{Trip Report} Montreal is not Paris

Scenario: It seems sacrilegious to post this report since I haven’t yet publicly documented the Big Island or Sanibel, but I was strongly motivated for some odd reason to write about this most recent adventure. Montreal has been in our sights since we lived in New Hampshire. I had always heard it was a city reminiscent of Paris, so it intrigued me. Last year, I decided we HAD to check it out. Ultimately, Christmas break seemed the most logical considering our remaining vacation time. In the end, we booked a two night stay.

Friday– We loaded the car and set out from NY for Montreal by 9 a.m. With no winter weather to delay us, the four hour drive was quite smooth. Nick wasn’t feeling 100% (too much Christmas egg nog), so I drove the entire way. The wait at the border was less than 10 minutes, and we had a pleasant agent interview us. The 1000 Islands looked quite pretty as we crossed the handful of tall bridges from the USA to Ontario. It is on my list of places to check out one summer. The Canadian portion of the drive was simple thanks to my GPS which still worked in airplane mode since I had downloaded the map prior to crossing the border.
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As we approached the city, the traffic picked up and Nick kept remarking, “It looks like WWIII.” I agree, there were industrial areas, graffiti, trash, and an abundance of train tracks. The gray day did not improve the scenery. We did experience a couple hiccups though once we got to Montreal. I had selected 3 restaurants to try, but once we got to Montreal, they were all closed!
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Closed 😦

What a disappointment! In fact, everything seemed to be closed due to the holiday season. We were starved by this point since it was nearly 2pm so we had to settle on a less than desirable place. As expected, the food was subpar and I left most of my poutine untouched. Once we had some sustenance (Nick ate everything on his plate) we were in better spirits to explore this new city.

We began by exploring the cobblestone streets of Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal). The highlight was the colorful Notre Dame which is fashioned after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The heavenly lit ceiling and flickering candles were beautifully vivid.
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We exited and strolled the cobblestone streets before heading toward our hotel, Le Square Phillips. Though not in Old Montreal, it was close. In fact, it was ideally located near St. Catherine’s Street– the so called 5th Ave of Montreal– and China Town. The hotel pretends to be 5 stars, but it’s really more of a 3 star. Our room, a king suite with a kitchen and living room, was surprisingly large. The indoor pool, located on a top floor, was small and quite frigid. The windows surrounding the pool, however, offered a fabulous metropolitan view of Montreal. That evening we dined in our room… I made homemade marinara sauce for pasta and Nick picked up some bread and cheese at a local grocery store.
And Xander enjoyed some bed jumping!

And Xander enjoyed some bed jumping!

Saturday– After a lackluster breakfast at the hotel, we strolled to the McGill Metro station and bought 3 two-trip tickets. We wanted to check out the unusual BioDome which was about 10 stops away from our hotel. The Metro was an efficient alternative to driving as it was faster and cheaper.
For lunch we returned to our hotel’s neighborhood and dined at an Irish pub. It definitely had an authentic pub vibe… There were only a couple tables occupied, mostly by men who were socializing with a stout and a bowl of English chips set between them. The bartender was also the waiter and was quite efficient in both roles. Nick and I shared an order of fish n’ chips and chicken curry. Both meals were excellent. Xander said his burger was tasty, too.
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The rest of the afternoon was spent in the hotel, relaxing, swimming, and watching television specials on the anniversary of the tsunami. We utilized the free wifi to find a restaurant for dinner. Ultimately we chose a trendy Pizzeria in Vieux Montreal that sounded perfect, so we made reservations via Open Table.
Before dinner we walked to a nearby light installation that’s part of the Luminotherapie show. This installment featured rotating colored prisms that were outfitted with wind chimes. It was a neat effect! Nearby we also saw a video projection installation depicting “the enchanting world of an early 20th century carnival.” Fascinating stuff!
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We continued our walk to Vieux Montreal by walking down the Main Street of China Town. I was very tempted to change our dinner plans as many of the eateries looked fabulous. Xander was particularly fascinated by this street and all the usual signs.
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Bevo turned out to be a solid choice for dinner. It was Christmasy inside and offered wood-fired pizzas. Xander liked the techno music that softly played in the background. We were a little early for our 9pm reservation, but were seated immediately.
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After some contemplation, we started with calamari and selected two pizzas for dinner. The calamari was average and came with a very small dish of sauce. The pizzas were pretty good, and we all agreed that the regular pepperoni was our favorite. I also ordered a fresh Bellini cocktail, and it was excellent. 120 CAD later, we walked back to our hotel. Xander wanted me to snap a photo of him in front of this building because he thought its pillars were reminiscent of the White House.
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Sunday– We slept in and opted to eat elsewhere for breakfast. Nick had spotted a creperie earlier in the trip, so we checked out, leaving our luggage with the front desk. Bits of blue sky peeked through the grey clouds, offering the potential promise of a pretty winter morning. The brisk walk to the Cafe CC was cold, and quiet. It seemed Montrealians had also decided to sleep in. The cafe was mostly empty, thank goodness because there was only one person making crepes. We took a seat by the crepe station and watched as a lady concocted the labor intensive meals.
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It looked pretty…. but

Xander had the Nutella version, I had the strawberry/banana/Nutella version, and Nick had the beef/onion/cheese/tomato/lettuce version. Overall, they were pretty, but lacking, in my opinion. They were too thick, too undercooked, and the strawberries were not ripe, and quite green. I also wasn’t a fan of Nick’s either, mainly because cooked lettuce makes me want to hurl.
Ahhhhh..... Eze, France

Ahhhhh….. Eze, France

 They were a far cry from the decadent dessert crepe I had in the medieval village of Eze, perched high above the shimmering French Mediterranean. That crepe had divine milk chocolate, fresh RIPE fruit, homemade creme, and a sprinkling of chopped nuts. Their crepe was paper thin, full cooked, and melted in my mouth.
Flashback to my third visit to France in 2005. I've never had a bad meal in this country!

Flashback to my third visit to France in 2005. I’ve never had a bad meal in this country!

But, I digress. The soggy mess in front of me in Montreal was pitiful in comparison.
Oh well. Quebec is not France or Paris, so maybe I should stop making the comparison.
Overall, our trip was worthwhile and an adequate escape from the United States. It definitely felt foreign in Montreal, but it lacked the charm of a European city. On the flip side, French Canadians are much more accepting of non French speakers. Nick did try to speak French, but mostly resorted to English because most French Canadians speak both fluently.
Au revoir!
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