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Trip Report Manic Montreal: Ten animals, four days, and one strange dance party

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I love Europe. Love it. So when my spring break was rolling around but money was seeming a little bit tight, Canada seemed like an appealing alternative - French Canada, that is.

Admittedly, I knew little about Quebec or Montreal, other than the fact that they spoke French there and I assumed it was mightily cold, possibly even in April. My special manfriend (henceforth SFM) was willing, so off we went to the wilds (?) of Canada.

We left Philadelphia on the evening of April 19, a rainy Tuesday. Heading up into New Jersey and New York, the drive was boring and uneventful. We stopped somewhere in New York for classic diner food - at a diner that was clearly some sort of front for a mafia operation. There was one car parked outside, and when we walked in the front doors, there was only one occupied table. Four men huddled solemnly over glasses of water and plates of pasta, murmuring softly. I wasn't sure we'd make it out alive.

Our waitress came over and suggested the sausage and peppers over linguine. Considering the atmosphere, it seemed like a good choice so SMF obliged. I opted for pancakes and bacon. It was, after all, a diner.

After dinner, our waitress nicely asked us if we would like to take our leftovers. We mentioned we were traveling, and she proceeded to give us a glowing review of Canada, Montreal, and the great drive we were about to have. She told us how beautiful Niagara Falls was and how pretty the Tappan Zee bridge was at night. She also mentioned that Montreal was eleven hours from New York.

Having printed out directions beforehand and plugged our destination in the GPS, this new arrival time was a bit disconcerting. She seemed so authoritative in her knowledge of all things Canada. Alas, we never did see the Tappan Zee bridge or Niagara Falls. Instead, we stopped just outside of Albany for the night to rest up for our entry in to Canada on Wednesday....

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    After a hearty breakfast at the Best Western (classy), we both smelled like sausage and were ready to spread the smell of meat around the inside of the car. One stop at Starbucks and we were on the road.

    We hit the Canadian border at about 11:30 and, as a matter of course, proceeded to pick the slowest moving line of cars. The other lanes seemed to be moving so quickly and Canada, the promised land of maple syrup and Tim Horton's, never seemed to get any closer. Finally, finally we managed to get to the customs booth and were asked the customary questions before driving over the border, laughing like French chefs just because we could.

    We entered Montreal from the southeast and crossed over the river before heading up to Rue Sherbrooke to our hotel, the Chateau Versailles. We had booked the room ahead of time and prepaid, and that saved us quite a bit of money on the hotel. When we pulled up, we had to do a bit of maneuvering around some construction in order to find the small parking lot next to the hotel that was designated for check-in only.

    We walked in at about 1:00 and, unfortunately, our room was not yet ready, but the staff very kindly stored our bags and told us our room would be ready by 3:00. We hunkered down in the entryway to investigate the map before heading out the door to Rue Crescent. (I have a thing about looking at maps. I feel like it makes you a target and you miss what is around you, so I generally try to memorize where I'm going and then walk there without the map out.)

    We had planned to go to Brutopia, but it didn't open until 3 (magic number in Montreal), so we ended up down the street at 3 Brasseurs, a mini-chain microbrewery that promised an escape from the rain and some decent beers.

    Les 3 Brasseurs:
    1 order poutine
    1 duck terrine open-faced sandwich
    1 birre brune
    1 birre ambree'
    about $40

    The food was bar food at its best/worst. The poutine had what appeared to be pre-fab gravy and some cheese curds that weren't fully melted. The fries were nicely dipped in beer batter before being fried. The duck terrine sandwich was ample, with 3 big slices of terrine and 3 nice crusty pieces of bread, along with a salad with some strange dressing that smelled vaguely of anchovy. The beers were tasty and seemed larger than a pint- Canadian pints?

    After such a healthy meal, we really needed a bit of dessert, so we stopped at the Divine chocolate chop on Rue Crescent. 1 buttercream chocolate, 2 chili pepper truffles, 1 oef de pasque (filled with marshmallow and caramel), 1 pistache chocolate. $20. Worth every penny.

    Generally speaking, I'm a pretty savvy traveler. I've never had any incidents, never gotten lost, never been pickpocketed....but in Montreal, I was lulled into idiocy by either the beer, the poutine, or the rain. On the way out of the chocolate shop, I didn't put my wallet back into my purse correctly. It was hanging out over the flap....I didn't know this until I arrived at the hotel for check-in to give them my credit card, and found that my wallet was missing. We backtracked to the chocolate shop - twice - and found nothing other than video evidence of my stupidity. The shop owner suggested that, although Montreal is notorious for pickpockets, Montrealers are also kind people and perhaps my wallet had been turned it at a shop along the route.

    Lo and behold, the first place we stopped.....the Musee des Beaux Arts museum store. I walked in, asked if anyone had seen a wallet, and was met with a contemplative shake of the head, followed by a "wait just a moment." The clerk walked back to her coworker, said a few words, and he looked over at me and loudly proclaimed: "Ah! Vous! Delaware!" I knew then that my wallet was in the store.

    Security brought it down and not one thing was missing, not even the cash. God bless Montrealers (ites?)

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    The ordeal of the wallet was exhausting (more so for my SFM than for me - he had made one extra trip to search for the wallet), so we crashed in the room with a glass of wine before heading to dinner at Restaurant Julien on Avenue Union.

    It was the perfect place for dinner. It was about 7:45 or 8 when we arrived and stepped in out of the rain, wiping spots off our glasses as the friendly hostess took our coats. The waiters were charming and funny and helped us to practice our French in a non-condescending way. On top of all of that, the food was delicious. We each had a glass of wine (1 cote du rhone, 1 Buouilly) and started with the duck and the rabbit. The duck was cooked so beautifully and tasted so fantastic and was accompanied by lentils cooked with carrots, celery and bacon. Drool. The rabbit leg was served with black olives, pasta, and haricots verts. Both meals were very, very good and SFM and I shared half and half.

    For dessert, we tried the special of the day (chocolate mousse cake with pear coulis and creme anglaise - yummy)and the shortbread (dry - waaaay dry).

    Restaurant Julien - Avenue Union
    1 glass cote du rhone
    1 glass Bouilly
    1 duck confit with lentil salad
    1 rabbit leg with olives
    1 dessert du jour
    1 sable'
    $101 with tax (tip not included)

    After dinner, we headed to the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, which is actually downstairs on Rue Mackay. They have shows nightly, and on our particular visit it was the Omar Somebody quartet. They were very jazzy, with some cool piano, a rockin' upright bass and a breathy saxophone. There was lots of headbobbing. The show was $8 and we had a few beers (cider and a birre blonde).

    After a fun first day, we wrapped it up by returning to room that had turndown service and a chocolate on the pillow....

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    As anyone who may ever have read my Italy trip reports knows, I love food and, luckily, so does my SFM. So it was no surprise that our second day included a trip to the Jean Talon market.

    The weather was still horrible (rainy, cold), so we took the metro to the stop. The Montreal metro was easy, clean, and pretty cheap at about $2.50 a ride during the middle of the day. After changing at Berri-UQAM, we made it north of Mile End to the market.

    It dawned on us at this point that we had no Canadian money, so we quickly hit an ATM in the market before securing our goods. It was also about this time that it dawned on me personally how very French Montreal was. For the most part, people spoke English as well as French, but the market seemed more French than English by a long shot, which made it even more fun.

    We stopped first in a cheese shop and bought a lovely hunk of Shropshire blue cheese (which was yellow with the blue veins in it) and some kind of cheese dipped in beer which I neglected to get the name of. It was smooth, white, and creamy. I had asked the cheese-man for a good counterpart to the strong Shropshire and this was his suggestion - smart man. A sweet shop in the middle of the market provided some middle-eastern treats (pistachio baklava, some sort of gooey cake and a date ball) and a bakery down the way netted us a fresh baguette. A produce stand had fresh pressed cider. All told, a lunch fit for a king cost us about $20. We ate it in the market and listened to the smattering of French surrounding us.

    The market was nice, but not as large as I was expecting based on what I'd read, probably because all the outdoor stands were closed as it wasn't really the season yet for outdoor markets. Pretty much only the inside stands were open. Still - the cheese and bread alone were worth the trip.

    We took the metro to the Mont Royal stop, where we hunted down the Dieu de Ciel brewery (avenue Laurier; open at 3 PM). They had about 20 of their own brews available. We tried the Chocolate and Vanilla stout (yum), the porter, the hefeweizen, and the Blonde Trappist Ale. Four delicious beers= $22.

    Since we were in the neighborhood and had heard such great things about the Montreal bagels, especially Fairmont bagels, we stopped to try one. We were still pretty full from all the beer, cheese, and bread, so we just got one to share. One bite was enough for each of us. Not sure what the deal was, but the cinnamon raisin bagel just did not taste very good. Bland. Strange. Dislike (I know this is some sort of Montreal heresy, but I really just didn't like it.)

    After several miles of additional aimless wandering, we ended up at Pintxo on Rue Roy Est for tapas(this after a failed attempt to wander into Pied du Cochon).

    Wow. Best Meal of the trip. Truly, truly fantastic.

    Pintxo - Rue Roy Est:
    1 elk carpaccio with quail egg and cornichons
    1 duck tartare
    1 octopus poached in olive oil with paprika
    1 scallop with chorizo
    1 fig stuffed with ham and cheese
    1 beef cheek with mustard mashed potatoes
    1 venison medallion with squash puree
    1 seared foie gras with lentils
    1 chocolate creme brulee
    2 single espressos
    Total: $77 (without tip)

    Everything was so incredible. I almost want to cry recalling that meal and how fantastic it was. The waitress had suggested 10-12 tapas for 2 people, but I felt we had more than enough with our 8 choices and it left room to try one dessert.

    After that meal, it was all we could do to groan our way back to Chateau Versailles.

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    Friday dawned and it was clear that it would be the only sunny day of the trip, so after breakfast we decided to climb the mountain - Mont Royal. The park was very pretty with lots of little streams and wide footpaths. On the way up, we mostly avoided the steps, instead choosing to snake back and forth up the slowly rising footpath. It was a much more leisurely walk that way and took us about an hour to get from our hotel all the way to the top of the mountain.

    AT the top, we stopped at the Maison for a hot chocolate (whipped by hand!) and then stopped at the Chateau for the scenic overlook before climbing the steps back down the mountain for a shower and a mid- day rest. Three hours of mountain walking takes the energy out of you!

    Refreshed, we decided to head to Vieux Montreal for the rest of the day for a walk along the port and through the old city. We hadn't eaten much yet, and by the time we arrived in Old Montreal we were both very hungry. The choice was between La Boulangeur and Stash Cafe, both across the street from each other - one French, one Polish.

    We decided on Stash Cafe for Polish since the novelty of ordering Polish food in French was too good to ignore. At about 2 PM, the restaurant was not very crowded and we were served quickly. We ordered the pierogi, the Sznycel Mielony, an iced tea and a Bier du Monde beer. The pierogi were stuffed with cabbage, meat, and potatoes - you could take your pick, or get a mix. I chose the mix. They came with some great sauerkraut and sour cream. The Sznycel were like large meatballs coated in breadcrumbs and came with potatoes and horseradish spiked beets. Very good.

    Stash Cafe - Rue St. Paul Ouest
    1 pierogi
    1 sznycel mielony
    1 bier du monde
    1 iced tea
    $35 including tax (tip not included)

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    It was such a beautiful and sunny day that we decided to walk down to the port after lunch. Lots of Montrealers were out (along with a whole lot of tourists). I'm not sure if it was the nice weather that finally brought people out or what, but Vieux Montreal felt very overcrowded to me and a little bit touristy. While it was very pretty and the most historical area of the city, I have to say that I much preferred the Plateau and Mile End neighborhoods for hanging out and wandering around.

    Near the port, we decided to go to the Museum of History. At $6 a pop, this was probably the most boring museum I've ever been in. The actual artifacts were few and far between and the most exciting thing to do was pet the beaver pelt. Seemed like more of a kids museum than anything else. I guess I learned a few, um...??

    After the museum, we found a bench in a plaza and just enjoyed the sun for a bit. It was awfully scarce during those four days, so we took advantage of the day of sun we did have with lots of outdoor time. Bench time was relaxing, but not enough to get us through a walk down Rue St. Catherine at rush hour on Friday. My goodness were there a lot of people! After the relative quietness of weekday, rainy Montreal this was quite a shock. We veered off to Maisonneuve before finally hitting Brutopia (Rue Crescent) as we'd planned to do the first day. We tried a honey beer and a seasonal beer that boasted a 9% alcohol content. Pretty good, and the honey beer wasn't overly sweet. About $7 for two beers.

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    Because I'm old (35) and not as energetic as I used to be (I groan when I sit and creak when I walk), my feet were getting very tired by this point in the trip. After the honey beer, it was about all I could handle to mosey up Rue Crescent at an extremely leisurely rate for some falafel and crepes (not at the same place).

    We picked up the pitas at Boustan, a lebanese restaurant in a basement on Rue Crescent. 1 chicken shwarma pita, 1 falafel pita and ginger ale was a total of $10.25 and was very, very delicious. The sandwiches came with hummus, dressed lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickled red-colored somethings that were little bites of yummy. The sandwiches were small, but enough when we knew they'd be followed by crepes.

    We backtracked one block for crepes at Paris Crepe. Long line, crazy busy, and $14 for two stinkin' crepes (one cinnamon/sugar and one nutella/banana). We got them to go and ate them on the way back to the hotel. Good, but way overpriced and overhyped.

    One more day to go and still one animal to account for...

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    Saturday morning found us sick of the hotel breakfast and hungry for something eggy. My friend KT (a great cook and foodie) recommended Beauty's in the Plateau section of Montreal. We slogged about 35 minutes on foot in the cold rain to get there. It was so very worth it.

    Because of the rain, they weren't too busy so we manage to get a seat right away. The menu looked great, with smoothies, breakfast dishes and sandwiches to choose from. I ordered a country omelette, with bacon, cheese, fresh parsley and potatoes and my SFM ordered a Santorini omelette with olives, spinach, onions and feta. Both came with potatoes and a bagel, but they kindly substituted my potatoes for a tomato and the bagel for some excellent russian rye toast. We split a classic smoothie (banana, strawberry and orange) and had a few cups of great diner coffee. Considering this looked a bit like a greasy spoon, nothing actually tasted or looked greasy. It all felt really fresh and made me love breakfast more than I think I ever had before. (Where did they find such a good tomato in April? In CANADA?)

    Beauty's - Avenue du Mont Royal:
    1 classic smoothie
    1 santorini omelette
    1 paysenne omelette
    2 cups coffee
    $32 including tax (tip not included)

    It was still pouring rain after breakfast, so we hopped into the grocery store across the street and explored the differences between Canadian and US supermarkets. Some standouts: kangaroo meat in the meat section and a stoned looking bear on the Sugar Crisp box. Hilarity ensued.

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    The rain slowed a bit, although an occasionally nasty and biting wind kicked up, so we snuck into stores periodically to escape the cold. A nice walk along Avenue St. Laurent led us back downtown where we hopped the metro to the Quebec public library.

    It was a rainy day and the library was crowded. We grabbed a few books and hung out in a comfy corner, reading and relaxing for an hour or so. It was so perfectly un-vacationy. They had a nice Italian section, so I started reading a book by Fabio Volo that I hadn't yet read, and SFM read a book about the metro (did you know Montreal's metro has rubber wheels?)

    Leery of another museum but ready to escape the cold and damp, we decided to try the Musee McCord on Rue Sherbrooke ($13 entry fee). They had some really great exhibits. The first was 90 treasures from Canada's history, including paintings, clothing, weapons, furniture, documents....very interesting. The second floor had an exhibit about Canada's winter (the pictures of the snowstorms were incredible!) and the third floor held a new exhibit of photographs of stars from the 1920s - 1940s. Spent almost 2 hours in here and could have probably spent more. Way better than the sad beaver pelt at the Museum of History.

    For our last night in town, we returned to Restaurant Julien. The duck had been so good, and the waitstaff so cheerful. We came in early and were greeted like old friends with handshakes and welcomes. We started with a half bottle of the white Bordeaux and it warmed us from the inside out, as did the delicious carrot ginger soup we had to start. Another whack at the duck and a salmon fillet with beurre blanc rounded out the main courses and we followed it up with coffee and a chocolate tart to share. While the duck was definitely the better of the two entrees, the salmon was quite good and the sauce was smooth and buttery. Total cost for dinner including tax: $100.

    The only fitting way to end the trip was with a room dance party for just the SFM and I. We cranked the music, opened a bottle of wine and shook our bums, Canada style. What got into us? Maybe it was the elk. Or the octopus. Or the duck, rabbit, chicken, salmon, scallop, beef, ham, or venison....

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    Thanks for this wonderful, detailed report. I have taken some notes as I am going to Montreal in just a few days.

    Looks like you enjoyed a wide variety of food and drinks and mostly loved the flavors and the restaurants.

    Just curious--did you do any special shopping. Wondering if there is something special to buy there or are things almost like what we have in the US

    Have a great evening.

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    I didn't really do any special shopping. Went into a few small boutiques in the plateau area. In general, clothing seemed a bit more expensive there than in the US.

    Didn't see anything pointed out as specially regional, other than the regular stuff with canadian flags on it (and maple candy).

    Sorry I couldn't give you more info!


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    I wonder if some Montrealer could ìdentify which boring "museum of history" the OP visited, costing $6. The Pointe-à-Callière museum? The Château Ramezay? Something else? The price seems too low for the two named museum.

    Re the OP's comment in chapter 2 on pint sizes, an American pint is 473 ml. A Canadian (Imperial) pint is 568 ml, 20% larger.

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    Montrealer here who found this a very enjoyable post.

    You really cottoned on to some great Montreal finds it seems. Oddly enough I've never been to Beauty's or Pintxo, even though I've passed by them many, many times. Pintxo tempts me especially as it's within 20 minutes walk of my place. I'd also never heard of Restaurant Julien, but it sounds like a find that I may wish to consider trying one day for out-of-town guests or for a splurge.

    I'm not big on Trois Brasseurs personally; as you say, best/worst of bar-style food (too heavy for what I'm usually in the mood for). I'm glad you saw Dieu du Ciel as a contrast, a terrific place for inspried micro-brewed beers. I'm also happy you found Boustan for a quick meal (I have a friend who goes there for her lunch break, and occasionally I meet up with her), although I'm a bigger fan of Akli in the Scotia Building downtown for Lebanese fare.

    As for the bagels, I tend not to seek out St. Viateur or Fairmount bagels as I really don't need that much dough/carbs. However, the cinammon-raisin bagel probably wasn't the best choice, having I'm suspecting been instituted to appeal to certain clients with modern tastes and is not one of the classics I would say those places are known for. Sesame, poppy, or plain, asked for warm out of the oven I would say would have given you the proper Montreal bagel experience.

    I'm also glad you made it to the McCord Museum, an oft overlooked museum of quality. The Jean Talon Market is also a great city treasure that I'm happy your found your way toward too (I haven't been in ages!).

    Finally, I agree with you about Old Montreal vs. the Plateau (my home!)/Mile End, enjoying the latter two for the zest for life of much of its citizenry and a certain artistic/musical/acrobatic flair one can run across in our parks. However, I still do appreciate Old Montreal for its history; nothing more delightful than ice skating in the Bassin in front of the Marche Bonsecours in winter.

    Thanks again for the pleasurable read! Daniel

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    I'm a Torontonian and I too enjoyed your report. Nicely done and amusingly recounted !
    Glad that yuo recovered your wallet intact and that you got to experience as much as you did.

    Funnily enough, between last November and last weekend, I've been to Montreal 3 times (after 15 years), each for 3 days (theres that 3 number again, lol !) and got to explore areas new to me on each visit.
    The first two times in Nov. and March I was living near Chinatown so got to explore Notre Dame cathedral and Old Montreal in quite some depth. Also did the Jean Talon market on a beautiful warm Spring Sunday and you are correct, when the weather is better the market expands hugely into the outdoor area. They were rolling maple syrup in the snow when I was there.
    If I'd known you were a cheese afficionado I'd have suggested a visit to 'Hamel' just fringing the market. It was an amazing discovery of a cheese store for me.

    Funnily enough, this past weekend I was accommodated at the other end of town, near Guy/Concordia Metro stop, and by an odd coincidence, a perfect stranger also recommended 'Bustan' to me for the best shawarma ! So I ended up there eager and famished just before midnight and enjoyed a chicken shawarma platter, accompanied by the jovial chatter and jokes of the owner and his helpers/sons ? The mysterious red pickles are coloured daikon radish pieces.

    A question for you or Daniel : What metro stop would put me in the Plateau/Mile End area ? Maybe that will be my next locale to explore and discover. I've a possible visit in July coming up and love Montreal.

    Thanks for your great report.


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    Hi Mathieu,

    The three major metro stops in the Plateau are: Sherbrooke, Mont-Royal and Laurier. You'd have to walk about 8 blocks west from latter two stops to end up in Mile End. Outremont on the blue line is also not far from Mile End.

    Have fun exploring! Daniel

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    Merci Daniel.

    I'll mark them out on my map when I'm planning and researching.
    To think that I've been a few hours train ride from such amazing neighbourhoods in Montreal and never checked them out before now.
    Hoping to coincide a work trip with the circus festival in July and stay an extra day.

    a bientot


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    Nice trip report. I share your interest in local beer, so let me offer a minor clarification about Les 3 Brasseurs. While outfitted like a hand-crafted brewpub operation, it is a European chain with a couple of dozen outposts on that continent (oddly, none in Paris) and six in Montreal and suburbs. There's even one in Toronto. Info here
    Dieu du Ciel is a much more satisfying and idiosyncratic oasis in every way. When you go back to Montreal, also take a look at L'Amere a boire, tucked away at 2049 St-Denis just south of Sherbrooke, much favoured by university students who want to talk rather than rock. It serves light meals and is worth the climb up the steep hill from the 3 Brasseurs outlet a couple of blocks to the south on St-Denis. Here's their site, although only in French (no such problem at the pub itself)
    See this list for these and other brewpubs:

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