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Friday, February 21, 2020

The Two Faces of Canada

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With its vibrant cities, natural wonders and two distinct — French and British — heritages, Eastern Canada makes a rich travel experience. 

Both the French and British cultures of the country are combined on Trafalgar's nine-day “Best of Eastern Canada” itinerary that begins, appropriately, in the country's largest city, Toronto. Though not the capital (that city, Ottawa, is visited later on the tour), Toronto is considered by some to be the center of Canadian life and offers all that you'd expect in a multicultural metropolis: museums, a wealth of historic landmarks, stylish shops, great restaurants and diverse neighborhoods.

Explore posh Yorkville, the centuries-old narrow lanes of Old Toronto and lively Queen Street West, lined with boutiques and shops. Toronto is truly a global place, a city where some 130 languages and dialects are spoken. You can eat your way around the world in Little Italy, Greektown, Chinatown and Little India, among the many ethnic enclaves.

Highs and Lows

The Trafalgar tour takes in Toronto's Queen’s Park and the Ontario Provincial Parliament buildings. You'll ascend to the top of the 1,815-foot-tall CN Tower for a thrilling panorama over Lake Ontario, the easternmost of the Great Lakes. Those with steel nerves can walk the tower's Glass Floor or, even more vertigo-inducing, step onto the EdgeWalk, a five-foot outdoor ledge at the top, while attached to a harness.

From Toronto, head to Niagara Falls, the thundering series of breathtaking waterfalls on the Canada-U.S. border that never fail to amaze. The park's Table Rock Welcome Centre welcomes millions each year who watch in awe as water plunges over Horseshoe Falls. Board boats for the jaw-dropping ride to the base of the cascades for epic views. Trafalgar offers its participants an extra “wow” option here: a spectacular helicopter flight, following the curve of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, catching rainbows as they appear. In the evening, there's another option: the rousing Oh Canada, Eh? Dinner Show with live entertainment featuring comedy and all-Canadian music of stars including Celine Dion and Shania Twain, accompanied by an all-Canadian menu that’s topped off with maple chocolate cake. 

From Niagara, the tour travels to Kingston, Canada's first capital and the lovely gateway to the Thousand Islands, as the island-dotted stretch of the St. Lawrence River lined with grand mansions, is known. Visit Rideau Hall, the residence of the governor general of Canada. End the day in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Here you'll find a fascinating city filled with many of the country's national museums, one-of-a-kind shopping and lively cafes on pedestrian-friendly and tree-lined streets that are a short walk from your hotel. 

Historic Stops and Photo Ops

Parliament buildings on a leafy hill overlook the city and the Ottawa River; the impressive Gothic  style structures that seem to dominate the landscape were built between 1859 and 1927. Don't miss Ottawa's huge ByWard Market that dates to 1826 and includes a hip boutique-lined neighborhood, stopping at BeaverTails, the first stand to feature this yummy local pastry. An optional Trafalgar experience here is a leisurely river cruise that sails past the Parliament buildings, high waterfalls and the prime minister's residence. 

A trip to Canada wouldn't be complete without seeing the country's amazing variety of wildlife and landscapes and, after departing Ottawa, there's a visit to Parc Omega, a sanctuary where beaver, elk, caribou, alpine ibex, bald eagles, black bears and both grey and arctic wolves thrive in five different northern hemisphere natural environments. 

Soon you'll enter the province of Quebec and become immersed in Canada's French heritage, still very much alive in the romantic capital of Quebec City. Here, the Quebecois people are known for their joie de vivre – love of life – and culinary traditions, some based on French-inspired dishes, others on delicious local maple syrup. Quebec City was the first permanent French settlement in North America and the Francophone culture, which survived the era of British rule, still thrives, including in the city's architecture of stone houses with dormer windows and gabled roofs. Strolling the streets of the historic core with its European atmosphere and well-preserved buildings you'll feel you've stepped back in time. Visit the oldest stone church in North America, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, built in 1688. Admire the province of Quebec's Parliament Building and simply wander, exploring cozy squares, perhaps enjoying a croissant and cafe au lait at patisseries and sidewalk cafes.

A must is taking a photo of towering and grand Chateau Frontenac, considered the most photographed hotel in the world, its turrets rising high from its perch overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The Trafalgar tour offers an optional evening on the Ile d'Orleans, an island in the St. Lawrence a few miles from downtown Quebec. From the island you'll see the 272-foot tall Montmorency Falls and dine at an elegant restaurant set in the island's the bucolic farmland.

A Tasty Conclusion

The following day enjoy more of Quebec's culinary traditions with a stop at a cabane a sucre (sugar shack) for a lunch of local specialties. It's another opportunity to pick up souvenirs made from the region's famous maple syrup to enjoy at home.

The itinerary's last stop is Montreal, with a population of almost two million the largest French-speaking city in the western hemisphere. The French heritage here stretches back centuries, plainly seen in cobblestone streets, as well as old churches and stone buildings that are nestled alongside striking modern skyscrapers. But it's not just a historic city. Montreal buzzes with a creative energy and locals are proud of their warm and lively hub of Francophone culture, with inviting bistros, jazz clubs and music lounges. 

Explore the stylish city boutiques and visit the bustling downtown and the Old Port, not missing the stunning Notre-Dame Basilica, built between 1824 and 1829. Stop for an espresso or a bowl of that only-in-Quebec specialty: poutine, made of fries and cheese curds topped with gravy. 

As you prepare to say adieu, you can say you've had a real taste of Eastern Canada and enjoyed its unique two-culture provinces, French and British in heritage, distinct and rich in experiences.  

Ready to go? Contact your AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 for exclusive member benefits with Trafalgar and other travel partners. 

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