Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Canada
Reload this Page >

Colorful Québec: Mai Tai Tom's 2019 Journey to Montréal & Québec City

Colorful Québec: Mai Tai Tom's 2019 Journey to Montréal & Québec City

Old Jan 3rd, 2020, 03:55 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 9,037
My new knee is actually functioning, so let’s get back to that autumn trip we took to Montréal and Québec City. For those of you who have forgotten while I went into hibernation, we started with five days in Montréal. Today, on Day #4, the four of us enjoyed the great outdoors and visited Montréal’s most famous park, Parc Mont-Royal. We took in the fabulous views of Montréal and the surrounding countryside from a chalet replete with squirrels. After learning about the park’s history, we strolled some of the 470-acre park, strolled around its only lake, visited a gorgeous cemetery and ended up at " “the world's largest and most popular shrine dedicated to the earthly father of Jesus (Joseph, who is Canada's patron saint).” Link with story and lovely photos photos below ... story without photos is under photo of L’Oratoire St-Joseph


Day Four - Finding Dr. Kimble’s Wife’sMurderer, Park With A View, A Squirrelly Building, Central Park Designer, Boat Race, Where’s The Entrance?, A New Mrs. MaiTai?, Sing Us A Song You’re The Piano Man, Saint Be Praised, Up Up and Up, You’ve Gotta Have Heart, Cab Driver Comedian, The Line That Never Moved, Wise Decision, No Drinks Without Food, Drinks With No Food & Getting Ready For Old-School

Awakening to a majestic blue-sky morning, Tracy and I took our leisurely time getting ready for the day (I’m getting soft in my old age) while Kim and Mary attempted to have breakfast at Olive et Gourmando (tuned out to be more sweets than actual breakfast). We also stopped in, but only to pick up some pastries and coffee that we ate back at the hotel.

On the way back to the hotel, Tracy exclaimed, “I think we found the one-armed man that killed Dr. Richard Kimble’s wife!” Meanwhile, I was singing “Me and My Shadow,” although I was perplexed as to where my arm had disappeared.

As we finished, Kim and Mary arrived back, and we decided it was time to head to the great outdoors (via a $14CAD Uber ride). Our destination: Parc Mont-Royal (Royal Mountain).

As it turned out, our driver was from Boston, which could only mean one thing … we had to hear about the wonderful New England Patriots. Anthony actually wasn’t too obnoxious as he talked about “God” Tom Brady, and he was helpful in giving us the lay of the land as he let us out.

We would find out that the landscape architect who designed Central Park in NYC, was also responsible for Parc Mont-Royal (opened in 1876). We would be only four people of the five million visitors who come up here each year. The first European visitor here was Jacques Cartier, who with the help of some indigenous people, climbed it in 1535 (not such a tough climb … about 750 feet).

It was a short walk through a wooded forest before we came upon a viewpoint overlooking the Montréal skyline and landscape. We checked out the gorgeous views including those of Mont-Royal’s sister mountains … St-Bruno, St-Hilaire and St-Grégorie.

Behind us stood the Chalet du Pont-Royal, designed in French Beaux-Arts style in 1930 by architect, historian and archeologist Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne. We got a kick out of Champagne’s vast interior design of the building, which includes a mural collection depicting Montréal’s colonial history.

Of course, due to my affinity for members of the family Sciuridae, I was drawn to the 32 squirrels adorning the rafters. Just like the critters on our front lawn, each of these squirrels held a nut in their claws.

Retracing our footsteps we came upon Maison Smith (which would have looked like this had we taken this picture I’ve stolen from the internet). “Constructed in 1858, it (Maison Smith) was the destination of the first road laid out on the Mountain and is Montréal’s last surviving example of rural architecture of its time.”

Maison Smith houses a permanent exhibition talking about the park’s history (and its architect), along with all the flora and fauna.

One room displays events chronicling the park’s history on the wall, including the terrifying 1535 attack of Jacques Cartier by a pack of squirrels and an off-his-rocker raccoon as he ascended the top of the mountain. We surmised Cartier survived intact by passing out nuts.

Now it was time to take a stroll through a small portion of the 470-acre park. On a crisp, spectacular day, lots of families were out enjoying the sunshine.

Montréal seemingly has public art everywhere, and it was displayed in the numerous sculptures located in the aptly named “Sculpture Park.”

According to “Montréal for 91 Days,” the “sloping field is studded with strange gray monuments. These are the remains of the International Sculpture Symposium, which in 1964 invited twelve artists from around the world. Over fifty years later, most of the works are still visible.”

We walked along the Chemin Olmsted, and in the near distance is Parc Mont-Royal’s only body of water, Lac aux Castors (Beaver Lake), “an artificial basin fitted in 1938 on a former swamp.”

An old beaver dam discovered during work on the lake is how the lake got its name. It was not named after the TV show.

While there, we witnessed a small version of the America’s Cup, as competitors vied to get their remote-controlled sailboats to maneuver the makeshift course in the fastest time.

Near the pavilion at the lake was a small garden that (not surprisingly) caught the eye of Tracy, where she and Mark Focus (aka Kim) took some flower photos. As for me, I wanted to go visit some dead people.

Not too far away are two of Montréal’s famed cemeteries, Cimetière Mont-Royal and Cimetière de Notre-Dame-des-Nieges, which was the one higher on my list. We were told by someone at Maison Smith that the gate nearest to the lake might be closed, and she was right. So we walked for quite a long time on the sidewalk adjacent to the cemetery. After turning the corner, we did find the main entrance open.

From all the walking we realized that this 343-acre cemetery is the largest cemetery in Canada. There are 34 miles of shaded pathways, but since it seemed like we had just walked 34 miles, most of the crew were happy to rest for a bit.

I trudged onward for about 15 minutes and found some nice condos for the deceased …

… and also stepped inside the Mausoleum Sainte Clare of Assisi where niche “living” is provided.

I would have loved to wander the spacious grounds, but back-tracking (uphill) was not in the cards … but lunch certainly was because we had to take a trek up another hill to our next destination.

A couple of blocks from the cemetery stood Duc de Lorraine, so we “Duc’d” in. Well, actually we sat out on the patio, since the inside was full.

Damn millennials and their phones … oh wait!

Our server told us service might be a tad slow, because they had just received a large tour group. At the time it didn’t bother us, but as the day grew blustery (aka cold) we were hoping that our food would arrive quicker. When it did, it was surprisingly good.

From the French onion soup to eggs Benedict to the mac & cheese with chicken plus the ham and cheese on a croissant, all the dishes satisfied.

We even checked out the quaint interior that contained lots of goodies.

While sitting and now kind of freezing at lunch, we heard the sound of piano music. Across the street was a tiny strip of land, and at one corner of it sat a piano being played by various people. As we would find out later, there are pianos scattered throughout Montréal allowing anyone who feels like tinkering with the kets to sit down and play it again, Sam.

Tracy accused me flirting with the server, which I think at my age is not called flirting. I denied the fact, but Tracy got photo evidence that she holds against me to this day. That said, our server from the south of France was quite intelligent.

Refreshed, it was back up a hill to a shrine that receives two million visitors a year, many of them so devout they’ll climb 99 steps to its front door on their knees. L’Oratoire St-Joseph is “the world's largest and most popular shrine dedicated to the earthly father of Jesus (Canada's patron saint).” It is the idea of Brother André Besette (1845–1937), who “began building a chapel on the mountainside across the road to honor his favorite saint.” André scattered St. Joseph medals. praying for an oratory to be built on this site.

André used to visit the sick in Montréal, supposedly healing them by rubbing oil on their wounds, and St. Joseph was his guy. Pilgrims came from all over to to be cured from sickness and injury. I gave it a shot, but still had to have a knee replacement a month later. Oh well.

Looking upward, we saw its copper dome, one of the largest on the planet.

With my bad knees, along with not being Catholic, I walked up the 99 steps (probably slower than some people ca do on their knees).

We meandered through a hallway to the Crypt Church, which was constructed in 1915. There’s a Carrera marble statue of St. Joseph behind the altar, but we did not venture up there as there was a service in process.

Adjacent to the Crypt Church is the Votive Chapel, holding more than 10,000 votive candles.

St. Joseph is honored here. Well, I guess he’s honored everywhere.

Ex-votos (lots of canes and crutches). “Grateful pilgrims” left them here during Brother André’s life.

Then it was up, up, up via escalators to the Basilica, where more canes and crutches could be seen. By now, I felt like borrowing one.

Before entering, we took a peek outside at the grand view.

Inside, we checked out the basilica that seats a modest 2,028 people,.

The tracker grand organ comes from Germany, and there are ten stained-glass windows.

We walked and explored for a bit …

… before heading back down. On a lower we stopped to view the heart of Saint Brother André. Talk about someone who stole your heart? On March 16, 1973, someone literally stole André’s heart from the Oratory. More than 600 days later, due to a tip, it was found in the basement of a house in southwest Montréal and returned.

If we scurried from here, we could still make our last appointed destination, the Pointe-à-Callière Archeology and History Museum, which had been highly recommended. Our Uber driver (Ali from Algeria) was a hoot. I think you’ll be seeing him in the Catskills any month now.

He dropped us off near the museum, and standing in front of us was another piano. After emulating Billy Joel and Elton John, Kim and I took our tips from the people … they told us to keep our day jobs (we didn’t have the heart to tell them we’re retired).

Inside the museum was a line of about 25 people deep with one person manning (well, it was a woman) the counter. We decided it should be a short wait. Twenty minutes later, the line was still about 25 people deep. Montréal, we have a problem It was 4:20, and it was time for an executive decision. “Let’s find a happy hour” was the collective decision.

We stopped by the Pub St. Pierre, only to be told they only serve drinks with food. Not hungry, and not too long before dinner, we decided to move on.

Vallier (425 McGill Street) was happy to serve us our cocktails, and afterward we walked the short distance back to our hotel for a five-minute nap before freshening up for the evening.

This was the dinner I had most looked forward to before leaving. It’s a tough place to get reservations, but through online perseverance I got them two weeks before we left. It was time to head to the Plateau …


Night Four - L’Express
maitaitom is online now  
Old Jan 6th, 2020, 11:56 AM
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,301
Maitaitom, glad you're P-T is progressing; that you're back to posting your travel experiences. (It nudges me to get going on our France TR!) Your report of Montreal, including your beautiful photos, reminds us that we're due for a repeat visit. Will stay tuned for Quebec city.
tomarkot is online now  
Old Jan 6th, 2020, 02:32 PM
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 2,030
So happy for you both! Glad to get back to the trip reports!
willowjane is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2020, 01:40 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 9,037
I admit, I get a little compulsive sometimes (Kim and Mary might say a little more than “sometimes”) when it comes to restaurant choices while traveling. Before our trip to Montréal, I became a “tad" obsessed about getting reservations at the city's famed L’Express restaurant. So obsessed, I woke up in the middle of the night to secure reservations two weeks before we left (the first day we could do so). As it turned out, my obsession was necessary because they only had two times available for the night we wanted to dine (it’s a tough table). Was it worth it? You bet. Old school elegance complete with professional waiters, a sensational ambiance and good food made us realize why to so many people L’Express is a Montréal treasure. Come have dinner with us! Link with photos and story below.


Nights Four & Five - L’Express

L’Express, Montréal

While planning the Montréal portion of our trip, there was one restaurant I desperately wanted to try.

I am not usually one to follow food critics, but in my research I did find it interesting that noted Montréal Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman gave L’Express four stars (out of four) in 2016, something she had very rarely done for any restaurant (the last one she had done at that time was in 2011 for Joe Beef). She once said that Montréal would be “unimaginable” without L’Express.

I’m also a sucker for historic restaurants (see Hollywood’s Musso & Frank Grill in “Tom’s Dining Out”), so L’Express intrigued me. Although L’Express has the feeling of a very old restaurant, it’s not quite as old as one thinks. Pierre Villeneuve, who started the restaurant (along with Colette Brossoit) 40 years ago in 1980, said, “At the beginning, we wanted people to think that L’Express had been there since 1950.”

Entering L’Express (which has no sign on the outside … I guess the name is written in front on the sidewalk, which we missed completely), is like stepping back in time. I almost expected to be greeted by a white-suited maître de. The creamy yellow walls of L’Express are covered with group photos of the staff taken every year. The bar runs alongside one side of the narrow space with the 66-seat dining room occupying the other side. With the black and white checkered floor and tables covered in white linens, L’Express has the feel of a Parisian bistro café.

In a recent NY Times article, it said that patrons and staff often speak “Québécois French.” A lawyer who has eaten at L’Express since its opening in 1980, said, “It’s like a French brasserie, where they speak in Canadian.”

Our waiter on this evening was Yves who has been with the restaurant for 30 years. He was wearing the traditional “uniform.” Villeneuve once said, “That is the thing that is closer to France, the uniform … But you have to be nice, not like a French waiter.” Yves was very nice (as has been our experience with most of our servers in France).

One of Montréal’s premier chefs, David McMillan, stated in the article, “I still have this feeling of elation, like it’s Christmas, when I walk into that room, particularly when it’s a snowy Montreal night.” He estimates he’s eaten at L’Express more than 500 times.

At each table, a big jar of house-made cornichons sits at each table alongside a basket of fresh bread and a small container of Dijon mustard. I am an avowed pickle hater, but reluctantly tried ONE of the cornichons and grudgingly agreed they were good!

In addition to the specials, L’Express offers comforting French classics such as confit de canard, duck foie gras, Croque-Monsieur and baba au rhum (I should have ordered one of those).

After pouring over the menu and consulting with Yves, I kicked it off with a “Wow!” appetizer of chicken liver pâté with pistachios ($15). For my main course, I ordered the steak tartare with a big bowl of crispy fries ($27.75). I’m the rare person who loves steak tartare (photo from internet.)

Tracy started with the roasted beet salad ($11.75) followed by the raviolis de Maison, beef and spinach with mushrooms, veal broth and sherry sauce ($21.75). Both of which were delicious.

Kim went with the special Velouté de Volaille et Légumes d’automeue (creamy chicken soup) and the raviolis de Maison for his main course.

Mary ordered the Huitres Trésor du large (6 oysters, $18) and the special Escalope de Veau de Lail; veal scaloppini on mashed potatoes, ($28.55). Mary declared the veal a Wow! dish. After tasting Mary’s veal, Tracy asked Yves if there was any way we could get a reservation for dinner the following evening. Yves pointed to the maître de and wished us “bonne chance.”

We passed on dessert (kicking myself over that … waistline be damned) and went to beg for dinner reservations the following evening, which was to be our last night in Montréal. There were no table reservations available, but we did manage to score 8:30 p.m. reservations at the bar (Tracy and Mary are quite persuasive), which seats 15.

The following evening, after a stupendous day starting with a morning tour of Basilique-Notre Dame and then exploring Montréal Jardin Botanique (including a fantastic evening lantern festival) and Le Stade Olympique (see next chapter), we were greeted by Yves, who remembered us from the prior evening (hopefully he had nice memories of us). Everyone seated at the bar was dining (it seems that many bars in Canada are for eating, not drinking). Our server was Matthew who was also doubling as the bartender. Matthew told us that the staff rotates positions to keep it interesting.

I started with the soup special Velouté de Volaille et Légumes d’automeue and the Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe ($19). I’ve yet to meet a Cacio e Pepe I didn’t like. Tonight was no exception.

Tracy went with the warm goat cheese salad ($14.25) followed by the special Escalope de Veau de Lail both of which she enjoyed.

Mary went old school with a Parisian bistro staple, celery remoulade ($8.50) and, in a surprise move for our fish loving friend, ordered the hanger steak with shallot butter and fries ($28.50).

Just in case Mary changed her mind, Kim ordered the grilled salmon on spinach and lentils ($26.50).

For dessert we shared profiteroles with maple syrup ice cream and crème anglaise ($10.25). Wow! The maple syrup ice cream really takes this dessert to an entirely new level. This was not the only time we were wowed by a maple dish in Canada… they love their maple.

Before leaving, Matthew brought us four of the darkest chocolate truffles I have ever seen. Kim ate one for his heart health, but we did not have room, and Mary wrapped them up for later.

L’Express is open seven days a week serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The kitchen is open until 1:45 a.m. and the restaurant closes at 3 a.m., but reopens every day for breakfast at 8 a.m. The restaurant is only closed on Christmas Day and closes at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Overall, we were very impressed with L’Express from the moment we stepped inside on our first night dining there. I’m sure there are plenty of Montréal restaurants with more innovative cuisine, but if you want some old-school ambiance and elegance combined with a pretty terrific meal, you have to try L’Express. Merci!

maitaitom is online now  
Old Jan 12th, 2020, 06:46 PM
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,301
Maitaitom, great report! L'Express sounds wonderful. Your mention of Musso & Frank's brings back memories of our dining there many moons ago. Probably our first visit to LA, totally winging it. We do recall the delicious steak we enjoyed and the elegant interior. We'll stay tuned for more of Quebec, especially Quebec City! (After Monday night's Championship game!)
tomarkot is online now  
Old Jan 19th, 2020, 04:09 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 9,037
Our final day in Montréal took us back to Basilque Notre-Dame de Montréal, so we could see the incredible interior without the crowds of the light show a few nights before. On a cold and blustery day, we’d head out to a big surprise, Jardin botanique de Montréal. The surprise was the abundant amount of colorful flowers and plants that were still in bloom. You’ll see we took a lot of photos in these gardens, but we could have included about two dozen more with all the beauty we witnessed that day. We would return in the evening for a show we had purchased before we left. In between the garden experience, the four of us traveled back to the 1976 Olympics at the Stade olympique, and took a ride on a unique “inclined elevator,” where, on the way down, a hockey match broke out. That evening, we’d be back at Jardin botanique for the Jardins de Lumière (Gardens of Light) Festival. As you’ll see, our final big event in Montréal also happened to be its most colorful. The next report will take us to Québec City, a place that at times feels like you’re in France. Entire story with photos in link below.


maitaitom is online now  
Old Jan 26th, 2020, 02:48 PM
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 1,301
Maitaitom, quite a light show for your Montreal finale! Your photos are outstanding!
tomarkot is online now  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
United States
Aug 7th, 2018 01:47 PM
May 15th, 2017 08:16 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Do Not Sell My Personal Information