I could tell by the way my husband Bill was sneaking around that something cagey was going on. Doors were closed, the TV turned up, his voice lowered…all the usual signs that he was up to birthday intrigue. It was my turn to be the honoree, and I suspected that this birthday surprise would be a biggie.
I was right. My curiosity soared when I was instructed to pack cool-weather clothing, my passport and an acute sense of adventure. So when we boarded a plane headed to Pittsburgh, I thought, “Well, Pittsburgh could be interesting.” But a passport?
The mystery was soon solved when we boarded another plane, destination still unknown, and ultimately landed at Pierre Eliot Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, Canada, on a very beautiful day with lots of promise in store for a new adventure—with a French accent.
With our suite in the four-star Hilton Montreal Bonaventure as our headquarters, we boarded the Gray Line Montreal for a tour and overview of this beautiful city, where the Basilique Notre Dame is a jewel in the crown. This Gothic Revival cathedral is absolutely breathtaking! Picture the vaults of deep blue with gold stars, accented with azures, reds, purples, silver and gold—a glorious palette for the structure’s magnificent stained glass windows depicting Montreal’s religious history, all complimented with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings.
Montreal’s Biodome was equally impressive. Visitors can walk through replicas of four ecosystems: the lush and humid tropical rainforest; the Laurentian Maple Forest, which changes with the seasons; the Gulf of St. Lawrence; and the Polar Regions of the Americas. We were fascinated to learn that the Arctic is an ice-covered ocean and the Antarctic is an ice-covered continent. What a charming attraction, watching the wildlife exhibit with adorable penguins that cannot fly but move like rockets underwater. Imagine walking through these natural settings, from winter to summer, autumn to spring, complete with indigenous plant and wildlife, in one fascinating stroll. It was our wake-up call to all the complexities and beauty of our ecosystems.
We bade farewell to Montreal for the promises of continued adventures in Quebec City, capital of the Canadian province of Quebec. The promises were fulfilled, beginning the moment we pulled up to the world famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, the hotel that dominates the city’s skyline. From our perch on the 31st floor, Quebec City sparkled at our feet. Our suite of rooms was almost as large as my entire home, the linens soft as clouds, the furnishings elegant. I could have just stayed there! But adventure called.
We braved the funicular, the cable car connecting Upper Quebec with the Lower Town, where an array of narrow streets housed quaint shops and boutiques, fabulous restaurants and tourist attractions galore. We were particularly fascinated with the “living statues,” which seemed like stationary works of art but were suddenly humans who began to move ever so slowly.
At a French eatery, where we sat café-style and people-watched, I ate an appetizer of periwinkles served with straight pins for extracting the meat, a lesson I must have missed in charm school. But what is an ideal vacation if it doesn’t include new experiences?
Shopping was a retail paradise. At a clock shop, a colored glass wall clock with a glass bird pendulum tweeted to me. Along with that purchase were two light blue glass candles that were really oil lamps. The glass candles now occupy the centerpiece on my dining table, serving as a constant reminder of this absolutely marvelous Canadian experience.
My heartfelt thanks goes to my husband Bill for planning this unique and extravagant celebration of my birthday. I completely forgot that we were “celebrating” the fact that I’m another year older. But I ask you: Isn’t this the way to do it? Distract yourself. Just don’t think about it. My only looming thought when we returned home was, “How can I top this one? It’s my turn to plan now.” A little competition in this case is good for the soul.