Kingston is a small historic city with loud and proud loyalty to the crown, interesting architecture, and quaint English pubs. We got into town late in the day and drove directly to the hotel. We ate dinner at the Pilot House because it was an easy walk and we were exhausted from the dunes in the heat! They offer several varieties of their famous fish and chips.
Being farmers and all, we were up early to seize Monday. It was overcast and drippy, a sleepy morning where not much was happening. Martello Alley is currently the #1 thing to do in Kingston, so we headed there — unwittingly a full hour before they opened.
The proprietor is just that great that he flung wide the gates and welcomed us in. We spent the better part of an hour enjoying the place and his company. He was admittedly perplexed about the Trip Advisor rating. I think his winning personality plus innovative approach help explain this success.
It really is a great idea! He’s transformed a decrepit old alley into a year round art gallery that is owned and operated collectively. He quickly unlocked doors hanging on brick walls to reveal a sampling of artwork for sale, each door a different artist. An inner courtyard revealed more art, flowering plants and a cafe seating area. Even further into the alley, more valuable artwork was on display on walls and tables in the main gallery.
By then, Kingston was waking up but we weren’t sure how we wanted to spend the day. We haven’t visited in years so we hit the reset button and joined the hop-on, hop-off trolley tour. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s also an easy and relatively cheap way to get the lay of the land. At times we had the trolley to ourselves. It is a thorough tour, which includes the Royal Military College of Canada, some government buildings, Fort Henry, and several museums, including the Canadian Penitentiary Museum.
This latter museum is free but unrelated to Kingston Penitentiary tours, which are among the hottest tickets in town. (Book in advance.) Who knew Kingston was the penitienary capital of Canada and had seven prisons in operation? The tour also passed through the Queens University campus. Near there we hopped off and found our way back to a glass artist before taking a delicious lunch at Chez Piggy.
As an aside, I will say that Fort Henry is among the best North American military forts I’ve ever visited. Interpreters dressed in period costume vividly portray fort life as it was back in the days of American and British conflict. I was tempted for a repeat visit but the Hubs wasn’t overly interested. It was hot and we were doing a lot of walking so it didn’t take much to convince me to stay on the trolley. I expect we will go back with the grands in tow someday. They will love it!
Later that afternoon, we took the Wolfe Island ferry. It’s a pleasant surprise to find ferries run free in Ontario as part of the highway system. This particular ferry is large but very busy; you must plan ahead to drive on. Locals queue early, park in place, and return when the ferry docks to board. The line of cars and trucks was much longer than the ferry’s capacity on this trip. We were walking on, so no worries! It’s a short sail across the St. Lawrence with lovely Kingston harbor vistas. I enjoyed chatting with several locals and lifelong islanders heading home from work.
On one lady’s advice, we walked off the ferry, hung a left, and landed at the Wolfe Island Grill. There we were greeted with friendly staff, a delightfully fresh and innovative menu (for example, a watermelon, feta and mint salad), waterfront patio and local brews. What more could we need? After dinner, we caught the ferry back to Kingston. Easy peasy.
On Tuesday morning we had “The best breakfast in Kingston” at Peter’s Place because, well, the Hubs insisted. Breakfast is the meal he most often has to forgo due to his work schedule and so he doesn’t like to miss it on vacation. This was classic diner food and just that, no apparent local specialties. It was my least favorite meal of the trip but he was happy!
About this time, I realized that we’d missed the annual military tattoo at Fort Henry by one full day. Drats and double-drats! We won’t make that mistake again. I was suffering some regret as we wandered around town, strolling down Princess Street, browsing and shopping. There is lots of variety in Kingston retail therapy and local flavor in arts and antiques. It was a pleasant morning. The best part was a vibrant farmer’s market where I found unique preserves and pastry gifts to bring home.
My only real disappointment in Kingston was in our hotel, the Marriott Delta Waterfront. It’s a great location but a truly disappointing property and hardly worth two of the four star rating. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say we were satisfied only because we were staying for free. If you’re headed to Kinston, try the Sheraton?
~ René Morley