#Schummer14: Summer of Schnyder settles in at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal

#schummer14 Ritz-Carlton Montreal

I’m able to walk into a Residence Inn by Marriott like I own the place. I hand the front desk attendant our Marriott card, they have our preferences for King bed and quiet room on file, I know about the free breakfast in the morning, let’s get our bottled water in the room’s full-size fridge and the cooler’s ice system in the freezer so it’s ready to use for tomorrow’s portion of the road trip.

Driving up to the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal was intimidating. I wondered if my t-shirt and shorts from an afternoon spent at a nature museum would suffice or if we should stop and change before pulling up in front of the hotel.

We aren’t Ritz-Carlton folk, much the way – as Lee once said – “we aren’t Lexus people.” We tend to stay at Hampton Inns, Courtyards, Holiday Inn Expresses or whatever last-minute deal we find on Hotwire, Priceline or Hotel Tonight. A few months ago, though, we signed up for a Marriott credit card in preparation for our month-long road trip. We had decided to not spend valuable vacation time searching for hotels along the way, so we booked all of our accommodations in advance. Lee found that many of the hotels we would want along the way (based on location and TripAdvisor reviews) were Marriott properties. One of the perks of the card was receiving 60,000 Marriott points after spending a certain amount on the credit card.

When we were looking for places to stay in Montreal, Lee noticed that the Ritz-Carlton was available to book with reward points. It would zero out our points account, but it sounded like a fun way to splurge at what is ranked as Montreal’s top hotel on TripAdvisor.

Was it worth the 60,000 points? Absolutely!

Would I pay the regular $575 U.S. per night (plus taxes) that the room would have cost for the two days we stayed? No. {she says with a frowny face} But only because we need to make our travel dollars stretch, not because the experience wasn’t spectacular.

The Ladies and Gentleman of Ritz-Carlton had emailed us in advance to find out when we would arrive so our room would be ready. We pulled up to the valet on one of Montreal’s busiest downtown streets a little after 4 p.m. The doorman welcomed us as he opened my door and asked if we had luggage. We opened the back of the vehicle loaded strategically with all of our long-road-trip stuff and out flew my MacBook onto his foot, followed by the kitten notebook I’ve been using for Summer of Schnyder planning notes. {awkward}

#schummer14 kitten notebook

Thankfully things went much smoother the rest of the time. After giving the doorman our name, everyone who greeted us inside referred to us by name. Lee had mentioned in his email response about our arrival time that we were on a month-long road trip and celebrating my birthday during the trip. Guest relations had taken note and everyone at the front desk wished me a happy birthday. When we got to the room, there was a birthday gift waiting for me from the general manager (a book on the history of the Ritz-Carlton brand).

#schummer14 Ritz-Carlton Montreal book

Oliver, who checked us in, also accompanied us to the room. As we rode the elevator to the 10th floor, he explained that this was the very first Ritz-Carlton in the world (opened in 1912) and that it had closed from 2008-2012 for major renovations. Once in the room, Oliver spent 10 minutes showing us all of the features and instructing how to use the sensors for lighting, window shades and the toilet. Ahhh, the toilet – it was one of those Japanese intelligent toilets that automatically opened when you stood in front of it and did things you didn’t even know you wanted done.

#schummer14 Ritz-Carlton Montreal intelligent toilet

Oliver showed us the coffee maker and when I told him I only drank tea, he had a tea kettle brought up with a complete serving tray. When the soap was too strong of a floral scent, a call to the front desk resulted in delivery of a tray of three alternatives.

#schummer14 Ritz-Carlton Montreal soap options

Our room was large, it had a comfortable mattress wrapped in ultra-soft sheets and so many conveniences that we weren’t expecting. Heated towel rack, heated bathroom floor, heated toilet seat. A bottle of room spray near the bed, a personal loofa in the bathroom, a small container of office supplies on the desk. Turn-down service featured chocolates on the bed the first night, eye cream on the second night. You know you are in a fancy place when the housekeeper folds a t-shirt you leave laying on the bed or puts dirty clothes left in a pile on the floor into a Ritz-Carlton laundry bag as a reminder to clean your room. One night we returned from dinner and all of our shoes (dumped from a bag we needed to use) had been neatly lined up on a towel to restore order to the room.

#schummer14 Ritz-Carlton Montreal room

The entire staff was friendly and constantly looked for ways to help. Our first night, the concierge booked our dinner reservations. When we came downstairs five minutes later to head to the restaurant, he had printed precise Google map directions sealed inside an envelope. At dinner our waiter served us a piece of birthday cake as the concierge had mentioned to the restaurant that we were celebrating my birthday while on our road trip.

The common spaces at the Ritz-Carlton were beautiful as well. We spent time at the rooftop saltwater pool each of our three days there, reading on the deck, which was small but never crowded. Everywhere in the hotel you went, they offered you complimentary bottles of water. Wifi was included and worked very well. We rarely heard another guest on our floor although they were sold out our last night.

#schummer14 ritz room service

On our last day, we stored our luggage before checkout time and told the staff we were going to walk up Mont-Royal for a view of the city. They gave us two bottles of water as we headed out. That walk only took about an hour round-trip but we decided to go have lunch in another part of the city while we were out. When we returned to the hotel about 3.5 hours after we left, the concierge seemed happy to see us and relieved to hear we hadn’t gotten lost. He gave us more water and once we had loaded our luggage in the car, two more waters for the road.

I’ve told Lee that now I’m going to expect a higher level of service when we get back to Wichita; I hope he learned a few things from the staff at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal ;-)

#schummer14 ritz lee in room
~~~

#Schummer14 – Lee & MeLinda Schnyder are turning their home in Wichita, Kan., over to a friend and taking a month-long road trip. They’ll travel from Kansas to Ontario and Quebec, Canada; then through Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The trip home will include stops in Ohio and Missouri. Beyond the blog, you can follow #Schummer14 on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Posted in Lee, travel

#Schummer14: Day 7 recap of Summer of Schnyder ~ Toronto to Thousand Islands

 

#schummer14 1000 Islands canada flagAfter dropping our friends Charlie & Kim off at the airport to fly home to New York just before lunch, we left Toronto to head toward Montreal. It would have been an easy trip to drive the whole route that afternoon, but we decided to stop along the way at the Thousands Islands (or 1000 Islands) area and spend one night outside of Canada’s two largest cities.

We could have explored this area a lot more than we did (observation tower, hiking, etc.) but we were pretty wiped out after a lot of walking and constant activity in Toronto. So we opted for a peaceful boat tour of the Thousand Islands from Rockport, Ontario, and then settled into our hotel fairly early.

For about 30 minutes, we were back in the U.S.A. The 1000 Islands are actually 1,864 islands that span both the U.S. (New York) and Canada (Ontario). They are in the St. Lawrence River where it flows into the northeast corner of Lake Ontario.

We saw islands with huge mansions and one with a castle (Boldt Castle), and we saw tiny islands where the entire surface area was taken up by a modest home. To be officially considered an island in the Thousand Islands, it has to stay above water 365 days a year and support a living tree.

And about the name … yes, Thousand Island the dressing has a connection to this area. Legend has it that an operator of luxurious hotels in New York in the early 1900s, George Boldt (who built the castle), vacationed in the 1000 Islands. On one of his trips, he asked his chef to whip up a dressing with ingredients they had on hand. Boldt liked it so well he started to serve it at the restaurants as 1000 Islands dressing and it became a thing.

MeLinda & lee in 1000 islands

#schummer14 1000 Islands-1-4

#schummer14 1000 Islands Boldt Castle

#schummer14 1000 Islands small house

#schummer14 1000 Islands span U.S. and Canada

#schummer14 1000 Islands dressing

~~~

#Schummer14 – Lee & MeLinda Schnyder are turning their home in Wichita, Kan., over to a friend and taking a month-long road trip. They’ll travel from Kansas to Ontario and Quebec, Canada; then through Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The trip home will include stops in Ohio and Missouri. Beyond the blog, you can follow #Schummer14 on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Posted in Lee, travel

#Schummer14: Day 4-6 recap Summer of Schnyder

 

#schummer14 Toronto Lee & MeLinda Toronto Skyline

We don’t have full, unlimited access to the Internet while in Canada, so I decided to use that as a good excuse not to post for a couple of days! We had wifi at the condo in Toronto so I did take some time each night to post a few photos from the day on Instagram. While it’s nice to unplug sometimes, it’s amazing how many times during the day walking around a city I want to grab my phone and look up directions, the history of something, restaurant reviews, etc.

Day 4 through Day 6 were spent in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’d visited the city (Canada’s largest city and among the top five largest in all of North America) last year for a travel writer/blogger conference; this was Lee’s first trip. The main purpose of this trip was to see a baseball game at Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. We ended up seeing two games – we had tickets to Saturday afternoon’s game but after the All-Star break we saw that there was a great pitching matchup on Friday so we bought tickets at the gate for that game. I’m glad we went to both games because as a dome stadium Rogers Centre had a different feel with the dome open Friday night versus closed Saturday. I loved being able to look up and see the iconic CN Tower visible and changing colors during the game.

We did so much in Toronto that I couldn’t cover it all. Here’s a quick recap of our days followed by some best moments.

Day 4, Friday: braved driving in downtown traffic to pick up Charlie and Kim (friends we met in Wichita who now live in New York) from the airport, which is on Toronto Island; visited St. Lawrence Market and walked around that area of downtown (including a Melinda Street!); took the subway to and from the Blue Jays game.

Day 5, Saturday: took the subway to Graffiti Alley; met up with my friend Tanya, who I met at the conference last year, and her friend Kim for the Blue Jays game; walked around downtown some more; had dinner at Pizza Libretto on the Danforth, an area known for its eateries.

Day 6, Sunday: drove to the Distillery District, a collection of shops and restaurants set in cool, old buildings that once housed distilleries; walked to harbor front to take the ferry out to Toronto Islands; had dinner near the condo.

Day 7, Monday: walked up to the Danforth and got pastries for breakfast at Athena’s Greek bakery – chocolate covered baklava, cream horn, coke/kok – two cake-type cookies dipped in a light syrup and sandwiched with pastry cream, then dipped in a chocolate glaze; took Charlie and Kim to the airport; left Toronto.

 

Best of Toronto …

#schummer14 Toronto outside rogers centre

Best activity: Toronto Blue Jays games with our friends!

#schummer14 Melinda & Tanya Rogers Centre

Best tour guide: thanks so much to Tanya for making reservations for our meals on Saturday and for helping us figure out the best way to get from here to there! She was a great tour guide on Saturday when we got out of the Blue Jays game and it was raining. It was great to spend the day with her, her friend Kim and her husband, Bruce, who joined us for dinner.

Watch video of the quad bicycle here: #schummer14 Quad Bicycle

Best team-building exercise: We took a ferry over to Toronto Islands and rented a quad-bicycle there. We rode from Centre Island to the east end (where Lee briefly lost his Wichita State Shocker jacket; fortunately someone hung it on a tree instead of stealing it!) and then all the way to the west end, where there is a plaque commemorating Babe Ruth’s first recorded home run as a professional baseball player (a minor league team played on the island in the early 1900s). To give you an idea of how small the islands are, it only took us two hours and that included stops to see the great views of the Toronto skyline.

#schummer14 Toronto graffiti alley

Best photo opp: Loved the graffiti alley area, which is protected for graffiti artists. Lots of fun stuff to look at and photograph … although 90 percent of its meaning was lost on me.

#schummer14 Toronto The Real Jerk

Best meal: we had a lot of great food but Lee and I both agree that The Real Jerk was our favorite. The restaurant was not in any major tourist zones and near the condo; they served a variety of Caribbean jerk-style meat dishes. Lee had ribs and I had a pork/chicken combo. Oh, and I had a glass of Honey Badger wine … I’m not a big wine drinker but it was sweet and Honey Badger don’t care. Other food/drink we had: peameal bacon sandwich at St. Lawrence Market, brisket nachos and steak sandwich at Rogers Centre, beer at C’est What; wings at Real Sports; beer at Beer Markt; very thin pizza cooked in 90 seconds at Pizza Libretto; brunch at Mill St. Brewery; pastries from Athena bakery.

#schummer14 Toronto Athena's Greek bakery

Best sports bar: In fairness, we only visited one sports bar … but if you’re only going to one sports bar in Toronto, this is the one to go to! Tanya had made reservations for us to have lunch before the Blue Jays game at Real Sports, which has been named the top sports bar in North America by ESPN. It’s near Rogers Centre and right next to the Air Canada Centre, where the NBA Raptors and NHL Maple Leafs play. It has a massive HD TV screen we sat in front of and hundreds of smaller HD screens throughout the bar. Unfortunately all that was on TV was golf! But the food was good and the company was great!

#schummer14 Lee at Rogers Centre Blue Jays

Best musical performance: the song only heard at a Blue Jays game during the 7th inning stretch. I’m going to say it was called Let’s Play Ball. It sounded like something Robin Sparkles (How I Met Your Mother) would have sang at a Canadian shopping mall in the 1980s. They also played Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

#schummer14 Toronto Distillery District

Best shop: Charlie and Kim found a vintage sports shop — The Sport Gallery — in the Distillery District that was part museum and part store. They had very nice clothing and items like bottle openers made out of game-used bats and tennis racquets. The walls were full of old photographs and magazine covers.

#schummer14 Toronto Mill St. Brewery

Most interesting drink: a beermosa that I had at Mill St. Brewery in the Distillery District. It was a mix of beer and pineapple juice. Not bad but not something I’d drink a lot of! But when you want a yogurt parfait and a beer, it seems like the best option! We had brunch here on Sunday so Lee had what was pretty much a traditional breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, toast … and baked beans. Not a usual side dish at breakfast where we come from!

Biggest surprise: I honestly thought ESPN was everywhere. I’ve been surprised that the network isn’t aired in Canada.

#schummer14 Riverdale condo in Toronto

Best way for a group to travel together: We’ve had great luck staying at rented apartments and condos (through VRBO, Vacation Rentals by Owners) in cities that we’ve traveled with Kim and Charlie. It gives us common space to hang out (watching Sunday night baseball is a must for this group) and usually saves us money over getting two hotel rooms or makes being in our desired part of town affordable. Our condo in Toronto was in a great location – one of the first neighborhoods outside of the downtown core – and it was about $150 a night total for two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a nice kitchen, a living room and a couple of outdoor decks. Hotel rooms in the downtown Toronto area are $200+ a night per room.

It was great to incorporate the annual baseball trip we take with Charlie and Kim into our Summer of Schnyder! We had so much fun exploring Toronto with them, and I’m glad they were there as Lee crossed home plate on his MLB stadium tour. This was the eighth year we’ve done these group baseball trips: New York (Yankees & Cooperstown), Boston, Florida (Miami & Tampa Bay), Northern California (San Francisco, Oakland), Southern California (San Diego, Phoenix), All-Star Game in Kansas City, Philadelphia/Baltimore and Toronto.

One of my favorite parts of our annual trips with Charlie and Kim is when we start talking about next year’s destination. I love having a trip to look forward to an entire year out!

#schummer14 Charlie and Lee on Toronto Islands ferry

~~~

#Schummer14 – Lee & MeLinda Schnyder are turning their home in Wichita, Kan., over to a friend and taking a month-long road trip. They’ll travel from Kansas to Ontario and Quebec, Canada; then through Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The trip home will include stops in Ohio and Missouri. Beyond the blog, you can follow #Schummer14 on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Posted in Lee, Sports, travel

#Schummer14: Day 3 recap Summer of Schnyder

#schummer14 bridge to canada port huron

Today’s post brought to you by Lee

Canada is the place to go to learn about the things that died in America’s educational system along with some interesting quirks. It’s also a time to realize the advantages to living in Canada.

You remember the metric system. Americans were able to discard those silly measurements like kilometers, litres, and Celsius back in the 70s.

Canada never received the memo and still uses the metric system.

The first speed limit sign I saw showed 100. Awesome, driving in Canada is going to be fun! But after metric translation, it was only 60 mph. Though I will say Canadians drive quite a bit like my good friends from Houston (fast).

My second disappointment was seeing a gas sign with the price of $1.50 then remembering that was the litre price. I didn’t know I would need an advanced degree to figure out how much a gallon of gas costs. First you need to figure out how many litres are in a gallon, then multiply by the cost of gas and then multiply the exchange rate. After using my abacus I came up with the amount of $5.25 per gallon.

Why can’t the Canadians at least use the U.S. measurement for temperature? Today’s high is 25 degrees. The low is 13 degrees. I like my big swings in temperature; it looks so much more impressive when you say today’s temperature was 100 degrees, rather than 38 degrees Celsius.

OK, those are some trivial American thoughts but there are plenty of things I really have enjoyed about Canada so far (this is my second time in Canada; MeLinda and I flew to Calgary and explored the Banff area in 2009).

Driving along the highway was pristine and you felt like you were in the middle of a screensaver that kept showing the same beautiful scenery. Unlike in America the highways aren’t littered with fast food restaurants, gas stations, etc. Canada did a great job in planning their transportation system keeping it convenient to all the cities but without the removal of the beautiful landscaping.

The first major landmark we hit crossing the border was the St. Claire River, which flows out of Lake Huron. We stopped to eat lunch at a place that MeLinda had researched and had a relaxing lunch sitting by the bluest river I’ve seen. I figured we would run across a bunch of tourists but it was a local hangout and I was jealous of all the local residents who stop there to eat lunch and get to enjoy that site on a daily basis.

The first neighborhood I visited in Toronto was exactly what I would picture a perfect living area would be. We were able to walk from our vacation rental and within five minutes were in the middle of a vibrant shopping area. After hours of driving it was nice to be able to walk into safe and friendly neighborhoods filled with shopping and restaurants. It was like every person within five square miles was out at night enjoying the perfect evening. It is amazing how culturally diverse this city is and everyone is getting along. There was even a car dealership that displayed a Middle Eastern man wearing a turban; you don’t see that very often in the U.S.

Tim Horton!!! You would think that was the name of Canada’s first prime minister or the country’s greatest sports legend. There is a Tim Horton’s sign every five miles as you drive through Canada and they have even invaded the upper portions of Michigan. For non-Canadians: a Tim Horton’s is known for donuts and coffee. From watching How I Met Your Mother I have learned that every Canadian is able to mark the special events in their family based on the type of Horton’s donuts they were eating at that time.

Driving the Canadian highways you also realize there are no hoopties. Every highway in America you at least run across one hooptie. I realize now that I couldn’t move to Canada because my car wouldn’t be allowed across the border. What’s the fun of driving if you can’t see someone driving a Ford Pinto 20 mph below the speed limit on the highway with the bumper hanging off.

I will continue to ponder the differences of life in Canada as I sit on the couch here in the condo, eating poutine and watching some Canadian Football League action.

Through Day 3 of #Schummer14 we have covered 1,401 miles, passed through six states and been in two countries. We’re staying in Toronto until Monday and we’re taking the weekend off from blogging. We will write a recap of our time in Toronto early next week. Thanks for following along!

#schummer14 U.S. to Canada border crossing at Port Huron

Crossing into Canada at Port Huron took less than 10 minutes. Just a few questions and we were on our way.

#schummer14 Point Edward looking toward Lake Huron

Once we were in Canada we participated in a local tradition of eating fries under the bridge. Sounded creepy but was really beautiful! From this spot at Point Edward we’re looking out to Lake Huron.

#schummer14 fries under the bridge

We got our food from R&B’s food truck.

#schummer14 lunch spot under Blue River Bridge

Our lunch spot, under the aptly named Blue River Bridge. This is the point where the St. Claire River flows from Lake Huron.

#schummer14 Blue River Bridge view

#schummer14 Toronto condo

Here’s the condo we’ve rented in the Riverdale neighborhood, just east of downtown Toronto.

~~~

#Schummer14 – Lee & MeLinda Schnyder are turning their home in Wichita, Kan., over to a friend and taking a month-long road trip. They’ll travel from Kansas to Ontario and Quebec, Canada; then through Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The trip home will include stops in Ohio and Missouri. Beyond the blog, you can follow #Schummer14 on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Posted in Lee, travel

#Schummer14: Day 2 recap Summer of Schnyder

Lee and Melinda on Mississippi River in Dubuque Iowa

Day 2 = 367 miles. We spent half the day in Dubuque, Iowa, then drove through Illinois, the top edge of Indiana and into Michigan before stopping for the night.

If you read one of my pre-trip posts you might remember that I said we were making one stop at the front of the trip for a small research project related to work. I have a magazine client who is interested on an article about what there is to do for a family or couple flying into the Dubuque area so I wanted to spend a few hours exploring.

Dubuque, right on the border of Illinois, is Iowa’s oldest city. We spent all of our time downtown. We started with a few hours at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. It was more of a museum with a few aquatic displays, so not like your typical museum with huge tanks full of exotic fish. One building was focused on the role rivers play in our lives and the need for balance between using the rivers and protecting them. One building was focused specifically on the Mississippi River, the world’s third longest river that happened to be flowing right outside the building in downtown Dubuque. We learned a lot about the M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i and got to see a lot of turtles on display, including a green sea turtle who just went on display this week. He was injured by a boat in Florida, leaving his back flippers paralyzed. He has been fitted with a weight on the back of his shell that helps him swim using his two front flippers. In between the buildings are historical buildings and displays about ship-building and you can tour an old steam boat that is on the water.

A few photos from our time at the museum:

#Schummer14 turtle at National Mississippi River Museum

You can see the weight pack hanging on the back part of his shell if you look closely.

#Schummer14 alligator at National Mississippi River Museum

Lee thinks this alligator was fake!

#Schummer14 turtle sign at National Mississippi River Museum

So, according to this I’m already a turtle steward from all the times I’ve stopped to help a turtle on a busy road that they would likely never make it across alive.

View of downtown Dubuque Iowa from the Mississippi riverbank

We had beautiful clouds in the sky for the second straight day.

We had lunch downtown (Lee had pizza again, which means he’s probably not going to want pizza on Day 3 in Michigan, which means the whole plan to have pizza in each state we stay in during this trip is already off the books … unless the hotel serves breakfast pizza) and then walked to Cable Car Square, where we road on the cable car at Fenelon Place Elevator Company. It is said to be the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway: 296 feet in length, elevating passengers 189 feet from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.

It was a really short ride but fun (we’ve also been on these types of cable cars in Pittsburgh, Albuquerque and Pikes Peak in Colorado). From the top we had a great view of the city’s downtown, the Mississippi River and three states.

A few photos from and of the cable car:

#Schummer14 Dubuque Iowa Mississippi River Cable Car

#Schummer14 Lee at top of Cable Car

#Schummer14 Cable Cars from street level

 

The drive was pretty ordinary, although we did see three Ford Pintos all getting gas at a Conoco Station in a small town near Ronald Reagan’s birthplace (didn’t realize he was born in Illinois).

Overall, an educational day, got some info I needed for an article to write down the line sometime and we made it a bit closer to Toronto, where we’ll be spending four days and seeing friends.

~~~

#Schummer14 – Lee & MeLinda Schnyder are turning their home in Wichita, Kan., over to a friend and taking a month-long road trip. They’ll travel from Kansas to Ontario and Quebec, Canada; then through Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The trip home will include stops in Ohio and Missouri. Beyond the blog, you can follow #Schummer14 on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Posted in Lee, travel