In the Laurentian Mountains, the Perfect Trio–Cheese, Chocolate and Snowshoes

Enjoying cheese fondue in the high altitude Refuge de Trappeurs at Mont Tremblant.

Enjoying cheese fondue in the high altitude Refuge de Trappeurs at Mont Tremblant.

The cozy gas lantern-lit Refuge de Trappeurs is where the cheese fondue is served. It's also a restaurant for skiers at Tremblant.

The cozy gas lantern-lit Refuge de Trappeurs is where the cheese fondue is served. It’s also a restaurant for skiers at Tremblant.

Getting our lights and gear ready for the 5 km down hill snowshow from the Refuge de Trappeurs to the base of Tremblant.

Getting our lights and gear ready for the 5 km down hill snowshoe from the Refuge de Trappeurs to the base of Tremblant.

Tonight we had a nighttime adventure in the deep dark woods of the Laurentian mountains in Quebec.  Our group of 21, ranging in age from 6 to 65, met up at the base lodge of Mont Tremblant and tried on snowshoes, then we took the gondola straight up to the windy, snowy summit of the mountain.

In single file as the afternoon light waned and clouds drifted in front of the setting sun, we entered the forest full of snowy trees close by our faces and we hiked down and around a one kilometer track.  Our destination was the Refuge de Trappeur, in the Versant Soleil area of the large ski resort, a rustic cabin restaurant with gas lighting and a cozy wood stove.

Here, two friendly cooks had the beers and wine ready and the cheese already bubbling for the fondue.  A table was spread with salads, sausages, vegetables and sliced ham.  Using the narrow fork, and twisting as we removed them from the cauldron, the delicious fondue went down easily.  It was a hearty repast fit for such a rustic and isolated cabin, at the top of the 2800 foot mountain.

After the cheese, it was time for the chocolate. Strawberries, bananas and pineapple were laid out on the table and we dipped the pieces in  melted chocolate. After everyone was fully sated, it was time to don our headlamps and start the trek down the mountain, about 4 km.

It was a little harder this time, in places the trail was steep, and more than a few of us landed on their butts. I even fell over backward while shooting a video of the trail.  It was a winding, steep in places trail but the full moon above the Laurentians cast a glow on the line of snowshoers.  The combination of the cold winds, the delicious repast, and the long hike made this a memorable evening, and one I’d highly recommend.

The tour and snowshoe rental for adults is $95, kids 8-12 years, $60, includes fondue dinner, headlamps, guided tour and the gondola ride.  Details here.

Adventures in Poutine

This poutine is simply fries, gravy and cheese curds, at L'Orignal, in Montreal.

This poutine is simply fries, gravy and cheese curds, at L’Orignal, in Montreal.

Here I am in the land of poutine.  Never heard of it?  You are probably in the majority, because the only place I’ve seen poutine regularly appear on menus is up here in Quebec. Some times it will be a novelty item, available far and few between in New England, but it’s not something very common.

Today at a fancy lunch, my hosts wondered why that is. I mean, can’t we buy the ingredients? French fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds.  And in many cases, big chunks of chicken, duck or beef are added in.  But it must be those curds…I have never seen cheese curds in the store, and even thought I bet I could make them, I just don’t see that happening.

This poutine came with rich duck and the rest of the familiar ingredients, at the Fairmont Tremblanc. Very very good!

This poutine came with rich duck and the rest of the familiar ingredients, at the Fairmont Tremblanc. Very very good!

Pierre, our host here in Mt Tremblanc, shared a story about an American TV star who was here for some sort of food network production about local foods. Of course, he had to have poutine, and they brought him to a big bar where there was a selection of everything you can imagine to put on top of the fries, curds and gravy….beef, chicken, pork, duck, and this guy just poured it all on, I mean ALL of it, the way someone who was going on camera would do. Later on, the TV star felt very ill, the poutine clearly got the best of him.

Like so many regional specialities, everyone claims to have the best poutine across this big province. And so far, they’ve all been pretty, pretty good, to my New England tastes at least.

Montreal Says–It’s Winter, Have Fun, Here’s How!

At La Binerie Mount Royal, you can find all of the specialties that Montrealers love.

At La Binerie Mount Royal, you can find all of the specialties that Montrealers love.

I’ve spent the day here in Montreal taking in the local sites and enjoying the fresh winter weather outdoors.  No doubt, this is a city and a province that celebrates the winter–embraces it with zeal and encourages its citizens to do the same.  This week, for example, is the city’s Igloofest, where fans of electronic dance music celebrate outside with their special brand of trance music played al fresco on a pier on the St. Lawrence river, with small igloos to warm themselves up.

A fun activity in the city is to explore Mount Royal Park on snowshoes.

A fun activity in the city is to explore Mount Royal Park on snowshoes.

In a small park in Old Montreal, we came across four black metal fire-pits, part of the ‘Cozy Zones’ set up where people can warm up by the fires. Next to the pits is a sign that provides advice-the top 10 things to do in winter, like run a holiday movie marathon, lick a cold post, dress to impress in your finest onesie at Igloofest, and most of all, keep calm and carry on this winter.  The point is, it’s cold here, we all get that, and the best advice is to layer and go out and have fun.

We enjoyed a snowshoe trek in the Mount Royal park, with an enthusiastic guide named Amanda Coffey, who told us she takes people out on Friday and Saturday nights in the dark along these trails, and they do the tours one night in English and the other in French. “You can see because of all the light that comes up from the city, your eyes adjust.”

The trail was paved with fresh snow, and after we got the hang of keeping the snowshoes on, it was a relaxing and fun activity–enhanced by the hot chocolate we enjoyed while viewing the city from the beautiful Belvedere look-out, that provides commanding views of the St Lawrence and the city and the distant mountains.

While we were walking the streets of the Mile End neighborhood, we stopped by what has been called an institution here in Montreal. That would be La Binerie Mount Royal, a little joint where Montreal specialties are served, like Pate Chinois, Ragout de Pattes et boulettes, and poutin. Binerie has to do with the baked beans that are served in little dishes. These hearty Quebecois dishes are mostly simply meat and carbs, but are to any Montrealer, they are as dear to their hearts as the Montreal Canadiens.

Montreal and Mt Tremblanc Mark the First Trip of the Year

It’s time to hit the road again. This time, a long, windy and snowy road that heads up north out of South Deerfield and goes 272 miles to the north and then northwest to the city of Montreal.  I’m heading straight for the Queen Elizabeth hotel, and I’ll trust my hosts to show me a great time in the city that always feels like Europe.  Anyone who’s been up to Montreal in recent years will say that.

I like to keep my itinerary a bit of a surprise, opening it up every day like a box of candies. So I’m not really sure what is on the agenda, but I’m sure we’ll see some museums, some city sights, and meet interesting locals along the way. On Friday I’ll head up to the big mountain of Quebec, Mont Tremblanc, where I”ll ski and do other snowy kinds of things.

Follow along, I promise to fill you in tonight about what I saw, heard and tasted!

It’s Time for the New York Times Travel Show in the Big Apple

There's always a big line of travelers waiting to walk the aisles and see the attractions at the travel show.

There’s always a big line of travelers waiting to walk the aisles and see the attractions at the travel show.

This time of year is always exciting…because tomorrow I’ll join Paul Shoul and we’ll spend the next three days at the NY Times Travel Show in the big city!

We will be staying at a new place that I’m looking forward to sharing. It’s called Furnished Quarters, and they offer fully furnished apartments and lofts. We will be staying at 70 Pine St. in the financial district, which is great because for some reason every party that takes place always seems to be in the Village, right nearby.

We have a long history with this travel show. Many years ago, we used to bring a booth and we would meet writers, readers and tourism people there. It was fun but a lot of work putting up the booth, lugging all of the brochures and give-aways, and mostly, just doing so much talking, all day long. Now instead of manning a both, we take our time and visit the people we want to connect with. After doing the trade-show booth for five years, we realized why so few other websites man booths. It’s too much for too little.

But one thing we really love is a chance to do a presentation. This year Paul and I are back up on stage with “Travel Writing for Beginners,” where we will provide the most beginner writers some ideas about the best ways to write, get published, and prosper as a travel writer. Paul and I have put a lot of thought into our presentations, and the butterflies we both have in our chests will do nothing but make our session better! It’s taking place at 1 pm on Sunday January 10, downstairs in the seminar rooms of the vast Jacob Javits Convention Center. I hope to see you there!

Bernie Sanders Brings Promises and Hope to UMass

Mike Rooney, the lone heckler at the Bernie Sanders speech at UMass on Saturday.

Mike Rooney, the lone heckler at the Bernie Sanders speech at UMass on Saturday.

Bernie Sanders, refreshingly familiar in his dark suit, windswept hair, and Brooklyn monotone, came to Amherst today.  We knew it was going to be a tight squeeze in the UMass Fine Arts Center, but we wanted to be a part of it, so Toni and I popped out on North Pleasant St. to survey the scene of people waiting to get in. It stretched way past the North Pleasant St. bus stop and all the way down the concrete of the FAC!

We were happy to stand right in front of the TV screen with several hundred supporters. Not the ‘thousands more outside,’ referenced by the candidate, but an enthusiastic bunch and not bad considering the students are on vacation. It’s interesting to think of what the turnout would be if The Donald himself had a rally in Amherst. I actually think he’d draw quite a number, so many people want to grab the heckler spotlight!

Candidate Sanders is appealing–a 30 plus year record of voting most of the time the way I would, a shared disgust for our egregious defense spending and for the billionaires who run Washington, and a personal vendetta against income disparity.  But I was beginning to feel like he was Johnny One Note today, at least while he was outside.

This is my rub with Bernie. I don’t care half as much as he does about the Waltons, the other billionaires and whether it’s unfair that they make so much. I want a candidate who cares about terrorists, and even more, the environment. Well here I think we are on good grounds.  I do think that compared with Trump or any GOP candidate, the environment will be in much better shape with a Democrat in the White House.

But Bernie hammered home his main point, that the billionaires are controlling too much, but threw in a few additional points that I agreed with.

He said that pot has had a deleterious effect in the poor parts of the cities, where many African American men have gotten criminal records due to being busted for weed.  So he advocated changing the status from Class 1, the same as heroine, down to a lesser and misdemeanor status.  I can definitely agree with that idea.

He also focused on women’s income parity with men, that he’s make sure both sexes earned the same, and giving moms more paid family leave… along with a $15 minimum wage.  But who pays for this, both Larry Kelley and I asked?    And Bernie also threw in the free college for all promise. Again, who really is going to foot these bills?  I love these ideas but I’d like to see the breakdown.  I bet there aren’t enough fatcats to bankroll the huge cost of free tuition.

I think that the oversimplification of every issue that we see in Donald Trump really scares me. It’s not that simple, we need smart reasonable people in power to solve the huge problems. A guy who has publicly insulted 68 different people we know about, as has been published about the Donald–that just makes me nervous.

I think I would give Bernie the vote here in Massachusetts but I think he won’t make it through the whole country and win the nomination.  Still it would sure be an intriguing match-up to have Trump vs. Bernie–the loudmouth capitalist versus Vermont Socialist!  It’s a hard decision because I really like him, and want him to win, but I remain like so many people, skeptical and wishing I could combine his ethics and sensibilities with Hillary’s experience and broader experience, to make a better candidate.