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Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

Maryland
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Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

Hubbie is still sleeping so thought would get started on our trip report. First, thanks to all of those who replied to our many inquiries. Your information was so helpful.

GRAFITTI & PANHANDLERS & OVERALL IMPRESSION

Earlier, there was a poster who cut their week in Montreal extremely short, talking about panhandlers, graffiti etc. I am attending a conference and retired husband is accompanying me. We have both felt safe walking the streets and taking the subway/metro. My take on having been here since Wednesday pm is that yes, there is a lot more graffiti than we see in Washington DC. But, it is not on every wall. Yes, there is some trash on the streets. And, yes there are a few panhandlers (what is with a sign that says $ for beer--do people really give them money for beer?)--we saw them mainly downtown. But, we were not accosted or disturbed by the panhandlers. It has been raining off and on so perhaps that has helped--but the graffiti, panhandlers and trash aren't enough to turn us off of Montreal. The only unpleasant experience was a crazy white haired lady that I sat next to on the subway/metro who was deeply offended by me doing so, and insisted that I move, leaned over and shouted in my ear in French! I moved and my husband sat down next to her to provide a barrier, which she seemed to appreciate more than me sitting next to her. Very weird.

While we were venturing out each day, I was struck by two young women at the conference hotel who had decided to head back to the airport early for duty free shopping on Friday since "everything is closed." With your help, and the help of the hotel conceirge and our advance research, we already had several options of what to do even though it was a holiday.

So, would say that you need a sense of adventure to truly enjoy your visit to Montreal. it is indeed grittier than Paris (though some of the neighborhoods in Paris are also rather gritty). But, step into one of the cafes or lively restaurants, get advice from locals and this board, venture outside the hotel and the immediate environs--and you will have a much better experience here in Montreal. Everyone it seems has strong views of where to eat in Montreal so we are getting additional input from locals we meet. We are enjoying ourselves and hubbie is happy he tagged along.

Montreal is often called the Paris of North America, but, it is not Paris. Not so many museums, many of the buildings just aren't that gorgeous (e.g., ride from airport was unremarkable). But, most everyone speaks English. You can drive or take the train to Montreal. No time difference for those on the East coast so don't have to deal with jet lag. For a weekend away, then Montreal makes a lot more sense than flying to Paris for the time it takes to get here/there. The expensive airfare to get here in the summer was equivalent to flying to Paris in the Spring or Fall, though some airfare sales make it a real bargain. With the US dollar now being .90 of a Canadian dollar, Montreal isn't the bargain it used to be, but, with the help of this board and a little advance work, you can make it more affordable.

SELECTING A HOTEL

We ended up with an air-hotel package through Expedia. First time to get a package for me since our honeymoon, but It was just a little more expensive than paying for just the airfare alone. We flew on Jazz (Air Canada) and didn't have to pay extra for luggage. All of the staff at our hotel, Hotel de la Montagne, are extremely helpful. The room is huge with king size bed, balcony, quiet and nonsmoking. Bathroom is all tiled with separate shower and bathtub and two sinks. The room has a desk, sofa, easy chair, dining table and two chairs. It feels luxurious to spread out. And we get turndown service with delicious chocolates at night. Just a few short blocks from the metro, my conference hotel and the 747 bus stop. Downside for us old fogies is that the pool bar is mainly a bar in pm and evening with outside folks coming in--which moved into the lobby bar when raining. One night, some mischief makers moved pictures on the walls from one floor to another. We had asked for a quiet room in advance so they had situated us far away from the pool bar, but, it is a little disconcerting to think of non-hotel guests roaming the hallways. There is a dress code for the pool bar.

747 & PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

We easily found the international currency exchange on the right hand side as we exited getting our luggage and going through customs. They sell the weekly pass as well as 3 day and 1 day passes there. An ATM machine is located right next to the ICE so easy to get the required cash. For our four days in Montreal we got a 3 day and a 1 day pass each--it was cheaper than getting the weekly pass since we don't already have an OPUS card. It is very nice to already have them with us since we can just hop on and off even for just a couple of stops. Metro is fast, and easy to figure out (just pick up a free map).

Edited: 25 June 2011, 13:05
Maryland
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1. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, WEDNESDAY PM and NIGHT

If you are visiting Montreal on Wednesday nights, take advantage of the discount admission for the Museum of fine arts (5-9 pm special exhibits are half price) or the McCord museum. We bought advance tickets online for the Museum of fine arts' special exhibit of the terra cotta warrors from China and were so glad that we did. It took us so long to get from the airport and checked into our hotel that it was after 3 pm when we were trying to find some place to eat. We ended up grabbing soup and salad at a Soupe Soup right near the Museum which was perfect. I had quinoa and beet salad, with canelini bean vegetable soup. Husband had turkey vegetable soup and noodle salad.

The terra cotta warrior exhibit is ending this week. If you haven't been and you are in Montreal--definitely go. But, buy the tickets in advance and go early. When we left the exhibit, there was a line outside the museum that was almost two blocks long. Although they only have two of the lifesize horses and about ten lifesize warriors, the display was really interesting and nicely displayed. Supposedly this is the first time several of these items have been outside of China so rather an exciting exhibit.

After the museum visit, we headed to Kazu--which have to say was one of our best meals to date. I had chicken meatballs, side of rice and the grilled asparagus dish for about $18. Sounds boring but the asparagus dish was amazing. Hubbie had the shrimp burger, rice girl (with salmon) and the chicken skins. Total for two people with one juice drink was 50 including tax and tip. We did have to wait outside for about 20 minutes but it was worth it. This is definitely a hole in the wall. Had to negotiate with hubbie to even try another restaurant--he keeps referring to Kazu as "my restaurant"--as in "why can't we go back to my restaurant" when encouraging him to try something new.

THURSDAY HUBBIE VENTURES OUT

With the rain, the planned bike ride was out so hubbie headed to the botanical gardens. He ignored the list of breakfast suggestions that I had left him (gleaned from your suggestions) and headed to DUNN'S for breakfast which was a hotel conceirge recommendation. for a nearby greasy spoon since he has a penchant for old style greasy spoons. Hubbie says he wouldn't go back. He took the metro to the botanical gardens where he spent about two hours, 1 hour in the biodome and was disappointed that the insectarium was closed. He was excited to see a cooper's hawk mama and her two babies in a nest in the botanical garden. I know that I said that he wasn't a shopper, but, with places in easy walking distance--he went to the Apple store and checked out the IPADS (still trying to make that decision) and ECCO shoes. All in all, a good day.

L'EXPRESS DINNER

It was really pouring by the time we were ready to get to our restaurant reservations at L'Express so we called and explained the situation, and they kindly held our reservations for half an hour while we waited with the bellman to grab a cab for the short ride to the restaurant. It was as I remember, with the black and white tile, friendly waiters, Parisian bistro feel. After Kazu, it was not as exciting a meal, and definitely a lot more expensive, but good. I had warm goat cheese salad, and chicken with mustard sauce. Hubbie had the octupus and lentil salad, and the sea bass. With two drinks, the meal was $116 including tax and tip. Definitely family oriented--as new grandparents, we entertained the little cranky baby next to us while waiting for our check.

Maryland
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2. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

Business Lunch

For my business lunch with a former student, I had bought a Groupon for lunch at the Ristorante DaVinci on Bishop street, a white linen Italian restaurant walking distance from our conference hotel. We both selected from the fixed price lunch menu (read to us by our waiter), which included choices from two salads, and at least four entrees. We both started with the argula salad with shaved parmesan regiano cheese. My colleague had capelini pasta with seafood (1/2 lobster, scallops, shrimp, clams and mussels) in a tomato sauce. I had the grilled atlantic salmon with caper sauce, fingerling potatoes flavoured with garlic and rosemary, and steamed vegetables (e.g., baby bok choy, slice orange beet, etc.) Our meals were good, but, the desserts were amazing. She had the panna cotta for the day which was served in a martini glass (not the usual slice on a plate) and had a berry layer on the top. I had the tartufo with chocolate and melted caramel—dark chocolate base, white chocolate layer, regular chocolate layer, and melted caramel in the middle. The desserts are all made there, and are worth going to the restaurant by themselves. For me, these versions redefined both of these desserts. With chamomile tea and capuchino, our lunch was $93 minus the $40 groupon plus tip. In other words, the groupon discount covered the cost of the desserts.

Maryland
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3. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

FRIDAY MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE DAY

After spending so much on Thursday for food (on top of what already described had a mandatory conference hotel breakfast meeting that was over $35!), wanted to go a lot cheaper for Friday. So, had breakfast at Chez Cora on way to my conference hotel. My poached egg on potatoes, peppers, onions and cheese was fine. Hubbie had my toast, juice and a cup of coffee since he wanted to save himself for Schwartz's for lunch. For lunch went to the hopping Cafe Vasco de Gama for salads, gluten free cookie and fruit. While I was at the conference, hubbie walked all the way out to Schwartz's, found Duluth street which was fun to walk down. He thinks the smoked meat sandwich is comparable to Katz's pastrami in NYC, and the atmosphere is just what he likes. For dinner, we consulted with the Portuguese manager of our hotel who reviewed our list of recommended Portuguese restaurants and suggested we go to Chez Doval on rue Marie-Anne Est. Definitely make reservations because folks were waiting outside in the rain. What was especially fun was that they had a solo guitarist who sang in Portuguese and spanish for tips. Hubbie had the grilled sea bass with potatoes and vegetables with a glass of house white wine. I had the grilled chicken with fries and salad--got the "spicy" version which wasn't too hot. The chicken had a nice crispy skin. the fish had its skin, head and tail. It is a true neighborhood fun place. Very casual and family oriented. The food was very good and this place is also highly recommended. So, so far hubbie's number one is Kazu, then Chez Doval is number two.

Edited: 25 June 2011, 14:20
Montreal, Canada
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4. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

What a beautiful level headed TR!

Is is also very nice that you put second, third days, etc on separate replys even if you wrote them almost all at once. That made the first one easier to read and pause. Yes there are grittiness in every city but what I found strange is that you compare with Washington. Well from all my experiences in your city and from what I read one street could be very nice and safe and then the other one just scary!. For example we were staying at a Hilton once and one of my fellow traveler decided at 10 pm that he needed a fried chicken fix. We had seen one spot nearby while driving around and he headed for that place. Well he got almost mugged on the street and then there was a thief with a jacknife doing a hold up in the fried chicken place! Well there are more panhandlers in Montreal at almost every corner but, as you were able to acknowledge, they are far from agressive. Also even if you walk from a tony neighbourhood to a more run down one you will still be safe.

As per the rest just great thank you.

I was at the Museum on Wednesday night and I even wrote about the zoo that it was with a two blocks line up. I even discouraged people to get there. What I suppose in your case was that you walked in between 4 and 5 p.m. when all the cheapos, sorry discount seekers, were waiting in line for the five o'clock discount. So you were there in a sort of lull before the stampede! I have a VIP pass for the museum but had to wait until for a friend after 5 and there were so many people that I just tried to squeeze myself to the exit with just glimpses at the warriors and other big pieces. You just could not move around!

Do not forget that unless there is very heavy rain in the evening you have the big fireworks at La Ronde tonight, not to be missed!

And we await the rest of your TR. Thanks again!

Edmonton, Canada
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5. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

Great trip report and I'm very glad you enjoyed your stay. I must admit that I was also surprised that you compared us to DC. I've been to DC many times and I don't feel safe after 10pm in that city. We were staying at the Westin and walking back from a restaurant I got my ipod stolen from a guy holding a knife. When I got back to the hotel the bellman was not very surprised and said I was lucky they only took the ipod.

All though a very traumatic experience its not enough to turn me down from a great city like Washington but from now on I make sure to be in the hotel before 10pm. Or I simply don't walk to and from the hotel at night. Taxis :)

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6. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

Thanks for your report! I will be in Montreal in 2 days. I made some notes on your restaurants experiences :-)

Maryland
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7. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

Thanks for the comments. Just got back yesterday and hoping to finish up with the report soon.

My comment about DC was about the graffiti--we don't see the graffiti in the suburbs of the DC metro area (we live in the Maryland suburbs of DC) like we saw in Montreal. Just sharing my impression.

Regarding safety, it totally depends upon where you are staying in the DC area--just like any other metropolitan area. Sorry that you both had bad experiences. Hopefully you will return and venture outside of the downtown area next time (staying in the suburbs will save you a lot of $). Besides our free museums, and wide range of cuisines (remember, the embassies are here and we have a lot of immigrants), there is much to see and do in the DC metro area. For example, nearby are mountains, beaches, international level white water rafting & equine activities (e.g., polo, jousting, eventing, jumping, dressage), golf etc. New York City and Philadelphia can be done as a day trip, are only a few hours away by bus or train.

Maryland
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8. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

WHAT IS OPEN ON FÊTE NATIONALE OR ST-JEAN BAPTISTE DAY

We found several restaurants/cafes (e.g., Kazu, Chez Doval, Chez Cora), movie theaters, bookstores (e.g., Chapters) were open, as well as the Science museum. Although we did not go to see the parade or the music at the park due to the rain—those are also free options that day. You can search opentable.com for restaurants that are open and take reservations.

Maryland
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9. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

SATURDAY IS MARKET AND FIREWORKS DAY

Unfortunately the hotel concierge gave us incorrect information about the markets—they said there really aren’t places to eat breakfast near or in the market. So, we ate breakfast (smoked salmon omelet, toast, fruit, and coffee for hubbie; veggie and cheese omelet, fruit, orange juice for me) at the Café Vasco de Gama near our hotel. It was good but over $40 for the two of us so definitely not cheap. The fruit was very fresh and the omelets cooked to order.

We took the metro out to Jean Talon market and immediately noted lots of folks eating, and many options from snacks to full meals at and near the market (e.g, meat pies, cheese and bread, huevos rancheros, cut up fruit, nuts, sausage and sauerkraut, rice/chicken/shrimp dish which looked like paella, papusas). What is fun are the samples of fruit, and other products (not keen on ice cider). Unpasteurized cheese from Quebec is sold at la crud laix (hope I got that right), along with gluten free vegetarian pate that was surprisingly yummy. We had brought an insulated lunch bag to pack up the cheeses we purchased. We shared the list of Quebec cheeses that we had found online with the man behind the cheese counter and he thought it was an excellent list. We also stopped at the famous Hamel but they specialize in cheeses from around the world, and was much more crowded. We felt much less pressured and more leisurely at la crud laix (you have to try samples before you buy  The market is a great place to buy foodie gifts to bring home—we picked up a cheese slicer, maple butter, Quebec cheeses, smoked almonds, tea, and turrone plus berries to eat the next morning.

I dragged hubbie over to Le Petit Alep (he was still full from breakfast) where I thoroughly enjoyed a shredded, well cooked lamb dish served with rice pilaf and green lettuce/cucumber/tomato salad in a vinagrete. I have to say—this was one of the very best meals that I had in Montreal, and very affordable ($12? Plus tax and tip).. I have to learn how to make this dish. Of note, the bigger restaurant (Alep) is closed right now for renovations.

Given that Marche Atwater was on the same metro line, we decided to head on over to see this smaller market. It is closer to downtown and in what appears to be a nicer neighborhood, and more upscale. It has a lot more cut flowers, and ready to cook food (e.g., pasta, marinated meats) but fewer options of places to eat, and fresh vegetables and fruit.

If we only had time to go to one market, we would go back to Jean Talon.

By the time we got back to our hotel, it was about 4 pm. While hubbie rested, I packed up for our travel home the next day. We tried to see one of the free shows at the Jazz festival but not much was happening late afternoon so headed to our restaurant reservations at Au Petit Extra. The timing (7 pm dinner reservations) and location (near the fireworks) was perfect—thanks for the recommendation. Hubbie loved the vibe of this place. French bistro but not stuffy. Hubbie had panko fried escargot with green salad, and duck confit served with salad and gizzards. I had warm goat cheese salad and warm asparagus soup since had such a wonderful lunch at Le petit Alep, and wanted to save myself for dessert—chocolate fondant. With a glass of wine, and two chamomile teas, the bill was about $70 including tax and tip. Hubbie would like to go back and try something different, but, would recommend this place..

After dinner, we headed towards the bridge which was about 10 minutes walk. We ended up waiting about an hour for the half hour fireworks show, but, got there plenty early to pick a good spot and not feel crowded. We were fortunate that the rain held off so that we could enjoy the show. It was our luck to share the bridge view with a fireworks expert from Ottawa. At one point, he said “well, that was $10,000 in about 10 seconds” I really liked the waterfall and sparkling/spangling fireworks portion. We had been told that the metro is absolutely jammed but we decided to try and boogied back and hopped on without too much trouble. Back at our hotel just a half hour after we left the bridge.

Maryland
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10. Re: Trip report: Rainy June weekend in Montreal

HEADING HOME

Our hotel concierge suggested that we only needed 1.5 hours at the airport, but, after reading other posts, we decided to give ourselves more time. We left the hotel about 6:10 am to catch the 747 bus. We got to the airport about 7:15 am for our 9:20 am flight. It took us only an hour to check in luggage, and go through security and US customs. They were pulling folks out of the customs line who were close to flight time—so pay attention and ask if they are doing so if you are running tight for time. What is interesting is this electronic pad that you have to stand on that randomly selects folks to the more thorough security checks than others. If with family members, make sure you make that clear when you get to that point. Otherwise, you could be separated going through security.

A few last gifts after going through security—two boxes of maple cream cookies (they are cheapest at the Duty Free shop—2 for $10), and a Canadian candy bar for our 12 year old grandson. The last few coins went into the donation box to help Japan recovery efforts (I do appreciate how they make donation easy for travelers).

We enjoyed our visit to Montreal. It is a nice city. Please let me know if you have any questions.