The family and I took a two day trip to Montreal recently and I was reminded that the famous certainties of life are not just death and taxes. I’m quite sure that you can add these two to the list: One can always see a construction cone while standing on any street corner in Montreal and if you leave half a car length of space between you and the car in front of you, it’s an open invitation for other drivers to cut in.
Wait. Let me backup a bit first. My in-laws had recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary so my wife and I wanted to treat them to something fun because a) I wasn’t around for their official anniversary and b) they are awesome people. Seriously. If you could ask for the best in-laws in the world, you would use them as your template.
Our gift to them was a short but packed trip in Montreal. My father in-law had spent some there in his earlier days and since it was so close, we thought it would be neat to see some of the places he experienced + take in some of what Montreal had to offer. By some miracle of fate, my family and I loaded the car with a single bag each and were on the road by 8:00am on departure day. I mean this is how I dreamed it would be like to travel with a 6 year old and we are finally there. No more superfluous bags for all those what-if kid scenarios!
We swapped cars at my in-laws when we picked them up (they had a roomier vehicle) and a couple of hours later, we were happily sitting in 10:30am stop-and-go traffic on Montreal’s infamous HWY 50. It had been many years since I’ve driven in Montreal and I had forgotten their style of driving there. I consider myself an assertive driver so I quickly adapted to the “I’m coming into your lane no matter what” attitude that is constantly on display while you drive there.
Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens. The GPS unit was telling us how to get there but of course, two of the roads we are supposed to take were currently 15 feet below street level and filled with backhoes and reflector vest wearing dudes. I ended up performing 3 nimble traffic violations to get where we need to go. I’m was getting the hang of it.
After parking and getting into the gardens, we wandered for a few hours and took in what we could:
- The Alpine Garden
- The Aquatic Garden
- The Japanese Garden
- The Rose Garden
- …. I think you get the point. There are lots of gardens. Go see them. The bonsais were really cool. They have a 275 year old one there that is definitely looking it’s age.
Still in the gardens, we dropped in to visit the insectarium and that is when I found out that my daughter and I are the only two who are really interested in that stuff. Lots of posed insects and a really cool Leafcutter ant display. We made an early exit (I’ll be back my creepy-crawly friends!). Regrouping outside, we decided it was time to enjoy some of the great food that Montreal is known for so we made our way to Old Montreal. My wife had planned our trip out quite well as she had compiled a list of you-have-to-go-there restaurants and did a lot of research to find the right hotel (which was ace by the way).
So it takes us about an hour to drive to and find a parking spot in Old Montreal. The small parking spot that opened up (which I quickly pulled into) was worth every dollar of the 18 we paid for it. We got out, walked 4 blocks to our desired restaurant and were greete with a line of people waiting outside the place of eating we had chosen. Hmmm not good I thought. I noticed another place to eat kitty corner to our current location and when we were told it would be an hour wait at the first restaurant, I was already walking across the street to the other place. I was starting to think about those Snicker commercials where people turn into mean people when they don’t get food into them in a timely manner. I wasn’t at the typical “I’m going to die if I don’t get food into me” man stage yet but I was getting there. We ventured into the restaurant (Marché de La Villette) and any plans I had of trying to eat a low carb meal disappeared.
I decided to have the Aznavour Croburger for lunch. Sure it came with a delicious side salad but I didn’t even touch it because this Burger was overwhelming in size, taste and richness. I capitalized burger because I respect it that much. I added this guy to my top 5 burgers I’ve ever eaten list. The bun is made with croissant dough and appears to be fried. That is your first warning. They then throw in what I think is a 1/2 pound meat paddy. It was NOT made with lean beef either. They then add a hefty amount of smoked meat, Gruyère cheese and drizzle on some kind of onion confit. To make it healthy, a leaf of lettuce is added.
My father-in-law offered me a piece of his smoked meat sandwich which was decent. I’m sure it would have tasted much better had I not just eaten my burger. It was like eating plain chicken wings after having sampled the most savoury chicken wings you’ve ever had. To finish things off, we split a cronut five ways as we had not yet tried this cultural sensation. It wasn’t bad but not something I would order again. That burger though… hmmmmm.
After our late lunch, we walked over to Hotel Nelligan and checked in. FYI – I would stay there again in a heart beat. Centrally located, beautiful rooms and great service. My wife chose well. Leaving the ladies at the hotel, my father-in-law and walked five blocks to pick up our vehicle and then proceeded take 45 minutes to get to the hotel (for the valet parking). Blocked streets, bumbling tourists, construction and a bevy of one way streets contributed to this massive delay. Needless to say, we weren’t planning to venture out in the car anytime soon after that. Once back at the hotel, the men took afternoon naps while the ladies did some walking and perusing of the many stores in the area. We had reserved some seats for a 7pm dinner at a bar + pizzeria called BEVO. I highly recommend it as well . I was torn on what to order. I was in Quebec but I was also in a place that had a wood pizza oven. What to do… what to do.
The others were ordering pizza so I figured I would be able to sneak a piece off of them so I chose Poutine. I ordered the braised veal version and like the burger from earlier in the day, it goes onto the top five list. Wow. This was a quality over quantity thing and I loved it. I did get to try the pizza and I have to say it was quite good. The “Formaggio Di Capra E Spinaci” was what I would order if I was going to eat pizza there. Just saying.
Afterwards, we walked around for a good 1.5 hours as we made our way to the Old Port and watched people enjoy their evening. Some screamed while they zip lined in the dark, others raced among the tourists with the 4 person bikes that were everywhere. It was interesting to see a bunch of millennials all sitting on the sidewalk in the park smoking marijuana all the while staring at their phones. Times change but it was kind of humourous in a dystopian future kind of way.
Back at the hotel, our daughter was tired but she wouldn’t admit it. The lovely angel from the day turned into the devil when we asked her to brush her teeth before bed time. Forty whining/crying minutes later, she fell asleep with an Archie comic book in her hand. I slept amazingly and woke up early so I quickly got ready and took an early morning walk by myself. I wanted to take some photos of the city before it got moving. As I passed by runners, workers and yoga’ers, I came across some crazed french rapper guy who was performing/yelling on the steps of the Basilica. He was interesting to watch but from a peripheral vision perspective because he was the type of person you didn’t want to make eye contact with. As I made my way back to the hotel, I took a few detours through some alleys and came across a lone Italian shoe that had been quite the looker at one point. The stories of how it got there and who it belonged to swirled in my head when I saw it and I’m still curious about it. I’m part cat that way.
As an aside, I’ve been using an old point/shoot camera (Lumix DMC-ZS3) on my recent travel trips as I’ve been finding my DSLR / lens kits a bit too big/cumbersome as of late. I used to get some great shots with my Kodak DX6490 and I was missing the portability factor. Sure the smartphones take decent pictures but it’s a hit/miss thing and once you get them off the phone, they don’t hold up well when you print them or show them on a monitor. That is unless you work the hell out of them (or shove them through an Instagram filter but that’s boring). The results weren’t too bad and I ended up taking a lot more pictures than I would have with my DSLR. Conclusions are being drawn from this little experiment.
After a nice hotel breakfast of eggs/bacon/creton, we all wandered the streets to stretch the legs. We admired the architecture, marveled at how we had to pay money to get into Notre Dame Basilica (maybe they need the money to pay for all the scandals) and watched the locals smoke their first pack of day. Definitely a cultural thing.
After checking out of the hotel, the ladies were on a food hunt for the best in-category foods (all open to endless debate of course)
- Best bagel shop (St-Viateur Bagel)
- Best bakery (Les Co’Pains d’Abord) (our first choice was Les Gourmandises de Marie-Anoinette but it was closed for renovations – this was unfortunate as it took us 30 minutes to get there from our previous destination)
- Best Arabic grocery store (Adonis)
In all, this took us 5 hours to do thanks in part to the “amazing” urban planning of Montreal coupled with the endless projects to rip up streets. Seriously, car GPS systems need to die a horrible death so they can be replaced by Google Maps. Google knows where the hard hats are working and will show you viable alternate routes. I know that Apple and Google are slowly making their way into cars today but I can’t wait for it to happen en masse and displace the Rogers and Bells companies of the car navigation world. No more having to pay $400 to upgrade your maps anymore. Screw you Garmin! /rant.
The bagel shop is a go-to place for out-of-towners (and in-towners) and they have a wall of accolades on display to prove it. They run a brisk business as we were in and out in no time even with a steady stream of people coming in. Many poorly timed stop lights and blocked streets later, we were standing in front of the bakery. It had the usual assortment of goodies but the almond croissants deserve a shelf all for themselves. Holy smokies! Best. Croissant. Ever.
As we left the city, we were treated to a final driving lesson. To get onto any highway, one must drive in any lane that is empty and abruptly cut in to the on-ramp at the very last second. Then to show that you are a friendly driver, wave your hand at the twenty people you just cut off. This lesson was repeated to me somewhere between 30 and 40 times. Even the transport drivers helped out with that lesson.
The drive home was uneventful yet tiring. More so for my passengers as my six year old daughter loves to invent/play games in the car. Sure we could use the tablet to act as a surrogate parent like most people do but we made the decision that while on family car trips, we would interact because hey, family trip. As tiring as it can be, it does create a lot of good memories. As we unpacked the car and settled in for a relaxing evening at home, I sat there and realized that I had missed traveling over the past few years. I’m looking forward to experiencing “the brushing of the teeth trials” with my daughter in different cities as we travel over the next few years.