street. They had really awesome Mexican food, even though the band outside together with the music inside led to a giant cacophony every time the door opened onto the street.
Post-lunch, we headed to the airport. Kris and Orsi were staying another night in Old San Juan, but they wanted to drop the car off since it’s a pain to have in town. They dropped us off at the airport, and we headed to our uneventful flight back to Fort Lauderdale.
We arrived around 6, and had to take the shuttle to the hotel in order to get our car. It didn’t take too long, thankfully. We jumped on the highway and headed south, stopping only to grab sandwich makings at Publix in Key Largo. It was a long drive in the dark back to Key West, but we made really good time and arrived home shortly after 11pm. Flying out of FLL isn’t the ideal setup, but since Southwest is generally cheap it’s kind of a fair tradeoff.
Saturday, I got up and Kris was crabby because we’d forgotten half of the ingredients we needed for a proper breakfast. We decided to go into town, get more groceries, and stop at the coffeeshop/bakery we’d noticed the night before. Matt was still asleep, so we left him a note.
We spent way too much more time at the grocery store, and then he dropped Orsi and I off at the cute hipster coffee shop while he circled. They didn’t really have breakfast stuff, though – mostly just cupcakes – so we just grabbed coffee for everyone and went to the car, then went back to the condo where Kris complained about making breakfast, even though that was the plan all along. (He won’t let anyone help, either.)
Then it was finally beach time. What a glorious beach it was.
We had it nearly to ourselves, and spend a very long time just bobbing around in the water drinking beer or Sangriiia packets that Kris launched from the beach. There was a seagull hanging out on a buoy, so I had to take the time to swim out to it and try to punch him off of it. (He flew away before I got there. Jerk.)
Once we had depleted our beer supplies and finished swimming, we went back to the condo and hung out in the pool for a bit, then headed upstairs to change. After that, we jumped in the car and drove the few miles to the Rincón lighthouse.
There was a big park surrounding it, with great views of the surfing beaches in the area. It’s hard to see in the photos, but there were a ton of surfers out that day. Also, the beaches were gorgeous.
It’s kind of amazing that there’s a good swimming beach located that near surfing spots. Usually you find those things on opposite sides of an island.
From there, we drove up into the hills above Rincón. (Our Minnesotan pal had told us the bars were down that way, so we figured we’d drive around and see what we found. On top of a big hill, we found a bar/surf shop with a good view of the ocean. It was across the street from this road sign, the awesome symbol of Rincón. (There’s nothing interstate about that main road.)
We had mojitos and tostones, and hung out for a while. Then we got back in the car and headed into town. Matt and Kris went back to the brewery, and Orsi and I went to do some shopping in town. Most of the stores were already closed, but I found a really cute woven purse and a Rincón sign at a cute shop run by a lady who split time between Puerto Rico and Hawaii. I thought we had it pretty good, but damn.
We joined them for a beer, and then took the car back to park it at the condo. We were there with just enough time to grab some Medallas and head to the beach for sunset.
Kris joined the Medalla ad campaign:
And here it is post-sunset. I really love that beach.
From there, we walked down to the far end of the beach to a little shopping area called Sunset Village. There was a big restaurant there named The Harbor, where we got a table out on the patio near the bar. They appeared to have a nice waterfront/beach there, but it was hard to see at night.
I was excited that their vegetable mofongo was actually really good, as were their mojitos. Everyone else had seafood. A band started setting up near the entrance, and eventually began playing Puerto Rican music. After a couple songs, they launched into Sweet Child of Mine. Awesome.
Post-dinner, we decided we needed to go back to the old-guy karaoke bar at the beach, but Orsi and I decided that first we needed to stop and say bye to Stefania and have a drink at her bar before we did so. Of course one drink with Stefania turned into three drinks and shots made by her boyfriend the chef. Then we headed to the karaoke bar, where we drank crappy beer and danced, trying not to fall over in flipflops.
And then, it was well past time to head back to the condo and sleep, since we had to get back to San Juan the next day.
Matt and I decided to take a week-long roadtrip that spanned 800 miles and took us through Quebec and three New England states. We discovered that we want to spend much more time in Montreal, that Quebec City is incredibly gorgeous, and that going to the beach is always one of the best things ever.
Here’s the entire photoset on Flickr.
You can read the entire journal below, or jump to each section:
We had a very convenient flight schedule on Saturday that allowed us to get up at a normal time, clean the house, and then roll our suitcases out of the building and to the train station. (Moving to a building right on the light rail is one of the best decisions we ever made). We rode to the airport, went through security – where there was a slight delay due to a tiny pocketknife I didn’t even remember having in my purse – and then went to go get some brunch at Surdyk’s Flights.
We boarded our plane and were off. I got a lot of knitting done, and we had a spectacular view of New York on the way to LaGuardia.
We’d hated LGA on our previous visit there, which was only about 8 months prior. However, something happened in the meantime – it became nice. Like really nice. We picked a pizza place with iPad ordering near our arrival gate. (Yes, I was Googling “your mom”.) Service was quick, and we were on our way again.
At our next gate, we went down a ramp out onto the tarmac, where we boarded buses to the plane. This was incredibly exciting to me, since I’ve only ever done that at much smaller airports. On the tarmac at LaGuardia! Awesome.
We boarded our much-smaller plane, and then sat there for an extra 20 minutes because the intercom in the back of the place was broken. The plane was small enough that the flight attendant could’ve just yelled up to the front and be heard easily, but apparently Delta is all about following rules. We weren’t really delayed much, though, so we couldn’t complain.
The flight to Burlington was about an hour, and it was apparent how pretty that part of Vermont was as we approached the airport. That’s Lake Champlain in the distance.
On the ground in Vermont, we waited for our bags and then called Thrifty for the rental shuttle. BTV is a gorgeous little airport, with northwoodsy decor, rocking chairs, and art everywhere. We liked it quite a bit.
The rental shuttle was sitting there waiting by the time we exited. We were the only ones using it. The driver took us a few blocks outside the airport property, and we hopped out and went to get the car. We ended up with a little Prius that was small enough that only one suitcase fit in the trunk and the other on the back seat, but I prefer driving that kind of car anyway. Plus we’d heard gas was expensive in Canada.
The most interesting car quirk was that the odometer was only in kilometers per hour. Matt’s second task, after looking up directions to the border, was to figure out what 60mph was in kph. The fact that it didn’t have cruise control made it a little challenging to drive, too.
We left Burlington around 8pm and figured we had about a 90-minute drive to Montreal. I didn’t love driving in the dark, but we didn’t have that far to go. When we got to the border crossing, we had to sit in a line of 3-4 cars for a bit. The border agent was a big burly man with a hilarious accent (sorry, Quebecois) and the usual border-guard sense of humor, i.e. none. He asked us a bunch of questions and then directed us over to a parking spot behind the building, where two other agents were waiting. We were nervous, but figured it was probably normal since we’d been through three cities and just picked up a rental car that evening.
The agents directed us to turn off the car, leave the keys, and go sit on a bench. Then they proceeded to search. We noticed that the very brightly lit area was absolutely swarming with mosquitoes, since it was probably the only bright light for miles, and the building was equipped with a couple of gigantic bug zappers that ran constantly.
It only took about five minutes, even though they searched our suitcases and everything. Another car full of Americans pulled up next to us and got started with the same thing, so we felt a little less weird about it. The agents thanked us politely, and we were on our way.
It’s not exactly a direct route to Montreal once you cross the border, which seemed a little strange. They were mostly sizable highways, at least. Once we got within 30 miles of Montreal we could see the skyline, which was pretty amazing. We found our way to our hotel, across the river from the city in Longueuil. It was a really large business-oriented hotel called the Sandman, and we were instantly happy with our decision. We had a big, modern room, a view of the St Lawrence and Olympic Park, there was a very friendly lady at the desk, and it was next to the Metro station.
It was after 10 by the time we got situated, but we didn’t want to go to bed without seeing some of Montreal. We walked over to Longueuil station (which seemed to contain not just the Metro but a ton of bus lines, even Greyhound-style ones), and figured out how to work the pass machine. A three-day unlimited ride pass is $18CA, which is a really excellent bargain. Then we went to wait for the train.
We were staying on the yellow line, which was incredibly easy to navigate. Longueuil was one end of the line, there was a stop in the middle on the island for Parc Jean-Drapeau, and the end of the line was the third stop, Berri-UQAM, where two other Metro lines crossed. The Metro runs very regularly, as often as every 4 minutes during rush hour, and at most every 15 minutes late at night. The last train is between 1am and 1:30, and if you miss that, they have night buses that run the same routes. So basically, you have zero excuse to drive in Montreal.
The trains are pretty dated and have hilariously large wheels. My favorite part was the “mouvement collectif” tagline on the side, a concept that would not sit well with many American rednecks. SOCIALISM!
I was glad that I’d made the effort to learn some French this time around. We’d been to Paris, Tunis, and Brussels with basically no knowledge of French, and it was a pain. Even the little we knew was definitely enough to help us with road signs and other navigation, and to be polite enough in shops and restaurants. It was already much easier than it had been in those places. (And while it’s true that the vast majority of people in the service industry in the touristed parts of Quebec are bilingual, the signs are definitely not. Learn yourself some French before you go!)
We rode the Metro to Station Mont-Royal, and walked over to Poutine La Banquise. Matt had chosen it because 1) it was open 24 hours and 2) it advertised vegetarian poutine. It seemed like the best possible introduction to Montreal. We were a little nervous because there was a line out the door (and we were starving), but it seemed to actually be moving pretty quickly. It helped that there was a carryout and eat-in line, too.
We waited in the eat-in line for probably 20 minutes at most, and then got a table. The place was absolutely packed, with tables crammed everywhere. And everywhere you looked there were people drinking beer and eating gigantic portions of poutine. It was everything I’d hoped Quebec would be.
And they had vegan poutine on the menu, called La Veganomane. I decided to go for that, fake cheese and all, and it was amazing. Matt had the Obelix, with smoked meat. We both got the small portions, since the large ones were unbelievable. We had a couple local beers as well, and then we paid our loonies (ok, it was more than a few loonies) and headed out again.
Speaking of loonies, the exchange rate was $1CA to .80US, so we were feeling like high rollers in Canada.
It was 12:30ish by then, so we walked back toward the Metro station. We looked around a bit for a shop that was open to buy some beer to bring back to the room, but everything seemed to be fermé. As the train arrived at Berri-UQAM, we realized we were approaching last-train time. It ended up being a good thing we didn’t find an open store, because we’d probably have missed the last Metro on our first night in Montreal.
We got up Sunday (Dimanche) morning and walked over to the Metro station to find Tim Hortons. It was our first visit ever, and we were pretty excited.
Turns out their coffee, at least with un lait, un sucre, is fine. Dunkin Donuts is better. Take that, Canada.
We hopped in the car and headed south to Chambly. It’s a little town about 20 miles from Montreal on the Richelieu River. It was a gorgeous day (we’d expected rain for basically the entire trip), and the town was adorable. We found free parking at La Fourquet Forchette, stopped in to verify the brunch schedule, and then went to kill some time at the fort next door.
There are rapids right next to the fort. The river seemed especially high.
We appreciated the bilingual signs, even if that meant it allowed us to be jerks much more easily.
After wandering for a while, it was time to head to brunch. On the weekends, La Fourquet Forchette has two timed seatings for a buffet, rather than traditional seating. There was a line out the door about 15 minutes before seating, so we went to get in the queue. We figured the Quebecois probably loved lining up as much as the French do.
Fourquet Forchette is the restaurant run by Unibroue, one of my favorite breweries on earth. (You probably know them as the brewers of La Fin du Monde.) They don’t have a traditional taproom or brewery tour, however – they have this northern-lodge-themed restaurant where they serve their beers, and food made with them. We didn’t love the idea of a brunch buffet (we’d rather just have visited a taproom), but the place did look really amazing, and it was the only place to get the beers fresh from the source.
Brunch was middling (especially for a vegetarian), but we were pretty happy to have the opportunity to visit and see the building anyway. Before heading out of town, we walked over to see the extremely oldtimey, manually-operated set of three locks going into the bay:
We’d also read that you could buy all of the Unibroue offerings, even the undistributed ones, at grocery and liquor stores in Chambly, so we tracked one down with no help from Google and picked up some bottles to bring back with us. Then we got back on the road to Montreal, where we took our souvenirs into the hotel room (and changed, because it had gotten very warm outside), then headed back over to the Metro.
We rode to Jean-Drapeau, the Metro stop on the island in the middle of the river. It was a good day to be on an island: sunny and very warm.
Nearby, we found the Biosphere. Look at it! It’s fantastic. We didn’t want to take the time to go in, but that was fine. I just wanted to see it.
Here’s the St Lawrence River as it flows between Ile Ste-Helene (the island we were on) and Ile Notre-Dame (the island with Montreal Casino and the Formula One track):
We didn’t really know much about what was in the park, but we followed the signs around. It was pretty crowded owing to the good weather, but apparently it was extra-busy because it was free museum day in Montreal. There were buses driving people around the city, and long lines to get into museums. Also, there was something called the Piknic Electronique going on at one end of the park, so we were serenaded with loud dance music much of the time.
We followed the signs to the tower, and ended up climbing up a gigantic hill. We then realized just how warm it was outside. VERY. It was kind of a relief that people were there setting up for a wedding and the tower was closed, because then we didn’t have to make the decision about climbing it.
We walked down the hill on the far side of the island and headed over to Musee Stewart, a military museum near the Pont Jacques-Cartier. There was a long line to get into the fort, but the grounds were open. We went and hung out by the cannons on a couple of Adirondack chairs for a while.
Here’s Pont Jacques-Cartier, one of the main bridges into Montreal.
And the Molson building across the river:
We considered taking a ferry across the river into the city, but apparently they weren’t open yet for the season. (Montreal seems to have a worse winter season than Minneapolis, based on their peak travel times. We were definitely still in the shoulder season over Memorial Day.)
We rode to UQAM-Berri and walked in the direction of Vieux-Montreal. It’s about a mile walk (and hilly at that) from the Metro station, but there’s a lot of scenery along the way.
Here’s Montreal’s version of Notre-Dame!
Vieux Montreal is the touristy part of town (it’s very near the cruise port), but it’s still really attractive. A few of the streets are pedestrian-only, and there are restaurants with patios all over the place.
I thought this was very European-looking until we got to Quebec City. Vieux-Montreal’s got nothing on Vieux-QC.
We did some souvenir shopping, and then walked down by the port. There were approximately a billion people wandering around and since we’d been walking for a while, we decided to stop into a restaurant called Tavern Gaspar and have a drink. It was pointless to try to get a table on a patio at that point, but the inside bar area was totally uncrowded and the staff was friendly. We had beers and watched The Coupe Memorial on TV.
It was getting to be about dinnertime, so we decided to continue the trend of visiting awesome breweries and go to Dieu de Ciel. We walked back to the Metro and rode over to the Plateau neighborhood to find their microbrasserie. It was completely packed, but we managed to grab a little table as a few people left. They had a very extensive beer list and great service, so we were pretty excited about everything at that moment. We ordered some beers, and a while later got some food. They didn’t have full entrees, just appetizer-style offerings.
After a couple beers there, it was dark outside and getting late. We decided to go check out another place in the neighborhood that Matt had read about, because people raved about the fish and chips, and they also had vegetarian food.
We found Comptoir 21 a few blocks away. It was a diner-style setup that wasn’t too crowded – we only had to wait a few minutes to get seats at the counter. Matt ordered fish and chips, and they told him it would have to be a mini-order, since they only had two pieces left. He was fine with having le poisson finale, and the pieces ended up being really sizable anyway. I had a veggie burger, which was appealing after a lot of beer.
A short while later, the cook came up and told Matt that he had an extra piece of fish, and did he want it? Of course he did! He ended up with a full meal after all. (By that point he was already full, but ate it because they were nice.)
After second-dinner, we walked over to the Metro station and rode back to Jean-Drapeau. We’d seen the casino from the river and had read that the building was from the World’s Fair, so we really wanted to see it. We piled off the Metro with a bunch of people who all headed in the same direction, to a bus that was parked nearby – the 777, an express shuttle to the casino on the next island over. (We thought it was a little strange that you had to pay to ride a casino express bus, but we didn’t care that much since we had transit passes.)
The casino was gorgeous.
It was on a par with the newer, fancier casinos in Vegas, kind of like the Cosmopolitan. We used the restroom and then headed to the bar for a cocktail. Since you can legally drink Havana Club there, I ordered it on the rocks. Take that, America.
We set off to wander around the casino. It was four or five floors, so we headed upstairs first. We found ourselves in a high limit tables area first, and since we are not high limit people, we decided to look elsewhere. Near the top of the escalators there’s a separate section called the Z-Zone off the back of the casino that had a weird game-show-style setup with a live emcee and a bunch of people playing on video machines. Most of the casino floor seemed to be slot machines, though.
We decided to head back down to where we’d seen more table games on the second floor. We walked through those and realized that the area we’d seen before was not actually high limit- all the tables had really high minimums. We didn’t see a blackjack table under $25, and I didn’t even bother checking craps. That struck us as kind of ridiculous, so we went to lose $20 on video poker instead.
We stopped at a different bar on the second floor for a cocktail (it was weird having a Manhattan after really only experiencing a lot of beer in Quebec!) and hung out watching music videos on TV. Then it was time to head back, so we went down to the bus stop. We boarded with a group that appeared to be exactly the same people we’d ridden in with an hour earlier, and then all walked back to the Metro together. Matt and I rode one more stop to our hotel, and headed to bed.
It was raining on and off when we got up Monday (Lundi) and supposed to rain all day, so we decided to take the car and see how hard it was to get around Montreal. We made hotel coffee and headed off to Mile End to find Fairmount Bagel, supposedly the best bagel shop in Montreal.
The shop was tiny and there was a line of 8 or so people waiting, but it went quickly. Also, they weren’t kidding about the best bagels. Even though I couldn’t have eaten another one, I was sad I didn’t have more.
We ate our bagels in our illegally-parked car, then headed toward Marche Jean-Talon, because we figured it would be mostly covered and out of the rain. There was plenty of parking onsite in the underground parking garage.
I love huge markets like you find in Europe, New York, New Orleans, etc. Minneapolis has its farmers markets, but they’re not really the same. There’s so much more at this style of permanent market.
We loved that you can buy maple syrup in cans in Quebec. It’s cheap, too.
We couldn’t get over the fiddlehead ferns and all the fresh mushrooms, way more than we can find in the midwest. There was also a guy in a booth selling ice cider, which is basically like ice wine but from frozen apples. We picked up some sample bottles to try. Then we stopped at a sandwich stand that had veggie sandwiches, and picked up a couple to go. The guy working there said “sixteen BUCKS!” in an adorable Quebecois accent.
We walked past the macaron stand several times, and it killed me every time. (Look at all of them!) We finally stopped to pick up a couple to take along. We figured if it stopped raining we could have a picnic at Parc Mont-Real.
The rain had other plans for us, apparently. We decided to go see the Parc Olympique, and thankfully we both had our umbrellas along. It was raining steadily.
We found some free parking a few blocks away and walked into the park. Our first stop was in front of the hockey arena, which is named after Maurice Richard. His statue was out front. The arena seemed to be overgrown and in some disrepair, but it appeared to still be in use.
Stade Saputo, home of the Montreal Impact, was nearby. There were soccer players out practicing in the rain. The stadium is pretty new, and really impressive. Maybe someday Minneapolis will get one like this.
We walked over the roof of the planetarium to get to the Olympic tower, which leans over the Olympic Stadium. The Biodome is on the left. If we’d had more time in Montreal, I’d definitely liked to have seen it.
Our destination was the Montreal Tower, which contains a funicular that travels upwards at a 45-degree angle. We’d hoped for nicer weather for the view, but the rain meant the place was pretty empty. (You can see the funicular car near the top in this picture.)
In case you didn’t know, I’m completely obsessed with funiculars. I don’t know why, but I love them. I will go on any and all funiculars, as often as possible. Tickets for this one were $22.50CD, and you can get packages that include Biodome tickets, or a tour of the stadium.
Despite the rain, the views were pretty spectacular. There’s a lot of sports-related stuff going on below that was hard to identify. (Much of it is a skate park.) That’s the stadium directly below, Mont-Real in the upper right corner, and the two islands in the river with Parc Jean Drapeau, the casino, and the F1 circuit.
In the mist across the river is Longueuil, where our hotel was. It’s a very convenient spot if you want to take transit everywhere.
FYI, the Montreal Tower holds the Guinness World Record for ‘tallest manmade leaning tower’. Take that, Pisa.
After descending the funicular, we picked up the requisite souvenirs and then headed off to see what we could see of the Olympic Stadium. We were shocked to find the doors open and people inside. Here’s the Olympic pool, which had people doing practice dives at the far end.
We circled around the stadium looking for the statue of the Olympic rings that Matt had seen a photo of, but couldn’t find them. Through a loading dock and up a set of stairs that were covered in trash (it looked like a popular homeless spot) we found the main entrance to the stadium, but it was in such bad shape we assumed it was unused. (We later learned that’s untrue, which was very surprising.)
We were tired of walking in the rain, and abandoned the plan to have a picnic since it was obviously not going to let up. We decided to go back to our hotel around 3:30 and have some lunch, since we had beers there, and chargers for our phones.
(On the way back, we did find the Olympic rings statue on the only corner of the park we hadn’t seen.)
Our Quebecois lunch spread was amazingly good: les sandwichs on perfect bread (one vegetarian, one not), macarons, a small sample of ice cider, and beers direct from the source in Chambly. Delicious.
While we were finishing, my parents texted, asking where we were. They were on a very long roadtrip with a cruise in the middle, and their plans overlapped with ours by a couple days in Quebec. They were on their way to Montreal, and wanted to know if we wanted to get together for dinner. I told them yes, and that we were headed back into the city and would meet them there somewhere.
We got back on the Metro and rode to Champs de Mars and walked into Vieux Montreal again. We wanted to do some more souvenir shopping and see the port before we left. It was raining harder, so we didn’t have the best views, but we saw everything regardless. This area had been packed full of people on Sunday, but today was nearly deserted.
After much parental confusion about locations and directions, we decided on meeting at Saint Bock in the Latin Quarter, another highly recommended beer bar. My parents, who were driving in their minivan, wanted street directions, and all we knew was the Metro station and the cross streets. We found it pretty easily and got a table for six and some beers, and they finally found us a half an hour or so later. They had my aunt and uncle from Georgia in tow.
We were glad that St Bock had a good dinner menu, too, because then we wouldn’t have to figure out further getting-around logistics. We helped them with the French on the menu, and hung out with some really excellent beers while waiting on food. Here’s my mom’s reaction when I made her try a stout:
Our food was pretty excellent, too. We all compared notes on Montreal, and made plans for the next day. We were getting up early and driving to Quebec City, where we had a hotel right in Vieux-Quebec. They’d head out later, and were staying outside of town. (My aunt and uncle have an RV, and therefore stay at campgrounds way outside of cities.) Then we said goodbye, and they headed out while we stuck around to finish our beers and watch some Coupe Memorial on TV (the Kelowna Rockets vs Oceanic Rimouski, which was Matt’s new favorite team, at least until he met the Quebec Ramparts).
We didn’t want to be quite done with Montreal yet, so we walked around the block to a place called La Distillerie that advertised craft cocktails. They had a small, well-organized menu of really interesting options, including a huge fishbowl drink that Matt ended up with for his second round.
In case you missed him: Bally was indeed there. He’s always there with us.
We finished up there and walked back to the train station. It had finally stopped raining, just in time for us to head to the hotel.
In the Longueuil station, we stopped to get a picture of Bally with his cute pal Moovit. (Moovit was so cute I ended up downloading the app for transit schedules, and still use it regularly.)
Back at the hotel, we watched the end of the Blackhawks-Ducks game in overtime, had a beer, finished packing, and went to bed.
We got up pretty early on Mardi morning, checked out of the hotel, got coffee at Tim Hortons in the Metro station, and then got on the road to Quebec City.
I wanted to take Route 40 through Trois-Rivieres because it followed along the north side of the St Lawrence, and I figured it’d be more scenic, if slightly slower. (It wasn’t, really.) There was very little traffic along the way, which was a good thing since there was road work (traveaux) EVERYWHERE. We learned to curse the traveaux just like at home.
We were hoping to make it out of Canada before needing gas, because as far as we could tell by the strange per-liter pricing, gas was super-expensive there. It was nice to have a 50mpg car, too, but that meant the tank was tiny. We pulled off in a town called Batiscan (which we named “body scan”) because they had a Shell sign on the highway, and then learned we had to drive into town. At least it wasn’t too far, and the town was apparently built in the 1640s. Holy crap.
We got gas ($50 Canadian for our tiny tank!), used the restroom, bought pop, snacks (tout garnie chips are the best!), and local beer. They had a really impressive selection of local stuff there, and we were pretty excited to have a beer called “Shawinigan Handshake“.
When I got back behind the wheel and turned the key, nothing happened. The car made an electric sound and did nothing. I tried again, and then again and again. I tried, the gas, the brake, the emergency brake, and nothing worked. The car wouldn’t start.
After a few minutes of panic about being stranded in a tiny Quebecois town, I decided to Google the problem. The first post that came up said that Priuses have a regularly-occurring issue with the steering wheel lock. Suddenly I remembered my really old cars having the same issue. I turned the steering wheel roughly back and forth, and then it started. WHEW.
We got back on the road and arrived at the outskirts of Quebec City around 2pm. It was an impressive view driving into town and seeing the old city up on top of the hill. I was really excited to see it, because it’s known for looking so European.
We managed to get to our hotel only getting lost once, which was miraculous considering the very-European streets. We got there via the Grand Allee, passing through the city gates. It was as gorgeous as expected.
We were staying at the Hotel Chateau Bellevue, which faced a park bordered by the famous Chateau Frontenac on the north, and the Terrasse Dufferin on the East. They only had valet parking, so we left the car out front and checked in. The guy at the front desk was very friendly, and the valet charge of $19/night was shockingly low for the location. Though we were there before checkin, they got us a room on the second floor (overlooking the parking lot, unfortunately – St Lawrence views don’t come cheap, I’m guessing). It was exactly the kind of room you’d hope for in a historic building.
We headed out to see Vieux Quebec. Crossing the park takes you to a set of stairs that goes down to the Terrasse Dufferin (the boardwalk-like walkway that goes along the edge of the Haute-ville, overlooking the St Lawrence River. From the edge, you look down on the Basse-ville.
There were cannons everywhere. Since we have a huge collection of photos of Bally hanging in cannons (i.e. Cannonbally!), we were in hysterics over the massive quantity of them sitting there. No, we didn’t put him in every single one. Just many of them.
The Chateau Frontenac is ENORMOUS. It’s a Fairmont hotel now, and has over 600 rooms.
It towers over the city. And yes, that’s a Starbucks at the bottom.
Here’s the view of the Basse-ville from the terrace. If you’re a sucker you climb down there, but those of us in the know take the funicular, obviously.
I got a text from my mom saying they were arriving in Quebec City, and wondered where we should meet. Since we were right by the most easy-to-find landmark in the city, we decided to meet near the Chateau Frontenac.
We figured it would take them a while, so we decided to walk up to see the Citadel. We headed toward the funicular that went up the hill, and realized as we got there that it was long out of service. We headed up the stairs instead.
A million steps later, we had to rest at the top. My mom said they were getting near, but after climbing up that high there was no way we were going to walk back down right away. It was also much warmer than expected, so we were totally sweaty and overdressed for the weather.
Most of the grounds of the Citadel were barricaded, so we had to circle the entire thing and then climb down a hill to find the entrance. Once there, we were told you can only go on an organized tour (it’s still in active use! We had no idea.), unless you want to go into the small courtyard and look around. Since my parents were waiting, we decided to do that. We checked out the shop quickly, too.
I love Quebec’s motto: je me souviens. We took it as a threat, since it’s way funnier that way.
My mom said they were waiting by the Frontenac, so we headed back that direction. We’d apparently gone a long way, because it took a while to get back. We walked through Vieux Quebec and found them waiting on a corner, worried about their meter running out.
They asked if we wanted to take a drive to see some of the stuff that wasn’t walking distance, and we said yes. (They had been to QC a couple times already, so they knew all the tourist stops.)
We drove out of the city gate again and headed into the park surrounding the Plains of Abraham. The area is gigantic, with a series of parks, trails, historic sites, and scenic overlooks.
And cannons. ALL the cannons.
We drove around some more looking at historic houses and awesome little neighborhoods, and then headed back into Vieux Quebec. I really love any city that has a wall around it.
Then we headed down to the Basse-ville, the oldest part of the city down on the river. The road heading down there is super-steep, which is why when you’re walking the funicular is the way to go. (Plus you know my love of funiculars.)
We found parking in a lot by the river and walked into town (just a couple of blocks). We found this gigantic mural on the side of a building, in a plaza commemorating the old part of Quebec City being a Unesco World Heritage site.
Photos can’t really do the town justice. It’s really incredibly attractive.
My dad was clearly ready for dinner – he walked around looking at menus while we looked at historic sites. He found an Italian place on this plaza that had an English menu, friendly hosts, and an outdoor patio (at our request), so we decided we’d go there after we were done wandering.
My one recommendation for what not to see in Vieux Quebec is the public restrooms. They’re mixed-gender and totally disgusting.
Check out the funicular!!
After walking around for a while and seeing some shops, it was time for dinner. My aunt and uncle were somewhere in QC, but we didn’t exactly know where. It sounded like they wanted to come with us, but we weren’t exactly sure. We got a table and ordered drinks while we waited.
Eventually we were dying of hunger and tired of waiting for them, so we ordered. We had another beer, and the food came out fairly quickly. By the time they arrived, though, I think the kitchen staff had quit or something. Service ground to a halt, nobody had anything coming to their tables, and the two servers looked like they wanted to cry.
My parents told us to not bother waiting, since we were done eating and had just arrived in town. We were more than happy to be let off the hook.
We walked around the area a while longer and then decided to go up to the Hotel Chateau Frontenac. The funicular was waiting to take us there.
It’s $2.50/person to ride the thing. Worth it.
Here’s the view going up the hill.
The Chateau Frontenac is even prettier at night.
We’d read that the Frontenac had a couple of really good bars, so we decided to check them out. The inside of the building was as opulent as expected, and the bar at the far end was really attractive except for the animal-based furniture.
(It had a hunting-lodge theme, so I guess it’s forgivable.)
Their cocktail menu was impressive, and though the prices were pretty steep, they were nowhere near what we expected. (Nothing like the 30-euro cocktail we had in Paris.) They were really innovative, too: Matt had a mix-your-own Negroni, and I had a gin drink that had an ice-shell cup holding powdered berries. (The drinks were apparently specialties from the SAM bar next door, which was more known for their craft cocktails.)
After a couple drinks there, we decided to check out another bar in town. We’d see a bunch of stuff along the Grand Allee when we’d driven in earlier, so we decided to walk up that direction and see what was there.
It ended up being a lot farther than we thought, and the entire route was up a gradual hill. We hadn’t really recovered from all the walking in Montreal, so we were both a little crabby about it.
Once you got past the Hotel du Parliament building, the street was lined with restaurants. Everything had a sizable patio, and the vibe was way more South Beach than we’d have liked. We saw a beer bar called Les Trois Brasseurs, so we headed in there. It was a huge cavernous place that was mostly empty inside, since everyone was out on the patio. As we walked in, though, we felt a couple raindrops, and felt that inside was probably the place to be.
We found a spot at the bar and ordered a sampler of their beers. The Coupe Memorial and the Rangers-Lightning Stanley Cup game were on TV, so we were happy. Ten minutes later, the sky opened up and it started pouring outside. Suddenly the patio was empty, and the huge bar was very full.
There had been nothing in the weather report that even mentioned rain, so we figured it would pass quickly. It kept going, though, so we ordered another round and waited. The bar had last call at 11:15, so when we noticed that the rain had mostly stopped, we got our check and headed back toward the hotel. It was about a half-mile walk downhill from there.
Within a block, it started raining again. Then it started pouring. I was really glad I had a purse made of vinyl, because we were absolutely soaked. I was wearing flipflops that became really slippery, and walking downhill didn’t help. When we got to the city gate, we huddled under it for a while just to get out of the rain and wring out our clothes.
We walked into the hotel lobby, dripping all over the place. Sorry, Hotel Chateau Bellevue. Back in our room, we had a beer in bed and watched a weird Quebecois call-in game show involving unscrambling the names of places in Quebec. The man hosting it was so annoying that I had to take his picture and keep it forever.
The same rain was threatening on the morning of Mercredi, but we hoped it would hold off long enough for us to go on a boat tour. The Louis Jolliet was the same boat we’d seen from Dufferin Terrace, and we were really excited to go on it. I put on a tshirt, left the hotel, and went back inside to change to a hoodie. It was a lot colder than the previous day. We picked up coffee and rode the funicular down to the river.
We bought tickets ($80CA) for the 11:30 cruise and boarded. A very friendly guy dressed as Louis Jolliet greeted us, and we climbed up to the top deck to hang out while we waited to depart. It was gorgeous outside, and the boat, which had a capacity of 1,000, wasn’t very full at all.
The view of Quebec City from the river is spectacular. The Chateau Frontenac towers over everything.
We got underway, and Louis Jolliet started narrating, going back and forth between French and English with impressive skill. We passed the industrial part of the city in the old harbor, and then the huge shipbuilding plant on the south side of the St Lawrence.
(Fun fact: at this point it’s just the St Lawrence River; the seaway portion goes from near Montreal to the Great Lakes.)
The boat took us up as far as Montmorency Falls, which my parents happened to coincidentally be visiting via car. The falls are 1.5 times the height of Niagara, though it’s hard to tell that from the boat.
We passed under this bridge, did a loop, and headed back, passing Ile de Orleans. At that point it was getting really overcast again, and the blue skies were gone.
Louis Jolliet did a trivia contest where someone won a glass of local maple syrup whiskey called Coureur des Bois (‘runner of the woods’), and encouraged us all to go try it. So we did.
We took our drinks out to the pimp seats on the deck. The boat was obviously used for a lot of weddings.
The view coming back into Quebec City wasn’t quite as nice with the sky, but still. Pretty impressive.
We passed the dock and went to see the Plains of Abraham and the Citadel. The river got rapidly more industrial in that direction. Then we turned around and headed back.
As the boat pulled up to the dock, the rain started. We were really glad we’d taken the morning trip, because we’d been pretty lucky with the weather. We got off and walked into the Basse-Ville in search of lunch.
We walked around looking at menus, and as expected, being vegetarian was a challenge. We finally decided on a place called Côtes-à-Côtes Resto Grill. I was a little nervous about it being overly-touristy since it was right there on the river, but the menu was actually really good.
The rain had stopped again, so we asked for a table on the patio. There was another couple sitting out there, and we both had tables under large umbrellas in case it rained again. We ordered local beers (Le Cheval Blanc) and a cheve rillette with eggplant caviar and enjoyed the scenery. Oh, and the building dated from 1683. Crazy.
Right as our entrees arrived, it started raining again. For a while we were protected, and then the rain started increasing. We moved indoors and finished our meal.
We took the funicular back up the hill and went to go do more wandering in Vieux Quebec.
(I love the strange typeface on that building. It’s on the plaza facing Chateau Frontenac.)
Matt had a restaurant in mind in St Roch (what we thought of as the hipster part of Quebec), so we headed that direction. It was raining pretty steadily, which was kind of annoying for our wandering, mostly for photo-taking purposes.) We stopped into a few shops along the way to pick up souvenirs. The humidity was ridiculous, so we appreciated the air conditioning when we stopped.
We climbed down the hill from the Haute-Ville and saw the Gare du Palais near the river. We’re both huge train station nerds, so we had to go inside. (Plus they had nice bathrooms.) It was a good break from the rain, too.
From there we walked into St Roche Faubourg, and found La Korrigane. It was a quiet little place in what became a busy part of town, since it was nearing post-work hours and next to a busy bus stop. We sat there and watched Quebec City do its thing. In the meantime, the weather went from raining to clear and sunny. And HOT.
After a couple beers, we decided to head back up toward Vieux Quebec. We had fancy dinner plans and wanted to clean up a bit before we went over there.
We knew we’d come a very long way and that it had all been downhill, so we were ready for the fact that we’d be climbing. But holy crap, the hills in the heat and full sun – it was ridiculous. We got to a huge spiraling set of stairs and had to decide if it was better to keep climbing hills for blocks on end (on the ‘highway’ that had brought us into town) or take the stairs. We opted for the stairs, and took a recovery break at the top.
We wanted to pick up some liquor-based souvenirs to take home with us, so we looked up a liquor store nearby and went over there. It was called SAQ, and we liked that we ended up with a reusable liquor store back that said SAQ all over it. It’s Matt’s preferred mode of booze-transportation to this day.
The views were much improved from the rainy afternoon. We passed through the plaza with the Palais Montcalm and through the city gate.
Matt stopped into a nearby sports shop to by a Quebec Remparts tshirt. He’d watched enough local hockey to be a fan. (And their logo is awesome.)
We made it back to our hotel and had to shower, we were so sweaty. We hung out in the air conditioning and had a beer and an espresso from the lobby machine. (I loved that machine.) Then we changed and headed back down one of the many hills to dinner at Chez Boulay around 8pm. On the way there we ended up behind a group of young men we instantly realized were hockey players – plus Matt recognized one of them from TV – and were way too excited about it. One of the players asked the younger kids tagging along if they wanted to go get gelato, so they instantly became my favorite team. We later learned that they were the Oshawa Generals, who went on to win the Coupe Memorial.
At Chez Boulay, we were seated right away at the bar, and ordered fancy cocktails. Mine arrived with a gooseberry.
Our meal was as incredible as expected, and the service was very good. I had a beet salad, and gnocchi with local cheese. Matt had Arctic char carpacchio with cattail and milkweed pods, and bison cheek (which was the cheek of the day. Really). I liked that while the restaurant had really high-end food, it wasn’t overly pretentious, nor were the people there. It was a mix of locals and tourists.
After dinner, we decided to go back to the Hotel Chateau Frontenac to have a drink in the other recommended bar there. I stopped into the gift shop and overpaid like crazy for souvenirs (they were worth it), and then we headed to Bistro Le Sam. Its entrance is right next to the main hotel bar, but it’s very open and modern, not at all like the old-guy hunting lodge next door. Our bartender greeted us and gave us menus, and we noticed that most of the signature drinks from next door were on there, in addition to others.
We got talking to him about the local gin called Ungava, because its distinct feature is that it’s bright yellow. He had us sample that and another local gin, and then offered to mix drinks with them. Matt ended up with a Negroni, quite possible his favorite cocktail on earth after the Manhattan, and that led to a very long discussion about how Quebec bartenders had participated in Negroni week. Jean-Felix, our bartender, said he’d taken notes on all the variations and wanted to make them.
So it was time for mini-Negroni week at the Fairmont Hotel Chateau Frontenac. (Here’s Jean-Felix’s post he said he’d write with the cocktail details afterwards.) We met some celebrating locals and talked to them for a bit, and then it was time to go. We really wanted to hang out there all night, but we had a long drive to America ahead of us.
Sadly, it was time to leave Quebec. We got up early on Jeudi, asked at the front desk for the car, and walked over to Starbucks for coffee and a scone for the road. The car was waiting when we got back.
We got on the highway out of QC and took a huge bridge over the St Lawrence. The speed limits were much slower than we would have liked. We passed through a long series of small Quebecois towns with moose crossing signs everywhere.
We reached the middle-of-nowhere border at CA173/US201 around 11:30. The only other person there was a lady on foot, which was incredibly perplexing since as far as we knew, there was nothing around for miles. The border agent looked in the car, but we didn’t have to pull over for the full inspection like we had entering Canada. USA!
We crossed into Maine and continued on through dense forest and hilly terrain. The first town was Jackman, so we stopped there to use the bathroom and get beverages. It looked like a northern-Wisconsin stop, all camo and gun supplies.
Eventually we met up with the Kennebec River, so at least we had something to look at.
FINALLY, we reached I-95. We stopped again right before getting on the freeway, and noticed some pretty sizeable storm clouds looming. Right around Augusta it started raining, then pouring, then something beyond pouring I haven’t really seen before. Visibility dropped to nothing on the interstate, and everyone pulled over to sit on the side of the road. I was worried it would hail and our tiny car would be pummeled to bits.
We sat there for about ten minutes, and then it let up. Everyone got back on the road again, and by the time we reached our exit at Freeport, it was sunny again (though the clouds were still hanging out behind us, waiting.)
Our first order of business in Maine was getting Matt a lobster roll. I’d spent some of the drive Googling to find out who had the best lobster roll in Freeport, and consensus was Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster, on the marina in South Freeport.
The place was exactly what we wanted out of the Maine coast. I was thrilled they actually had some vegetarian options, too. A veggie burger isn’t exciting, but it’s something.
Matt ordered a lobster roll, and we shared a massive order of onion rings. The view was pretty good, too:
(This ended up being only the second-best lobster roll he had in Maine.)
By the time we finished eating, it was clear that the storm was coming our way. We decided to take shelter at Maine Beer Company.
They had a nice little taproom (which was quite new), and I was impressed with their commitment to being totally green. There were solar panels all over outside. The beers were awesome, too.
It started pouring, so we waited out the storm there. A guy came in with a guitar and started playing Bob Marley songs, so we considered living there. But we had farther to go, so we took a couple bottles to go, and got back on the road to Portland. It was rush hour time, so we ended up sitting in traffic on one of the many bridges in town. But since it’s a small town it wasn’t too bad, and we reached our hotel near the airport around 6pm. (It would have been easier to stay in downtown, but I wanted to be able to get back on the road early the next morning.)
After checking in, we got back in the car and headed downtown. We parked in a very expensive ramp, since street parking was nuts, and walked over to the Hunt & Alpine Club to have a pre-dinner cocktail. It was one of those stereotypical uber-hipster bars, but their drinks were really good, the staff was friendly, and they service Scandinavian food so we felt right at home.
Then it was time for the dinner reservation we’d made weeks in advance for Grace. It’s a restaurant in an old church in Portland.
We had a table on the rail overlooking the central bar and kitchen, and there was a huge church window behind us (and another bar). The host stand was a lector, and there were pews along the outside walls. The kitchen was up where the pulpit used to be. It was spectacular.
As was the food – we had mushroom and chevre ravioli as an appetizer, and my entree was marinated tempeh. Matt had pan-seared wahoo, farotto, and charred spring onions.
After dinner, we walked down to the port. It took us a while to get there even though it was a few blocks, because the lights NEVER changed for pedestrians to cross the large road along the port. It was really weird. We finally jaywalked and went into Liquid Riot, which was a combination brewery/distillery (called Infiniti). The crowd was very bro-ey.
One of their specialties was beer schnapps, so we sampled that and their white whiskey. We decided on beer rather than cocktails. They had a really excellent sour that I liked a lot.
Then it was time to go, so we paid our $21 parking fee (what the hell, Portland?) and went back to the hotel.
We got up early, had a quick breakfast at the hotel, and got back on the interstate heading south. We exited at York, a town I’d visited before and really wanted Matt to see. It screams “Maine”.
Our first stop was the Nubble Light at Cape Neddick (above). We sat around looking at the coast for a while, and the really entertaining seagulls.
Most of the houses there are rentals. I would not be sad to have that experience.
From there we drove over to see the beach.
When in Maine, it’s important to drink like the locals do.
The water was cold, but the day was warm. There were a decent number of people out on the beach on a Friday morning.
I could look at this view forever. In fact, I intend to someday – just in a more Caribbean locale.
Back in York, we stopped at Stonewall Kitchen for some shopping and lunch on their patio. This was Matt’s second lobster roll, and by far his favorite.
Bally made a friend there.
After lunch, we took highway 1 across the bridge from Kittery into New Hampshire, because I knew Matt would love Portsmouth, too. It’s such an adorable little town. Since we were on a whirlwind driving tour, we didn’t really get much in the way of photos.
From there we got back on the interstate and headed toward Vermont. There were a few tolls along the way, but it was worth it to be able to drive 120kph (70mph) for once.
You’d think it would be a pretty quick trip through NH to VT, but it’s not. At least it’s scenic. The whole drive looks basically like this (there was also a ton of stuff we’d have loved to stop and see along the way, but unfortunately time is always the enemy):
We drove straight across New Hampshire and stopped right at the border at the exit for Dartsmouth to pick up snacks and drinks. I was sleepy, so I was glad Matt was taking over driving. The people at the store were all so talkative and gregarious, it made us nervous.
Burlington wasn’t much farther, which made us happy. We got off and drove into South Burlington, encountering the really crappy traffic Google had warned us about. We drove a few blocks north before going to the hotel, because we had to find this: it’s the world’s tallest filing cabinet.
(Since it’s Burlington, we passed at least three breweries on the way there.)
Our hotel was conveniently only a half-mile away, and the front desk lady was great. Even more conveniently, Magic Hat‘s brewery was across the street. We stopped in for some samples and the DIY tour, where Bally ran the video controls.
Then we drove into town and headed down to the port. It was hopping down there, with a few lakeside restaurants and the ferry terminal. We found the statue of Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, sitting there in the shipyard.
He also has a memorial closer to the waterfront:
Burlington’s harbor is really nice, and there were people with kayaks and paddleboards in the lake. It’s definitely our kind of town.
You can see New York from there!
The sunset wasn’t bad, either:
From there we drove into downtown and parked at the municipal ramp. There was an awesome little pedestrian area in the middle of town that reminded us of Santa Monica, and of course Ben & Jerry’s was right there. We’d picked out Farmhouse for dinner a while back, and weren’t too bothered by the half-hour wait, because they had a really nice beer garden out back. The place was super-crowded, which is always a good sign.
Once we were seated, we ordered the cheese board, which came with really excellent local cheeses and apple butter. Matt ordered a Heady Topper, one of the most raved-about beer nerd beers. It’s only available in very limited local release, so people go far out of their way for it.
(Matt told me later that the guy eating dinner by himself at the next table ordered two Heady Toppers, and stuffed one of the empty cans into his jeans pocket when he was done. Good souvenir.)
I had the restaurant’s famous corn cakes with mushrooms and kale. Matt had bourbon-braised chicken with barley. Everything was excellent, and their beer and cocktail list was the kind of thing that could lead to a lost evening. We restrained ourselves, though, since we had an early flight the next morning.
We did decide to stop into Captain Tom’s Tiki Bar for a nightcap, though, because it was a hilariously tacky bar in the alley behind Ken’s Pizza, and it was really nice outside. We had a drink there, and then it was time to head to bed, thankful that we’d already packed our bags earlier in the day. We agreed that we both really liked Burlington, and would love to see more of the area.
We got up at 6:45am Saturday morning, had a quick breakfast at the hotel, and drove to the car rental dropoff. The shuttle was there waiting (because who else was returning a car that early on Saturday?) and we were at the airport before 8am. We saw an airline captain walking to work, which was awesome.
BTV had an excellent little restaurant called the Skinny Pancake, the kind of place that has a food-sourcing map on the wall. (My hippie heart loves that stuff.) We got coffee and went to go hang out in rocking chairs until our flight.
We boarded a very small plane at 9am and flew to Detroit, then back to Minneapolis, where we had plenty of time left to enjoy the weekend.
Matt and I took our third trip to Negril, joining our friends who visit there every year. We stayed up on the cliffs for the entire week, and only missed being on the beach a little.
(The entire photoset is here on Flickr.)
Read from the beginning below, or jump to each day:
We got up very early Friday morning and drove over to Matt’s work. Since it was painfully cold outside, he dropped me off at the Park N Go building and went to park the car in the ramp. I went in to get us a couple spots on an outgoing shuttle (his work has an arrangement with Park N Go that lets us ride their shuttles for free, which is awesome), and it picked us up and headed to the airport.
The line for the bag drop at US Air was terrible, and I was worried we’d have to go through regular security since our Precheck numbers weren’t on our boarding passes. The desk agent was able to sort that out and reprint them, but then we discovered that the line at Precheck was super-long, too. We stopped to get coffee, and arrived at the gate to find the flight in the middle of boarding. We got on and headed to our very own two-seat exit row, which was very convenient.
We knew that Kris and Orsi and their kids were there somewhere, too, but we didn’t see them on the flight. They boarded a while later, and apparently we’d totally missed them waiting at the gate.
We landed in Charlotte a couple hours later, and met at the brewpub by our gate. Kris gave us the Jamaican cash he’d picked up for us at the bank. It sure looked like a lot of money. (This is $400 US.)
We had snacks and beer and then boarded the next flight to Montego Bay. Matt and I had another 2-seat row, this time with a chatty flight attendant in the jump seat.
We landed in Mobay a little late, customs forms in hand. There was one lady standing in the hallway checking every single customs form, which led to a huge messy crowd of people from the flight standing around. Once we got past her, we went to stand in the always-long customs and immigration lines. At least it wasn’t quite as hot in there as usual, and since I was carrying flipflops in my bag I was able to change to something not quite as warm.
We eventually made it through passport control, then stood in another long line for customs. Finally, we were in Jamaica. We found Kris and Orsi hanging out with the bags. We picked up snacks and a bunch of Red Stripes and Dragon Stout for the road, and found our driver waiting for us. (Their friends in Negril had arranged a driver for us, for only $20/person. That was awesome.) We piled in the van and were on our way.
Well, sort of. Traffic was godawful in Mobay, partly due to a cruise ship in port. It took us close to an hour to get out of town.
I did get to see this giant sugarcane truck along the way, though. Future rum! I hope it was going to Appleton.
The kids were bored on the long ride, and food only occupied them for a while. We finished all our beers halfway through the trip, too. We had to stop to use the bathroom and resupply our beverages, the drive was taking so long.
Our flight had landed just after noon, but we didn’t make it to Negril until sunset. It’s usually a 90-minute drive!
We arrived at Samsara, and checked into our rooms. The guy at the front desk told me and Matt that we’d be staying in one room for a night, and then transferring to our actual room for a week, and we were fine with that. We didn’t realize until the porter started leading us there that our single-night room was one of their awesome stilt houses overlooking the ocean!! I’d wanted to stay in one of those, so we were thrilled at the opportunity.
The room was fairly small, taken up almost entirely by the king-size bed and giant wardrobe, but it was great. The wind was blowing like crazy, so it didn’t matter that there wasn’t an air conditioner. (The overhead fan helped, too.) There was a bathroom with a sink and toilet on the same level as the room, but the shower was downstairs. There was also a decent-sized balcony from which you could see the ocean and the entire hotel property. (Not well since it was nighttime, but still.)
Once we were settled in, we met up with Kris and Orsi and headed down the road to No Limit, our bar-away-from-home. It was so great to be back.
They ordered food from Tony, who had a huge grill set up in the parking lot outside. He didn’t have any rice and peas left, so Orsi and I walked down to Pablo’s to get a carry-out order. It wasn’t the best thing I’d ever eaten, but as I’d learned on previous visits to Jamaica, vegetarians can’t be picky there.
No Limit had cricket on TV, so Matt and Kris decided to teach the kids how to play. They used a broken mop handle as a bat, and plastic cups from the bar as the ball. It seemed to work OK for them.
After hanging around there for a couple hours and greeting all the regulars, we headed back to the hotel. It was really clear out, so we went and sat on a low wall by the ocean, as far away as possible from the lights. We spent a long time picking out constellations, and then it was time to head to bed in our stilt house.
The ocean was pretty rough due to wind, and I woke up halfway through the night thinking I was going to freeze to death. I had to get up and close the windows, even. Who knew you could be cold in Jamaica?
In the morning, we agreed that our stilt house was indeed awesome. I felt like not having A/C in there would be fine no matter what the weather was like. It was noisy in the wind, but that’s always the case along the ocean. Look how cute this place is!!
From the balcony, you can see both pools. That’s Seven Mile Beach in the distance, too.
The sea was pretty rough that day, splashing up over the cliffs. It was gorgeous outside, though. Jamaica makes it easy to forget that it’s winter in Minnesota.
I was beyond thrilled with the shower, too. It’s basically outside. I’m glad they supplied robes, too, so I didn’t have to get dressed to go down there.
Sadly, we had to leave our awesome stilt house that day. We carried the bags downstairs and left them at the front desk while we went to get breakfast.
Here’s the section of road we end up walking along 5,000 times in Negril. It’s the route between our hotel, Lance’s convenience store, and No Limit (in the center of the photo). There are a few other shops and restaurants along the way, too.
We walked down to Jenny’s Cakes for breakfast. The kids had slices of cake, and the adults had the typical Jamaican breakfast of saltfish and ackee, festival, callalloo, and boiled bananas (I had a callalloo sandwich). They have a great little patio, and the restaurant/bar is country-western themed, for some strange reason.
On the way back, we stopped into Peewee’s, across the street from No Limit, and checked out the ocean. It was still really windy, and Peewee’s had a tarp around its giant tiki hut bar.
That castle down the way is fascinating. I want to see inside.
We went back to the hotel and went to hang out at the pool for a few hours. We alternated between the big pool, which had a giant floating ring with a Sandals logo on it and cupholders, and the wading pool where we’d mostly sit on the edge and drink beers while the kids played.
Later on, we took a cab to the Canoe Bar for happy hour (where we had two-for-one Dirty Bananas), and then went to have a late lunch around 4pm at the German Bar (which is past the castle along the road). I hadn’t been there before, but instantly liked it. It’s decorated with shells and coral, has a huge thatched roof, and they serve really excellent rectangular pizzas (in addition to traditional German food).
After lunch, we walked back and hung out on the patio at the hotel. Once our room was ready, we rolled our bags down there and got settled in. We had an air-conditioned room this time, with a patio that overlooked the pool and hot tub. It was much bigger than the stilt house, but I think I’d still have rather been there.
We dropped the kids off with Nav and Byron, their babysitters for the evening. It was Valentine’s Day, and Matt and Kris had big plans for us. Apart from the fact that we were going to Pushcart for dinner, Orsi and I had no idea what was in store. We sat on the patio watching the sunset while they got ready.
And then there was this.
Kris’ mom is a seamstress, and had made their outfits by hand. Matt didn’t even know what he was getting; Kris had just demanded his measurements and told him he’d take care of it. They were a hit at the hotel bar.
We took a cab down to Pushcart, and were seated at the bar for dinner. The servers and bartenders couldn’t stop laughing about their outfits. Some tourist ladies came up and congratulated Orsi and I on getting our husbands to dress up like that; we told them that was all their doing, not ours!
Dinner at Pushcart was as good as it was on our first visit. I had ackee patties and the bushman stew, which was vegan (and way too filling to even eat half of). Matt had pepper shrimp soup, jerk skewers, and braised oxtail. The cocktails were great, too. Before we left, the dudes had to go get their picture taken with Gregory Isaacs. I think it turned out pretty well:
We took a cab back to No Limit and collected the kids. Matt and Kris and I walked over to Peewee’s for a rum punch. They got a long talking-to about the difference between bussin’ and boastin’, and god knows what else that was somehow related to their outfits. The dress-up bit seemed to make a lot of Jamaicans really profoundly uncomfortable, as if it might mean they were gay. (It’s an incredibly homophobic country, which is probably the biggest downside to Jamaica.) It was pretty hilarious.
We got up the next morning and met at the entrance to the hotel to get the shuttle to the beach. The bus was packed, so Matt and I got to ride up front with the driver. It was cozy, to say the least. He dropped us off at Legends (Samsara’s sister property), and told us he’d be back to pick us up at 4pm.
We went out and got a couple beach chairs and hung out for a while. This was the view from our chairs: a bunch of Canadians laying around.
After a while, we went to get beers at the bar and then Matt, Kris and I went to wander. Here’s the lobster pizza place, in case anyone wanted a very questionable lunch. (It’s next door to Legends, so we talk about it all the time.)
Then there was Yellow Bird, one of our favorite places. It’s the perfect little thatch-roofed beach hut.
And they have dirty bananas, an important Jamaica tradition.
23/7 still hasn’t been rebuilt. There’s a new ‘no trespassing’ sign there, and no sign of anything new going in. I really wish someone would buy it.
Just as we’d hoped, there were signs up for Money Cologne’s birthday party. (His birthday is the same day as Matt’s, as we’d learned two visits prior.) Tarrus Riley was the biggest show happening while we were there, so we decided we’d need to go to that. Plus Roots Bamboo is awesome.
We’d hoped to find patties or something lunch-like to bring back to Orsi and the kids at Legends, but Kris didn’t find anything he wanted. We decided to walk back and go have lunch at Bourbon Beach instead. On the way back, I met a local named Duane who told me I should definitely come find him while I was out on my ‘lady walk’ later, and didn’t have my husband around. I went back and told Orsi all about it.
We grabbed a big table inside the building and ordered food. I had veggie tacos, and they all got giant piles of meat from the jerk hut. Our server overheard us talking about going to Floyd’s Pelican Bar later in the week, and mentioned that he was her cousin. She said she’d try to get a hold of him for us to find out if they had anything vegetarian there.
On the way back to Legends, we ran into Jomo, one of Kris and Orsi’s friends from the cliffs (he lives across the street from No Limit). He came with us to wander on the beach again.
We stopped into Roots Bamboo for a drink, and to sit around talking. Bally came out to say hi.
Matt and I mentioned that we wanted to go find the bar up the beach that looked like a boat, because we’d walked past it a few times late at night, and had always wanted to go there. When we’d gone by before, though, it was either packed or looked like it was closed. Jomo said he knew of the boat bar, so we headed further up the beach in that direction.
What he took us to was indeed called the Boat Bar, and it was definitely a boat. But the place we were picturing was wooden, whereas this was all tile/stone and not visible from the direction we would have been walking. But he insisted it was the only boat bar, and we couldn’t argue that it was great regardless. Their signature drink was something called a Steel Bottom, but we decided to wait til next time to have one. It was a long day of beer and rum already.
Matt and Kris went to go sit at the beach with the kids, so Orsi and I went to wander back to Yellow Bird on our lady walk. We did indeed run into Duane on the way, but he was less persistent this time, thankfully.
The kids were playing in the pool when we got back, and the sun was getting low. The beach shuttle had long since left, so we decided to have dinner on the beach before heading back to the cliffs. Matt and I had had an excellent meal at Kuyaba before, so we decided to go there again. They gave us a table on the patio with a good view for sunset.
Our meal was great, and so was sunset.
We went to watch the birds, Charlie and Buddy, doing their tricks before being put to bed, and then we went to get a cab at Legends. We rode back up to No Limit, where we spent the rest of the night playing Jenga and drinking white rum, which is always a terrible decision.
Monday morning, we got a cab to Just Natural. We’d eaten there on our previous trip and had wanted to go back, because it’s incredible.
It’s set back a couple of ‘blocks’ (such as they are in Negril) from the cliffs, so it’s warmer up there. They have a big piece of land with the restaurant at the front and a jungle behind. There are paths all over to little dining areas, a bar, and a playground for the kids. They have fruit trees growing everywhere.
One of my favorite parts of the whole experience is the bathrooms. They’re outdoor and almost entirely handmade, including the urinal.
This would not fly in America. I love it.
Szof and I played checkers while waiting for our food.
Look at this Jamaican breakfast. Seriously, AMAZING.
After eating and buying a bunch of hot sauce to take a long, we decided to walk back. It’s a long way from there to the hotel and it was hot, but we had nothing but time.
There were yard goats along the way. I love them.
We stopped into a bakery to buy stuff to take along, and got bottles of water for the walk. It’s a lot quieter along the cliffs when you’re that far from the roundabout. There’s far less traffic and fewer taxis honking at you. There are pretty excellent views, too.
Also, there’s the Negril lighthouse!
It wasn’t open that day, but we were still able to climb part of the way up for pictures.
Bally found a cannon to hang out in, too. Everyone loves CannonBally.
Then we headed back out on the road again. We stopped after a bit at a little bar to pick up some beers, and admired their spectacular view.
Then we stopped into Ricks just to see it again. I wanted to show them the pool that has tables sitting in it, so you can have dinner with your feet in the water.
Then we headed out again. Our walk along the cliffs had become something of a death march at that point, because it was hot and we were tired. I think we finished the last mile in total silence.
Back at the hotel, my poolside bed called. I love this thing!
We hung out in the little pool drinking beer and talking, and then Matt and I went to go snorkel off the cliffs. The waves were a little rough so I was nervous about getting in the water, but it was fine. There’s a really good spot near the far end of Samsara where I found all manner of fish hanging out.
Then we went to sit and watch the kids jumping off the cliffs. A friend of Kris and Orsi’s had made him and Atti matching trunks in sort of a green Zubaz pattern. They were… something.
Szof has no fear. She jumped about a million times while we were there.
Kris’ jump was majestic.
We went to go shower and change, then came back out to get a table and watch the sunset. It was too hazy for a good sunset, but you can’t really complain about this:
A big group of people had shown up for what’s apparently become an important tradition: the naked cliff jump. As far as we could tell, they were primarily Canadian and mostly really extremely drunk. We saw a lot of man ass and Canadian flags while this was happening.
After sunset, we walked up to No Limit, and saw that all the Canadian cliff-jumpers were hanging out up there. Kris and Orsi headed back early, and Matt and I stuck around a little bit longer before walking back. We went to their room and saw that it was dark, so we hung out talking to their new next-door neighbors for a bit.
On the way back to our room we heard the kids yelling, and saw that they were all over on the cliff edge, lighting lanterns and sending them off over the ocean, so we stuck around watching that (which was awesome) before calling it an early night and heading to bed, where Matt stayed up watching the Westminster Dog Show on TV while I dozed off.
Tuesday we decided that since we’d had to have a death march the previous day, we’d just hang out and not do much. That seemed like an excellent plan, and the weather was perfect. (This photo looks menacing, but it was actually gorgeous out.)
We walked down the road to Sips and Bites for breakfast. Matt and I had never been there before. We ordered drinks, and then sat there waiting for a very long time. Finally a couple drinks arrived, but not all of them. I asked for water, and didn’t get it. I eventually ended up asking three times, but it never happened. We ordered breakfast, and then sat there FOREVER with no food. There were a few other tables there, including a table of local police, but it didn’t seem especially busy. There’s island-time slow everywhere you go in Jamaica, but this place won by a mile.
Finally, we got our food. I did not get water. We ate, and then waited forever for our check. We noticed that one of the cops got up and went next door to a shop to buy a bottle of water. That didn’t really reflect well on the place.
About six hours later, we paid our check and left. Matt and I went next door and bought water, because I thought I was going to die of dehydration at that point. (It was really hot out, too.) We walked back to the hotel, changed into our bathing suits, and went to hang out at the pool all day. I revisited my pal the poolside bed for a while, too. It’s the best.
In the afternoon, we went to sit at the bar and play Moby Dick. Since it’s the nerdiest game ever, Kris and Orsi took to it right away. We ended up arguing over sailor cards and giving them all nicknames. People would walk by and stare at our table, trying to figure out what the hell we could possibly be doing.
Later on, we went down to Canoe Bar for happy hour. Orsi and I took the kids down to the beach to play while Kris and Matt went to the store.
When they got back, we went up to the restaurant to get a table on the patio for dinner. On the way up there, we saw the cricket guy from the beach walking along the road (the story was that he’d had too much mushroom tea and gone crazy over the years; you can often find him playing his own personal game of cricket up and down Seven Mile Beach). He was strolling along, stark naked and carrying his shirt. Awesome.
Sunset was something.
After dinner, we walked up to No Limit for a while, then headed back to the hotel for another early night.
The next morning, we crossed the street to Pressa for breakfast. It was probably the closest restaurant to our hotel, and we hadn’t been there yet. The lady who ran the place was adorable, and insisted on showing us photos of her grandkids before we ate.
Immediately after breakfast, we found Popsie and hopped in his cab to Ragabones. It’s a bar/restaurant up in the hills of Negril (where it’s probably 20 degrees warmer all the time), and the place is so popular you have to get there early. They make a huge batch of jerk pork every day, but it’s usually gone by noon.
The last time we’d been there, it was quiet and we were able to hang out in the bar. This time, the place was packed with Canadians and people from the east coast, some of which were really loud and aggressive about their seating situation. That’s really strange for anyone in Jamaica, really. We got some Red Stripes (they keep them in the freezer, and when they advertise having the coldest beer around it’s not joke) and hung out outside while the dudes got packages of pork.
While we were waiting, a big tour van full of tourists drove up. The driver got out and said hi while helping the people out of the van. He said he’d called ahead to make sure his group would have lunch waiting. He went inside, and then came out fuming shortly afterwards, because apparently they’d sold out already. There’s some serious competition for that jerk pork, apparently.
Kris and Matt packed up their food for later, and we walked back down the hill toward town. On the way, we met a grazing goat on the side of the road.
Kris saw a tiny barbershop across the street, so he went in to get his beard trimmed.
We walked through town along the roundabout, and stopped at a fruit cart to pick up some more sustenance. I got a back of chopped-up pineapple, and carried it along.
We stopped at the Jerk Hut next, just past the roundabout going toward the cliffs. There we ordered some more food, including jerk chicken, rice and peas, and a giant order of festival (which was delicious). We hung out eating everything but the jerk pork from Ragabones. Right as we were finishing, it started pouring.
Luckily, Popsie was driving by, and stopped to pick us up. He dropped us back off at the hotel, and by then (only a few minutes later), the rain had passed. We hung out by the pool some more.
The sky always looks so menacing, even when it’s barely overcast. Dramatic pool shot!
The kids wanted to jump off the cliff, so we hung out watching them for a long time. The ocean was really calm.
As the sun started to set, the boat tours began passing by. Szof had made a friend who used to be a gymnast, so they developed elaborate cartwheeling jumps off the cliffs for the boats’ entertainment. It was great.
Sunset wasn’t bad, either!
We hadn’t seen many full sunsets because it has been a little overcast the whole time, but this one made up for it.
After dinner, everyone packed up their food and we went to No Limit. It was Ash Wednesday, which always means there’s a big show down at Bourbon Beach (it was called Hash Wednesday, which is hilarious). Matt and I had fully intended to go down to the Tarrus Riley show with everyone else (anytime you asked anyone, they said they were going), but the closer it got, the less we were inclined to go down to a show that probably wouldn’t start til after midnight. We were in bed by that time most nights, after all. The sun and the beer make you lazy, after all.
On the way to the bar, we stopped at a tiny little hut called Errol’s. Errol was a tiny old rasta, and his restaurant was a small kitchen and a platform with two two-seat tables on it. All his food was ital (rastas are vegan), so he put together a sampler for me. It was gigantic and I was dying of happiness over it. I wish I could eat this every day (well, in half the quantity). It had pumpkin rice, stew peas, ackee, callaloo, vegetables, and some kind of fake meat. So good.
It was quiet up on the cliffs because of the show, and only a few people were at No Limit. We took our food to a table, and they supplemented with stuff from Tony’s grill outside. We hung out there for a long time drinking beer and talking, and then it was time once again for bed.
I really have no idea how you manage to be sleepy after doing so little in Jamaica, but you do. And it’s awesome.