Whistle-stop Tour of Montreal.
Having family all over the world is a great situation to be in. This last trip to Canada and my cousin living in Montreal, meant a whistle-stop trip up to the French part of Canada was a must. The downside to having family all over the world is that it’s very hard to make it to all the various occasions. My cousin Anita got married last year and it was one of those occasions we just couldn’t make it to. Earlier this year they welcomed baby Kaetlyn into the family, so in spite of being a 7 hour drive from Toronto, it was a trip we were definitely going to make. The upside of visiting any city where you have family or know someone, is you get the low down and see, try and taste the things that many won’t.
I won’t lie, it’s a long drive to Montreal from Toronto. As we were coming from South of Toronto this added another hour, with 1 emergency stop and 1 planned stop, it was a total of 7 hours – it’s not a hard drive to navigate, basically 2 roads. The 401 and the 20 once you are into Quebec. Whilst that is a long time, in the land of Canadia, these kinds of length journey are quite common, mainly due the vast size of the country. As the season was just starting to turn, as we went further north we started to see the ‘fall’ arriving. The masses of green trees, just starting to turn a little orange and brown. Quite beautiful and in spite of the distance, the 7 hours did pass by surprisingly quickly. Be warned though that at this time of year, just as Autumn or Fall is approaching, it’s road works time. With the incredibly cold winters comes massive damage to concrete roads. So the summer time is repair time. This added time to the trip for sure, so if you are planning on driving (we hired a Nissan Altima from Enterprise Rent a Car ) factor in some single lane following huge trucks time!
We arrived in Montreal late afternoon and after the long drive it was good to just turn off and spend a little time with baby Kaetlyn and Anita. We don’t get to see each other often, so there was lots of catching up to do. In fact the last time we saw each other was actually my sisters wedding 2 years ago. As I am half Chinese, it was pre determined that dinner would be in China Town and we headed off downtown. Montreal city centre is not really that big and the Chinese quarter is clearly marked on most maps if you want to visit. We ate at the restaurant my whole family at at last visit, 1998, and the food was still very good – Thera has a number of intolerances, which have made Chinese food a little tricky to eat in the past, but everything ordered, from the jellyfish to the garlic fried snow pea leaves went down a treat.
The next day was spent exploring the city and it’s a beautiful city. Dubai, is an amazing place to be, both architecturally, and also culturally, but it was great to wander the streets of
Montreal. As you may well know, there is a huge French influence on the city. The buildings are French colonial, all the signs are in French and there is a lot of evidence of the cafe culture you find in and around Europe. We made our way to the Place Jacques Cartier which is a pedestrianised area close to the Old Port, and a lovely walk along the water front. Around Places Jacques Cartier is a number of restaurants looking onto the main thoroughfare. A local recommendation was Jardin Nelson – which is a lovely place to grab a crepe – their speciality – or a cold glass of wine. The gardens round the back are impressive, more so due to the huge umbrellas that have been constructed, they provide shade from the hot summer sun, as well as cover from the snow in winter. Interestingly they have been constructed in a way that not only provides cover, but also ensures that any run off water goes directly into the numerous plants all around. The crepes are good and the coffee strong and hot! We liked it so much that after a full day wandering the streets we came back and sat on the front veranda and sampled some local cider – cold and refreshing after a lot of walking.
In between time, we took in the Cathedral, the Old Port, the Place de Spectacle, China Town again, as well as getting out to the Olympic Stadium – it’s seen better days, but is still an impressive site.
The evening was saved for a ‘must do’ in Montreal. The national dish of Canada really is Poutine, which is a chips (french fries) covered in cheese curd, and gravy. It might sound a bit weird, but it’s actually very tasty. In Montreal, there is a restaurant that serves only this dish, but many variations of it. It’s a heart attack on a plate, but it’s worth it. The restaurant is called La Banquise It’s been there since 1964, is open 24 hours and is situated at 994 Rue Rachel -seek it out, deal with the parking issues and enjoy the Poutine. I couldn’t resist the meat feast called the T-Rex, incidentally, this is just a regular portion, you can get a large!!!! (pic) Not for every day eating by any means, but a very tasty treat. Around the table, we had the traditional, the Mexican, which was topped with salsa and avocado and sour cream as well as one topped with smoked meats (another speciality of Montreal) We
turned up on a Tuesday night at bout 7.30pm and the queue was out the door. But get a place and wait, it moves pretty quickly and it’s worth the wait.
Our evening was rounded off with a trip up Mont Royal , the hill that gave the city it’s name. At night it offers some pretty spectacular views over the city.
You can hike up it, but we decided the car would be a better option. There is a look out point up the hill which the local Racoons have sussed out as a great place to get fed. So along with the great views of the city, you can get up and close and personal with a family of (fat overfed) Racoons. They are so used to humans that you can actually sit in the car with the
door open and they will come up and take food from your hand!
It’s a beautiful city, that was well worth the 7 hour drive up the road from Toronto. Fantastic to see my family, the city that I last visited 15 years ago, and of course try the Poutine. If you have the time, I highly recommend a visit.