1,224 Miles: Bonjour, Montreal

Thirty years ago in Vidalia, Georgia, while I was celebrating my graduation from high school and the arrival of the first week of summer, way over in China, the nightmarish Tiananmen Square Massacre was taking place.

Thirty years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, Russ’s family was actually re-routing their vacation plans, wisely deciding to go to Canada instead of China, which was their original destination. Even though one those countries is a little less exotic than the other, they both do start with a “C,” so the replacement made sense, I guess.

Visiting Canada with his family is a memory Russ always talks about; they had a fantastic time and fell in love with quaintness of Quebec. Since then, Russ has frequently mentioned taking us to French Canada.

He had a surplus of frequent flyer points, so we finally bit the bullet and planned a trip up to Montreal and Quebec for the week after Memorial Day. (Once the tickets were booked, I remembered why I’d dragged my feet so long on agreeing to visit Canada: Delta only flies their little regional jets there. Eek. Not a fan–talking to you, winglets.)

Thankfully, the ride up there was fairly smooth–and short: Atlanta to Montreal only requires about 2.5 hours in the air. We landed and made it through Customs in no-time flat; traveling just with carry-ons is our new way to go and though it involves some strategic packing, not having to wait at baggage claim is a game-changer.

We were headed to a VRBO in a little neighborhood 5 minutes north of downtown Montreal. On the VRBO website, the borough of Outremont had been listed as a conservative, family-friendly, quiet neighborhood, and the apartment, in an older building, appeared large and well-kept. We were told there was an 11 p.m. quiet curfew which I thought was a little interesting but manageable.

Once we arrived, I realized I’d booked us a place smack dab in the Hasidic Jewish center of Montreal. To say we stuck out as tourists is a bit of an understatement.

We dropped our bags and walked around the corner to grab dinner at La Piazzetta, which was clean, fast, and tasty. After dinner, we strolled around the neighborhood and looked for a grocery store in order to grab some breakfast items.

It felt like a night in late October in Atlanta; we were thrilled to have escaped the 95+ degree temperatures.

We found a market and headed in.

oops…forgot we were in a Kosher market…

We woke up Thursday morning and headed out on foot towards Mile End. I’d read there were lots of cute boutiques and shops in this Bohemian area of Montreal. We must have been several streets off because we couldn’t really find a single one of them–with the exception of the UbiSoft office building.

I didn’t know what the thrill of the UbiSoft building was, either–until Jack and Tucker explained they are the ones who create all those video games you said you’d never allow your kids to play

Next up was a local food tour. We’ve done these in Rome and Chicago, and somehow they’ve always been big hits, even with our crew of picky eaters. We opted for the Mile End Montreal Food Tour and our guide, Andreanne, was adorable. After a taste of organic falafel at the popular vegan cafe The Green Panther, we began our guided walk around Mile End (which was much more informative than the unguided one we’d endured that morning).

a maple-pecan fancy handmade chocolate at Chocolats Genevieve Grandbois
a famous Montreal bagel at St. Viateur Bagel

We also had gnocchi from Drogheria Fine, a charcuterie at Boucherie Lawrence, and topped it off with an ice cream/sorbet mix at KemCoba.

After that gorge-fest, we headed back to the apartment for a much needed rest. I’d not thought it out very well when booking the food tour because we also had big dinner reservations that night at Les Enfants Terribles on the top of the Ville Marie–a 47 story building in downtown Montreal.

While the food was mediocre (and rather expensive), the views were incredible.

We were hurting for some exercise at this point, so we walked around downtown Montreal for a bit and stumbled across the Olympic Experience. I am a huge Olympics nerd, so this find made my day. The museum is chock-full of interactive exhibits, and I couldn’t wait for us to visit it later in the week.

the Tai Chi Single Whip…Ok, then

The temperature dropped and the winds picked up, so we opted to call it a night. Ubers are few and far between in Canada, a fact we were just beginning to learn. Rather than wait in the drizzle, we tackled the Metro.

Forty-five minutes or so later, we were walking (quietly) back to our apartment.

We hopped up on Friday, ate breakfast at the apartment, and then went back downtown.

We strolled through the Bonsecours Market, but the boys were much more interested with the happenings on the other side of the building.

It’s no secret we are escape room maniacs, and when the boys saw this place, the begging began…

I’d read mixed reviews about SOS Labyrinthe, but we all were entertained. It’s definitely not your typical escape room; instead, you have to find 4 different boxes and get a card stamped at each one–all while maneuvering a crazy maze. There are lots of switchbacks and dead-ends and turn-arounds and not very much intelligence is actually needed, but we made it out in less than an hour.

We spent the next few hours roaming around the Old Port of Montreal.

We stumbled across this magnificent ropes course…and the boys were set for 2 hours. Russ and I roamed a little on our own (always within view of the ropes course situation), and then headed up the street a bit for a snack once they were finished.

The boys were tired, so we Uber-ed it back to the apartment to rest and pack up for our early train the next morning. We planned on walking around the neighborhood again to find a dinner spot but had a hard time agreeing–a fate that typically happens to us when we get overtired and over hungry–which means we found ourselves back at the same restaurant we’d already visited, La Piazzetta.

We did manage to track down an adorable ice cream shop before we called it a night.

Our time in the Outremont borough was coming to an end. Next stop: Quebec!

4,725 Miles: Peru, Part I (or, Spring Break, Part VI: Tales From The Only People on the Planet Who’ve Been to Peru and Didn’t Do Macchu Pichu)

We were up with the roosters on Thursday morning and semi-frantically ran around the apartment, shoving things in backpacks and suitcases, hauling empty wine bottles out to the recycling, and triple-checking under the beds for overlooked pieces of clothing or stuffed animals. Our driver, Kenny, arrived a little after 7 to take us to the airport for our 11:00 flight to Lima.

(For the record, you don’t need to leave for the airport in Santiago 4 hours before your flight, even if you’re super-worried about rush hour traffic and even if you’ve read that you’re supposed to be checked-in 3 hours ahead of your international flight.)

The airport was a ghost town. In fact, the security lines hadn’t even opened. Roaming the terminal was an eerie experience. Also, killing that much time gets rather tedious after awhile.

Flying in Latin America is such an odd thing. Full stop. (And that is also a massive understatement.)

First of all, there’s the boarding. There are signs for the various rows of the airplane, and people began to line up well before our plane had even arrived. Luckily, I realized what was happening and dragged our luggage and backpacks over to the line for Rows 12-25 while the rest of the family fought over the charger.

Unlike Delta flights in the U.S., LATAM loads the plane from the back to the front, an attempt I suppose to throw the poor Row 36’ers a bone or something. But it also negates the benefit of having a seat closer to the front because the back-of-the-plane-folks manage to take up all the overhead bin space. Adding to this ridiculousness is the fact that Latin Americans love to stash their bags at the front of the plane, even if their seat is in the absolute last row.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the truly infuriating Measuring Box wielded by a flight attendant who targets the line of folks underneath the Rows 12-24 sign. Once I saw her eyeball me and start heading our way, I knew we were doomed. She plopped the Measuring Box on top of my suitcase, declared my bag too big (even though I’d flown down on a LATAM flight with absolutely no problem), and demanded I check it as I boarded the plane. What followed was a whole lot of rapid fire no-no-no-no’s and Spanglish by me while my children just stared at the ground. I took the measuring thing from her and easily slid my suitcase into it, proving it wasn’t too large. This did nothing to persuade her otherwise. My crazy-woman yelling didn’t help either. So I did what every lunatic flyer does: I tried to sneak it on anyway.

I’d almost gotten away with it, too, but the Measuring Box gal called me out and another flight attendant came DOWN THE AISLE of the plane to confiscate my bag. Cue more frantic Spanglish and ineffective arguing. Cue a stand-off between me and the flight attendant while a woman carrying FOUR BAGS (suitcase, duffel bag, backpack, giant shopping bag) pushed around me and began shoving her entire collection of earthly possessions in the overhead bin of a row that was about 10 ahead of her assigned seat. I pointed out that she was taking up twice as much space as my one bag would have which, let me state once again, had flown down in the overhead bin on this same plane with no problem whatsover.

You can guess how this story ends.

The flight attendantS (I’d drummed up enough fury now to have a gaggle of LATAM employees surrounding me) took my bag and checked it (which probably involved drop kicking it after pilfering through it). At least I’d not gone down without a fight (and a mighty valiant one, I dare say). I stomped down a few more rows to my seat, fuming.

As for the flight itself, all we needed were a few live animals for it to have qualified as the poster child for Latin American public transportation. There were MULTIPLE people who thought they were called to provide entertainment for all, so they didn’t use headphones. The kid young adult behind me not only kicked my seat the entire 4 hour flight but also blared filthy rap music so loudly that I could hear it over my own music played through my noise-cancelling headphones. There was one working bathroom on the plane, and Jack, Theo, and I waited in line with about 15 other people; we all nearly had heart attacks when we heard ear-piercing sirens and gunfire–from someone’s crime thriller movie being broadcast from a laptop for all to hear.

We finally landed in Lima, made it through Customs, retrieved my suitcase from baggage claim (still mad about that), and started the long slog in an Uber to our hotel.

I’ll give you one guess as to who was jockeying to paraglide…
(it didn’t happen, by the way…)

After a week with non-existent air conditioning and tiny showers, the JW Marriott in Miraflores felt like the most luxurious place on the planet.

We dropped our bags and headed up to the rooftop swimming pool.


After an hour or so, we called it a day, went back to the room, showered up, and headed out for the night. Our goal: dinner at Madam Tusan followed by a trip to the Magical Water Circuit to see the oft-written about lighted water fountains.

There are so many stories here; I’m not sure where to start…

First of all, Theo LOVES Asian food. Second of all, Lima is (amazingly) home to many of the world’s absolute best restaurants. Seeing as our family is chock full of picky eaters, revered places like Central weren’t an option. Madam Tusan‘s, however, sounded right up our alley.

It was suggested to make reservations well in advance. So I did. And wrote the info down and relayed it to all party members. I talked up this fancy, super-awesome Chinese place at which we were darn lucky to have landed a reservation.

Then we saw it at–oh, the travesty!–the Costanera Center.

Seems I was duped; Madam Tusan’s is basically South America’s P.F. Chang–a place that’s a dime a dozen around here. Theo begged to eat at Madam’s every single time we passed it in Santiago, but I put my foot down.

To say this dinner was highly anticipated is a gross understatement.

We arrived to an empty house–except for the waitstaff who were still being briefed on that night’s specials. We were shown to a very large circular booth and waited a while before being asked what we’d like to drink. As some of us were about to gnaw our arms off from hunger, we went ahead and expanded our horizons ordered some old reliables: edamame and lettuce wraps–along with our drinks. We were struggling with the rest of the menu, which was a mash-up between Chinese and Spanish, and some of us were getting frustrated. Remember we’d been up since the crack of dawn and had flown 4 hours on the party plane up from Santiago.

During the menu mayhem, Tucker managed to sneak in an order for a fancy (giant) frozen concoction that included lychee and which came in a glass that was about a foot tall.

[Foreshadowing alert.]

Our drinks and appetizers were served, and the 2 children who’d attempted to order a Shirley Temple (but then were forced to settle for a Sprite because “Shirley Temple” was totally lost in translation) gave Tucker and his fancy fruity frozen wonder the serious stink eye.

We argued over the menu a little more before settling on a family sized order of Bruce Lee chicken–a dish that comes with a warning that it’s “only for the brave”.

We aren’t quite sure when Theo took his shoes off. Nor are we quite sure what exactly transpired that caused Tucker’s gigantic glass to get knocked over. Add these together and you get what Russ said will forever go down as the craziest family dinner on record.

Tuck’s glass–which was still 3/4 of the way full of sticky, syrupy, icy lychee-ness–shattered. The beverage part splashed everywhere and glass shards flew off the table, under the table, over the table…pick your preposition. Theo–who wasn’t wearing shoes, remember–flew up onto the ledge behind our giant circular booth which was also surrounded by mirrors. Lychee slushie splashed into our food and all over our laps. The entire waitstaff–who had nothing better to do because Madam Tusan’s still hadn’t hit its stride for the night yet–came running. Then they just stood there looking at us. Like the crazy train that we were.

a few moments after being relocated to a different giant, circular, mirrored booth…

Our end goal for the evening had been to head out to the infamous Magic Water Circuit in time for the 8:15 show, but following our long day of travel topped by this escapade at Madam Tusan’s, we decided to call it a night and retreat to the hotel where we cued up a comedian on cable and savored the air conditioning instead.

We were down to just two days left in our Spring Break…