bonjour, mes amis!
as a friday treat, we have a special guest post today. i asked my mom if she would please write about a new experience that she and dad recently enjoyed. take it away, mom!
Anglophones in Montreal
We are not seasoned or savvy or readily disposed to travel.
We have escaped winter to sunny spots – Aruba and Caribbean cruises several times; once, a decade ago, we flew to Singapore and Malaysia for a month of heat and humidity. But, I think that travel, generally – and enormous, over-crowded, noisy airports in particular – are vastly over-rated. Therefore, I have practised avoidance techniques for years: quickly re-cycling brochures, flipping through the pages of travel sections in the newspapers, smiling blandly and mumbling trite phrases when friends and family enthuse about ports-of-call seen and appreciated.
And then we opened our 2011 Christmas gift from our son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren: return flight and hotel accommodations for a holiday in Montreal in April. My joy was genuine.
We have never been to Montreal to stay. Traversing the city with our eyes glued to the direction Ouest to and from holidays in Eastern Canada does not count. Navigating the bridges and French signage after we had driven to and from Chicoutimi some 20 years ago was a dim memory. Five years of high school French 50 years ago does not render me confident in communicating in a foreign language. Did we manage in cosmopolitan Montreal? Yes!
Throughout our entire 3-day visit we were respectfully greeted, given directions, and had questions answered and explanations provided graciously in English after it was established that anglais was our language preference.
After a sleep-over in Toronto at our family’s home, we taxied to the ferry that glided across Lake Ontario for all of 3 minutes to Toronto Island Billy Bishop airport. The airport was small and clean with a friendly feeling and extremely navigable procedures to get us on the plane. The flight to Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau Airport took an hour. The taxi ride to our hotel took about 25 minutes. A huge black umbrella balanced adroitly by the hotel concierge protected me from the downpour. The boutique Hotel Nelligan on Rue St. Paul Ouest/St. Paul Street West was elegant and beautiful. Two of the red brick walls in our luxury suite had been preserved when the original old building was restored. In the tastefully appointed lobby area, we were served cups of complimentary and excellent coffee. Later in the afternoon, we sipped a complimentary glass of wine and spent an entertaining hour surreptitiously people-watching and eavesdropping (although we did not comprehend any of the rapid-fire conversations en français.)
During our 3-day stay, we did not stray far from the hotel, and walked along St. Paul Street east and west visiting a different lively and interesting café each day for lunch. We visited a wide range of art galleries, clothing boutiques, shops with displays of sleek and modern tableware, an excellent stationery and paper goods store, and a large book store with all-in-French titles. In one boutique, I admired a beguiling gown that had as a price point a jaw-dropping ¼ of what our first house cost. “Just browsing, thank you” was easily accepted by the staff. We avoided the tourist trap t-shirts and coffee mugs and native dolls made-in-China a few blocks away.
The Centre des Sciences de Montreal/Montreal Science Centre located on the Quays of the old Port of Montreal was a delightful adventure. The IMAX 3-D movie The Last Reef was enchanting. I loved catching tiny sea creatures that seemed to float right into my hand.
We toured the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal/Notre Dame Basilica where Celine Dion was married in December 1994. The Neo-Gothic exterior is imposing and the opulent interior is dramatic and colourful with brilliant blues and azure and gold hues. I could not believe the size of the organ, 7000 pipes mounted to the highest of high ceilings.
Partly because of the pouring rain, we stayed at the dining room, Verses, at Hotel Nelligan for dinner the first night. For a 2-week period, the chef was experimenting with a tapas-style menu, and we devoured deconstructed duck with tasty sides and then finished with decadent batter-fried apples accompanied by warm, salted butterscotch sauce for dessert.
The highlight was dinner at Garde Manger, the brainchild of Chef and Food Network Host Chuck Hughes. The restaurant is unobtrusively tucked into a side street, Rue St. Francois-Xavier. Our son had made the reservations for us a month in advance. We arrived to a packed room with space for about 35 diners. It was small and antique, but definitely not quaint and cozy. The place was rockin’! We were the oldest people in the restaurant by two decades, but did not feel estranged. Our helpful and charming waitress translated the all-in-French menu for us scrawled on a blackboard. The younger couples at the tables to our left and right were friendly without being invasive and it was from them that we learned that Chuck was actually in house that night. Usually he is not. One couple had seen him roar up on his motorcycle! I discreetly craned my neck, frequently, to view hunky Chuck who was highly visible and busy all evening.
The food was delicious. We started with a clam amuse bouche, a great beginning. Then the appetizer: I had a roasted beet salad, the beets in 2 vivid colours, and hubby chose lobster poutine. Fantastic! For our mains I ate perfectly cooked scallops with accompanying potato gnocchi on a bed of carmelized carrots and hubby savoured slow-braised (for 36 hours according to our server) short ribs with rich gravy. At the recommendation of our next-table neighbour, he drank Chinese beer with that. Wow! For dessert we shared a deep-fried Mars bar with vanilla ice cream. Oh, my…it does not get better than this.
Chuck was friendly and approachable when we asked if I could have my photo taken with him. I had that treasured souvenir posted on facebook shortly after our return to reality. It was a marvelous evening, and as we strolled (well, more accurately, waddled) back the short distance to our hotel we murmured deep appreciation for family and superbly cooked food and new experiences.
After an unaccustomed sleep-in and a leisurely light breakfast, we reversed our route and returned to Toronto, in the rain, where our daughter-in-law met us at the airport and patiently listened to our hyperbole as we talked and talked. What a wonderful trip.
We may not have been savagely bitten by a travel bug nor been rhapsodized by wanderlust, but la Ville de Montreal à la Belle Province beckons.
thanks so much, mom! i want to meet chuck!!
have you ever visited montreal? me = no! despite going to school in québec for eight months, i have never spent time in montréal. now, québec city i have enjoyed on numerous occasions, but a tour de montréal has never materialized. maybe someone(s) will surprise aunti with a petit get-away trip to montreal?!