Friday, December 28, 2018

Afternoon at Starved Rock

Afternoon at Starved Rock

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters. Thank you.


To say that this winter in Illinois has been strange would be a grave understatement. It started mild, but on November 25 (just after Thanksgiving) we had a sudden temperature drop and a blizzard. Then on December 1 we had a tornado outbreak. It has been mild ever since, but threats of snow storms either than never happened or still to come.

Despite the weirdness of the weather, I took advantage of this time of the year's family gathering tendencies and the mildness and took to hiking at Starved Rock. It is 98 miles from Chicago, 62 miles from Bloomington-Normal, and 64 miles from Peoria, right along the southern bank of the Illinois River. It is a wonderful day trip if you live or are visiting those cities, or a splendid weekend getaway for any family or couple. I have always enjoyed that place, and I am surprised with myself that it took me this long to devote an article to it.
Front door of the Starved Rock Lodge decorated for the holidays
Front door to the Starved Rock Lodge
It is decorated for the holidays

History of the Park

Legend tells that the park got its name from a battle in the 1760's between two Native American tribes : the Illinois and the Ottawa. A brave from the Illinois tribe stabbed Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe. The Illinois fled and hid behind a rock, but then starved to death.

The area surrounding this rock was purchased from the Federal government by Daniel Hunt in 1895. Over time the ownership passed to the State of Illinois who made it into a recreational state park. Then the current trails, campsites, and Lodge were built.

In 1965, the park was name a National Historic Landmark.

To See and Do

Both guided and self-guided hikes are available, and there is much to see. There are two main inter-looping trails: bluff and riverside, and trails in-between to connect them, for a total of 13 miles of hike-able trail. There, you can see the sandstone as it is ornamented by waterfalls by summer or icefalls by winter. The trails visit a number of canyons where the waterfalls flow into.

There are also a number of historical sights near the park to visit; such as the Hegeler-Carus Mansion, Reddick Mansion, the Spirit of Peoria paddleboat (which visits the park during the summer), and much more. There is also an indoor water park at nearby Grand Bear Resort.

Our Day

We took the trails first to Starved Rock (the obvious namesake of the park), and overlooked Plum Island, a preserved island in the middle of the river where bald eagles will make their roost, and which is closed to public visitors.

View of Plum Island from just next to Starved Rock
View of Plum Island from just next to Starved Rock
Then we trekked over to Lover's Leap, named for two lovers from rival Native American tribes who leapt to their deaths instead of spending their lives apart. 

Left: view of Starved Rock from Lover's Leap
Right: view of Lover's Leap from Starved Rock
Then we hiked along the riverside. There we passed Starved Rock Lock and Dam, which allows for water travel between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes along the Illinois River, and we reached an overlook to have a panoramic view of the Illinois River.


From there, we went to Wildcat Canyon, one of the more popular canyons in the park, and for good reason. It is very pretty.

Left: Inside Wildcat Canyon
Right: Looking into Wildcat Canyon
We ended our day back at the Lodge to have dinner, and then we drove back home.

Conclusion

I love this park. It brings back memories of childhood, of scouting, and family trips. Each season brings a different beauty to the park: spring brings everything back to life and a higher rate of waterfalls, summer brings vibrancy, fall brings fall colours and the eagles, and the winter brings snow and ice falls. I plan on going back during the summer, and again next winter for a couple days in the Lodge.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hotel Omni Mont-Royal - A Review

Hotel Omni Mont-Royal - A Review

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

This post is a review of the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. They are not paying me for this entry, and in no way have sponsored, endorsed, or have administered me to have written this post.




This is the hotel we chose to stay at in the Montréal portion of our French Canada anniversary trip.

First Impressions

Getting into the hotel was a bit rough, but I give that more to the city than the hotel. We had to turn left in the middle of a block while on a fairly busy street when there was a bit of construction on the sidewalk by the parking entrance. When we finally were able to get to the valet, they were extremely helpful. They loaded everything up on the luggage cart, and brought everything up to my room. However, we forgot somethings that we needed in the car, so they ran down and brought them to my room. It was great. Like in Québec, they knew that we were celebrating our honeymoon/anniversary, so they upgraded our room. Also, they gave us a bottle of champagne and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries. This alone puts Omni on top of my list from now on to look for hotels when I go to a new location.

Room details

We booked a Deluxe Room, and ended up with an Omni Suite. This room opens to a living room with a couch, two armchairs, a desk with a coffee maker, and a TV. This room has its own bathroom. Through a set of French doors, you enter the bedroom with a king sized bed, a TV, and its own bathroom. I got a lot of use out of the sofa in the living room as we kept returning to rest between segments of our day. The available Internet was not wired, but there was of course WiFi, and the TVs were cable. Even though we were on the 10th floor, the windows actually opened to let in fresh air (a safe amount; a person cannot fit through)! That was a nice touch. Shout out to housekeeping for keeping the room spectacular as we explored the city.

view of Montréal from hotel room
View from 10th floor of Montréal. See Mont Royal in the background

Hotel Amenities

lobby of Hotel Omni Mont-Royal
"Lobby" Credit to OMNI Hotels & Resorts image library
The hotel included a bar, the aforementioned valet, a fitness centre, a pool, a spa, a restaurant, a business centre, and more. Out of these amenities, we only took advantage of the valet and the bar. At the bar, I tried out a new drink that even the bartender had not done before. I based it off of the Manhattan, only it is Canadian whisky and Sortilège (a whisky based maple liqueur). It was very tasty.

Hotel Location

It was a far walk to Old Montréal, but it was still walkable. Yet, I would not judge anyone who would rather take a cab or public transportation to get there. Mont Royal was only a few blocks away, so we were able to walk there and back in the course of a late morning, early afternoon, and still get to Old Montréal for the rest of the day. It is also in the heart of the financial district, therefore RESO, the underground city, is easily accessible.

Recommendations

This stay was nothing short of amazing. I already know that we have to come back to Montréal to see more. This will not be my last stay at this hotel.

This post is a part of a series. Read more of the series here.

  1. "Le Voyage de canada français"
  2. "Un Jour en Québec"
  3. "Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec - A Review"
  4. "Un Jour en Montréal"
  5. "Hotel Omni Mont-Royal - A Review"
Hotel Omni Mont-Royal - A Review

Friday, June 22, 2018

Un Jour en Montréal

Un Jour en Montréal

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

Description and Brief History

Montréal was the second major stop on our French Canadian trip. We quickly learned that Montréal did not attract us as fast as Québec did. I usually do not mind urban driving, but Montréal proved itself to have some of the worst drivers of a city I have visited. Up there with New York, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City. It was a great moment to pull into the hotel and drop the car off, not to need it again until we had to leave.

Montréal is the largest city in the Provence of Québec, and is an important economic hub for Canada. It is also the second largest Canadian city, right behind Toronto. Percentage-wise, the Anglophone community of Montréal is larger than Québec. It lies on an island where the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers meet, roughly a little more than 150 miles from Québec.

What We Did


After we arrived, we turned our car over the valet, and headed for dinner at Peel Pub, caught a movie, and turned in.


Waking up this day proved to be a bit more difficult. After days of moving on and on, exhaustion finally caught up to us. So we ended up sleeping in a bit.

When we finally got up for our day, we headed towards the mountain in the heart of the city that gave the city its name: Mont Royal (in English, Mount Royal). We spent all morning hiking this mountain. We did not take the direct pathway towards the summit, but taking the switchback pathways. While we were there, I thought that it had a Central Park "feel," only to find out that the designer of the Mount Royal park was the same designer of Central Park. We stopped for lunch at a café. After lunch, we continued our hike, and ended at the famous Chalet du Mont-Royal. I was excited to find a piano found in the lookout, only to find that through use, it was well loved, but not as playable as I would have hoped. The views of Montréal from this lookout were stunning.


view of Montréal from the Chalet du Mont-Royal

We then made our descent and went back to our hotel, rested a moment, and headed towards Old Montréal to visit Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal. Unfortunately, they had closed only 30 minutes before we got there, so we could not go inside. Oh well.
Facade of Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal
Then Jordan read about a cool place to visit for the evening after dinner: Bootlegger l'authentique, a jazz bar that serves whiskey and classic cocktails. We love jazz, and love swing dancing, and I am a fan of whiskey, so we walked there. Again unfortunately, they are not open on Mondays, so we could not get in. So we took a quick rest at Mckibbins Irish Pub, then walked back to our hotel to decide on dinner.

We chose 3 Brasseurs (3 Brewers in English) for dinner. We split a wonderful flammekueche, or tarte flambée, a flat bread topped with cheese and other toppings, similar to a flat pizza, and paired it with an amber ale. We were seated at a corner table, and it was a busy intersection, so it was a great time to people watch.

Conclusions

While not as enjoyable to us as Québec was, we still enjoyed Montréal and want to come back. One day is simply not enough time to explore what Montréal has to offer. So when we come back, it would be more than 1 or 2 full days.

Things I did not get to see or visit this time around, but will in the future:

  • Old Montréal and the Ports
  • Notre Dame Bascilica
  • Bootlegger l'authentique
  • Biosphère de Montréal
  • Biodôme de Montréal
  • Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
  • RESO, the underground city

This post is a part of a series. Read more of the series here.

  1. "Le Voyage de canada français"
  2. "Un Jour en Québec"
  3. "Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec - A Review"
  4. "Un Jour en Montréal"
  5. "Hotel Omni Mont-Royal - A Review"
Un Jour en Montréal