I've had several people complain that they've looked at my blog and there STILL isn't a post about Montreal! Well, I hate to disappoint my readers, whoever you are, so I'm putting off my house-cleaning just for you. I hope you fully appreciate the sacrifice I'm making!
Unlike the recent post about our sailing trip, this vacation is described in a single post.
Tuesday, July 12th - Harper and I drive to Logan and pick up Sarah. Our first stop is to drop Harper off at Diane's. As usual she is delighted to be there but I feel vaguely guilty, leaving her again so soon. She was so happy to see me when I picked her up after our trip to Missouri, and here I am, leaving her again after only 2 days. Oh well it can't be helped, and I know she's in good hands.
The drive up 93 and then 89 is green and hilly. The Green Mountains and then the White, are not quite mountains, but are more than just hills. The border crossing into Canada is uneventful. Almost immediately the hills turn into flat farmland, the interstate into country roads. Just outside Montreal the traffic grinds to a halt. Construction, road repair, we crawl into the city.
Le Petit Hotel, Rue Saint Paul in the Old City. I remember this from our last trip with Gail and Michael. Dinner at Cafe Boris, outside on a leafy terrace. It dawns on both of us that thanks to the New York Times we have somehow managed to snag a wonderful boutique hotel in the heart of the old city of Montreal. Our location couldn't be more perfect for the things we like to see and do.
Wednesday, July 13th. Bikes! Along the river, then across the bridge, past Habitat, to the Biosphere. Such wonderful memories of Expo 67, the pavilions belonging to all the different countries, Labyrinth, an elaborate exhibit featuring one of the very first split-screen movies, the food, the lines, the bus... Wet clothes and sleeping bags, Niagara falls, James bond movies. Back to biking...we have a bit of trouble figuring out the way back to Montreal from Ille Saint Helene where the World's Fair was held, but a bus driver honks and waves us in the right direction over the bridge safely. From there we bike over to the Latin quarter. A curtain of bright pink balls makes it clear exactly where we are. We sit outside for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. We intend to bike along the Lachine Canal but clouds and rain dissuade us, so we turn the bikes back in.
We have dinner at Pinxto, a restaurant which serves basque tapas. They are all delicious. We order an entire bottle of wine by mistake. Its a good thing Sarah has her father's genes, but I do my part, to the point of feeling a bit hungover the following morning.
Thursday, July 14th. Bagels and Mont Royal our goal. We buy a day pass for the metro since we are ready to venture further afield in this city. Our first destination is Viature Bagels for our first taste of real Montreal bagels. These are not the same as New York City bagels, but they are good in their own right. I'd describe them as slightly sweeter, and more cake-like. Don't turn up your nose until you've tried them!
My idea is to take the bus to the top of Mont Royal, but our waitress pooh-poohs that so we walk. It's not steep at all, I was afraid it would be something like The Peak in Hong Kong, but this is a gentle incline, runners are jogging up it. Only thing is, is HOT. We are very sweaty by the time we reach the top.
Beautiful views of the city, but we decide to take the bus back down. After a break at the hotel it's off to the Latin quarter again to do a little shopping. Retro sixties design stores, graffiti, piercings, trash. We decide to take the metro a few stops over to McGill and enter the massive city underground. After pedicures and a short nap, I'm rejuvenated.
We have dinner at a real French bistro. Sarah has quail, I have calf livers. Heavenly food.
Friday, July 15th. Shopping day. Sarah does the initial research, I plot our course. First up to Sherbrooke Metro stop. For a second day we buy 1 day metro passes. A great bargain since it includes the buses. We wander up and down Saint Denis, Saint Laurant, and all the little streets and shops in between. Its fun talking to shop girls, marveling at how easily they switch back and forth between English and French.
We find a little sandwich shop for lunch, sitting in the shade on the sidewalk. Its cool in the shade but the sun is fierce; we have to move our chairs to avoid it.
Then over to the Peel Street Metro stop. This is an area more like 5th Ave. We suddenly get in the mood to buy instead of merely browsing. With a silk blouse for me, and yellow shoes for Sarah, our shopping day is complete.
Dinner is at a charcuterie. Half glasses of wine, meats, olives, cheeses. Many dishes passing by look great but we simply can't eat any more.
Our taxi ride back to the hotel goes past a cheering soccer stadium surrounded by dozens of buses and bathed in the light of a glowing full moon. Late at night a fight breaks out near our hotel, but it only wakes me briefly.
Saturday, July 16th. Off we go to the Laurentians. I have vague memories of only French being spoken and misty mountains from my trip to Expo 67. The first difference I notice is the traffic. Apparently it's not unlike Minnesota or even New England, but everyone in Montreal seems to be headed to the mountains. We just crawl along, and the drive takes twice as long as it should. Oh well, what are you going to do?
Second difference, the Laurentians are Not the Swiss Alps, by any means. Think Ozarks, with a heavy French accent.
It IS very French, although most people speak English, quite a few of them struggle to find the right word. Funny since half the time if they tell us what the word is in French, we can figure out what it should be in English. Rutabaga? Same. Eucalyptus? Why, pretty much the same too! Go figure.
Our b&b is quiet, serene and a bit new age-y. Crystal Inn, Mont Tremblant. Maggie and John are as nice as can be, and their breakfasts are awesome! Portabella mushroom omelets one day, berry crepes the next.
Here Sarah and I outdo even our ability to consume vast quantities of food, with two traditional French dinners. The first night's dinner is very fancy with boulliabase and a chocolate dessert that just about does me in. The second night is much lighter, with some of the best lamb I've had in a long time, and fruit compote for dessert.
On Sunday we go kayaking on the Rivere Rouge. We choose the 3 hour trip. There is not much current, but its such a nice change from the city and a good upper body workout! Afterwards we go to a place called Spa Scandinave. This is a Nordic spa. You might have heard of these places. The idea is to spend 15 minutes in a hot environment - a steam room, a sauna, a hot tub, etc. Then 10-15 minutes in a cold environment - a cold waterfall, pool or even the river. THEN 15-20 minutes relaxing. Repeat this as many times as you want! Well we have a fine time. Sauna-cold pool-solarium. Hot tub-cold waterfall (yikes!!!!)-chair by the fire. Steam room-river-yoga mat in the sun. By the last circuit I could barely make myself rise from the chair, so I decided that was enough. It was wonderful though and I would love to do this again. I wonder if there is one somewhere in The Boston area?
And so on Monday I took Sarah to the airport in Montreal and drove back to New Hampshire by myself. I was happy to see Harper, and actually very relieved to know that I would be home and going nowhere for the next 2 and a half weeks! And I have to say, the mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire are really beautiful and deserve more of our attention in the coming months and years.