This trip is 7 years in the making, and began in France, when Montreal was but a twinkle in my eye.
It all started in Grenoble when I met a young French gal named Cassandre at a crepe-making party. We hit it off, and remained friends after I returned to the US. We’ve seen each other several times since then and keep in touch via Facebook.
And so in the summer of 2013, Cassie connected me to a friend of hers, Johanna, who was visiting NYC, and asked that I give her some tips and recommendations. Since I knew how special it felt to have a connection with locals in the place you are visiting, I invited Johanna and her traveling companion Mireille for a dinner party. We, too hit it off, and continued to keep in touch.
Johanna then decided to move to Montreal in 2014, and so, since I have long wanted to visit Montreal, we decided to do an apartment swap this summer. From a crepe-party in Grenoble to a dinner party in NYC, this trip was born, a perfect example of the karmic value of “paying it forward”!
For the past several years, I’ve dreamed of visiting Montreal. I’d heard it was the next best thing to Europe, and infinitely more accessible by car! I jump at any opportunity to practice my French, and with a good friend willing to swap apartments with us, the trip was a no-brainer. In typical Rachel trip-planning fashion, I begged advice from trusted friends and Mr. Frommer, and constructed my Montreal Google Map of things to do. Then, Keith and I hugged the cats goodbye, picked up the rental car, and headed up I-87 towards our neighbors in the North… with only a brief delay when we were stopped for speeding (ack!) in a construction zone (double ack!) But c’est la vie, right?
Lesson #1: Pay attention to the speed limits posted on the road, not the ones on the GPS screen.
After breezing through customs, we arrived in Canada and all of a sudden, things were subtly different. Friendly signs reminding us that miles per hour does NOT equal km per hour; deer/elk/moose crossings (we couldn’t tell which animal it was; the snout was indistinct in the rendering); and, of course all the French, which confused the hell out of our GPS.
Lesson #2: The GPS pronounces French words worse than my husband. Best not to listen to her.
Johanna graciously welcomed us into her apartment and showed us around her neighborhood before catching a bus to NYC. After figuring out how we were going to navigate without the use of our smartphones (when did we get so dependent anyway?), we ventured out to take the metro to dinner.
Lesson #3: The Montreal metro stations are beautiful. And clean. Unlike those of a certain city that shall remain nameless, but rhymes with Moo Pork.
Thus began our food and drink tour of Montreal. We beered and dined at Vices & Versa in their outdoor garden, narrowly missing a passing shower while we sampled out first plate of poutine. Poutine is a traditional Quebecois dish of fries, gravy, and cheese, and I must say, it lived up to its reputation. Then it was off to Kem CoBa, an inventive ice creamerie that boasts flavors like orange cardamom ice cream (my choice) and La Tarzane (banana mango soft serve, Keith’s choice.) There was a line out the door, and no wonder – it was phenomenal.
Lesson #4: Even if an area looks sketchy, it might just be ok. Because, you know, it’s Canada, the land of kindness.
Between dinner and ice cream and our final stop (bagels), we walked through some pretty questionable areas – graffiti, construction, not a lot of people. If it had been in NYC we wouldn’t have dared. But here, it seemed perfectly fine. We saw a few joggers and bikers, the occasional family. It was clearly okay; it just didn’t look it. The final stop was St-Viateur Bagel, a bagel place that came highly recommended from our Canadian friends. Being from NYC, we were skeptical… but they were piping hot from the oven, and ohmygoodness they were amazing. (Although it should be said that still nothing can compare to a proper NYC bagel.) The best part was watching the baker flip and handle the bagels with this loooooong wooden board… I don’t think they make them like that in New York! The second best part was the Oh-So-Bored Man Behind the Counter, and his replies to my requests for various flavors of bagels. The conversation went like this (in French):
Me: 1 cinnamon, please.
Oh-So-Bored Man Behind the Counter (OSBMBC): No.
Me: ok, 9-grain then.
Me: ok… how about rosemary?
OSBMBC: They’re not warm.
Me: Oh. Ok. Sesame?
OSBMBC: Yes. How many?
After paying for my bagels (and cream cheese – of course), I walked outside the bakery and only then realized how piping hot the bag was. I made Keith feel the bag with me, and we soaked in the warmth. “You want to go get a hot one to eat right now?” he asked. I deliberated for about 2 seconds, then sheepishly returned to OSBMBC for a final, hot-from-the-oven, sesame bagel. We ate it meandering through the streets on our way back to the metro, and it was so worth it.
Bonne nuit everyone! Lots of exploring to do tomorrow.