By Prerna Jani
Last May, my husband Gautam went on a road trip to Manitoba with his friends. I was not able to go as our baby girl, Niyara, was just two months. Ever since, I have wanted to go on a long road trip. So in December, when Shree, my eldest daughter, had a holiday break and Nyara was almost nine months, we decided to take this long trip.
We were conflicted about where to go: Vancouver or Prince Edward Island. Honestly, I was so ready I wanted to go anywhere! Gautam was of the opinion that we should visit Northeast Canada, as it was a new place to explore for us. Our Northeast Canada road trip turned out to be an amazing family vacation!
Embarking on our Journey
It was the first time we were going on a long trip as a family and I definitely did not want to take any chances. I packed lots of clothes, diapers, wipes, toys, different snacks, stroller, snow suits, shoes, tea, coffee, and of course the tablet for Shree so that she would be occupied on the journey.
The first thing I did after sitting in the car was give Nyara some food. I was really hoping that she would go to sleep immediately since it was night time. Shree was really happy and excited about the trip, gleefully chatting about our plans.
At about 2 o’clock in the morning, we reached Ottawa, the Capital city of Canada. I was so excited to see it that literally in the middle of the night, with two kids sleeping in the back, we drove around Downtown Ottawa. There were wide roads and pretty buildings all lit up for the holidays, including many consulate offices and museum buildings.
In the morning, we visited the Parliament building – one of the most beautiful buildings in the country and definitely the most important building for Canadian Democracy. We were really excited and proud to see it. However, it was really cold and we were not able to spend a lot of time outside, since we were worried about little Nyara.
There is a big reception facility just opposite the Parliament House where people can spend some time and relax. We waited there while Gautam got the car from the parking area. It had so many brochures for different activities in Ottawa and the staff was super friendly.
Given the age of our kids, we were not very interested in visiting museums. But we did observe many historical buildings and museums from the outside.
In the evening, we drove through the downtown and had food at a local restaurant to get the real feel of the city. All the holiday lights and excitement in the air made it super special.
That night, Gautam and I decided to drive as the kids were fast asleep.
Prince Edward Island
We decided to save Montreal and Quebec for the return journey and go directly to Prince Edward Island. The highlight of this night was the city of Rigaud. We stopped there for coffee and we both immediately fell in love with it. It was such a nice small city, like the ones you come across in movies and books. We decided to have a look and drove through the closed marketplace. All the shop windows were artistically decorated for Christmas. We also saw the training center for the Canada Border Service Agency. This is definitely a town I’d like to revisit for a couple days.
The next morning we visited Fredericton, the Capital city of New Brunswick. It is a small town with a cute, homely feel. We visited several buildings and the university campus. We went to a local restaurant and the kids had a blast exploring the local farmer’s market.
We also visited the city of Moncton that day. Like New Brunswick, it had an old-world charm.
Next on our Northeast Canada road trip was the city of Charlottetown. It was a blast for the kids and us. The city is so beautiful and has so many heritage places to visit. It was really interesting to see and drive through the Confederation Bridge. We visited the downtown area, which has a lot going on. At the Confederation Center of Arts, a Christmas Gala was in the works and it was quite a treat to see the city’s locals. We drove through the downtown and saw all the historical buildings and churches. We also passed the High Court of Prince Edward Island and Canadian Army Museum.
During our evening drive back from Charlottetown, we went to see the Green Gables House. This is one of the most famous literary landmarks of Canada, as it was the setting of the popular Anne of Green Gables novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Unfortunately, it was closed due to reconstruction work. Though I was a little disappointed, it was not at all a waste of time. As we were driving back from there, we saw one of the most spectacular Christmas decorations – three huge bears made out of hay. We all were so happy to see them. I was especially excited to take lots and lots of photos! The size of the bears were about 3-4 times my height. It was such an interesting decoration!
Next we visited Halifax in Nova Scotia. Here, we visited Peggy’s Cove, which is home to a very famous lighthouse. Gautam saw photographs of this lighthouse when he went to submit his medical documentation for our immigration process from Uganda. Since then, he wanted to see it in person. So after three years, he was standing in front of it at last.
In Halifax that evening, we enjoyed Indian food for dinner and all of us were nostalgic about that taste of home.
On the night of December 26th, we started traveling from Halifax. The drive was fun, as we got to see the small villages on both the sides of the road. We reached Quebec City at about 10 the following morning. We stopped at Tim Horton’s for breakfast and then headed downtown.
I was reading a lot about Quebec before coming here and it’s always described as the “historic city of Quebec.” Entering downtown, we fell in love with the distinct flavor of the city. The area is very European-inspired. We were driving through small lanes on very curvy roads. These stiff roads going up and down featured beautiful buildings on both the sides. And of course, as it’s a tourist city, there were people walking everywhere. It was quite cold though, as we planned this trip around Christmas time. We roamed in the city and engrossed ourselves in seeing the beautiful and historic sites.
For dinner, we had Shree’s favourite food – pizza. While eating, I searched for and booked a hotel for the night. We were relaxed now so we did some window shopping. Shree, Gautam, and myself were excited to continue looking at the interesting architecture. Nyara was a little tired, so she slept as we went to the old town. It was such a beautiful place to see. Despite the cold, there were tourists everywhere enjoying the gorgeous architecture.
We went to the hotel and rested for the long, exciting day ahead of us. The next morning, we decided to visit the Notre-Dame Basilica, one of the first churches in the region. It is a real grand church!
Fun fact: Quebec is the only walled city of North America. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site. Just in the outskirts of the city, there is a world famous ice hotel. Unfortunately, we were unable to stay there on this trip. We also visited Basilica de St. Anne, about 30 minutes from Quebec City. St. Anne was the grandmother of Jesus, and this church is famous for its healing power.
At about 8 that night, we began our journey to Montreal.
Montreal is about four hours from the outskirts of Quebec City, meaning we reached there at midnight. Definitely not a good time if you have to book a hotel! We had to struggle for about two hours to get a reservation, but in the end we got lucky and found a studio apartment hotel in downtown Montreal. This was a very nice and comfortable place, except for the fact that the bed was really small. The apartment was fully equipped with a kitchen, drawing room, and bedroom.
My first impression of Montreal was that it is a huge city that definitely has lots of various industries and jobs. Even at midnight, downtown Montreal was busy with traffic. Our Northeast Canada road trip would have not been complete without this stop.
Our first morning in Montreal, we took a sightseeing tour of the city. We were really impressed with the churches we had seen in Quebec City, so here we also wanted to see the famous ones. Unfortunately, Saint Patrick’s Basilica downtown was booked for a wedding, so we were unable to explore it from the inside. The building is super impressive from the outside, though! The whole surrounding area is very beautiful, so we decided to take a walk around.
Road Trip Tips
- I made sure to sit with my kids. Normally while driving in the city, I always sit in front. But this being a long journey, I sat in the middle of my girls so that I could be attentive to any of their needs.
- If you feel you have packed too many things, remember with kids it’s not enough. Try to pack as much as you can. In a hurry, Gautam and I both packed Niyara’s toys without knowing that the other person already packed some. This came in handy as when she was bored with one set of toys, we had other options available for her.
- When driving with kids, we had to calculate about how much time they would be comfortable in the car and we had to give them breaks when needed. This prolonged our journey a bit, but we were happy to see things at our own pace.
- Traveling with kids is lots of fun. They are very happy with the small things we take for granted. Each night at the hotels, little Nyara was so happy just seeing the bed that she would roll around and make happy noises. This became one of our favorite memories as a family.
- Always double check the routes when you are driving on the highway.
- Get your kids involved in the planning and keep some surprise elements for them. Every time we would stop at a coffee shop or gas station while the kids were sleeping, we would get them some surprises, like small toys. They were the tools to brighten their moods when they were tired and cranky!
- Build lots and lots of memories. Nyara is too small, but I used to talk a lot with Shree about the places we visited. Shree also loves to Google on her tablet about a particular place and share what she was excited about seeing with us.