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Montreal and Quebec City Trip Report (long)

Montreal and Quebec City Trip Report (long)

Sep 19th, 2004, 02:34 PM
  #1  
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Montreal and Quebec City Trip Report (long)

My husband and I went to Montreal and Quebec City last week(Sept 2004. We flew into Montreal, spent two days, took the train to Quebec City, spent two days there and then went back to Montreal for another three days. We originally planned to fly into Montreal, take the train to QC and then fly home from there but we couldn?t work out the logistics to get a convenient/inexpensive flight.

Overview: We loved Montreal. Lots to do, great food, easy to get around - a really terrific place. Quebec City was very beautiful but we found the restaurants very expensive and the food wasn?t as good as it should have been. And while the water in Montreal was fine, the water in Quebec City didn?t agree with me (if you drink water, get bottled in QC).

Day 1 ? We arrived in Montreal and checked into the Marriott Chateau Champlain (nice room, pleasant staff, more about it later). Walked over to the Tourist Information Office on rue Metcalfe (very helpful, good maps, excellent staff, highly recommended). Had lunch at Dunn?s Deli on Metcalfe (delicious smoked meat sandwiches). Smoked meat sandwiches, which are similar to Kosher Pastrami (only made with Brisket) occupy the same place in Montreal that Cheese Steaks have in Philadelphia. At the two places we had them (Dunn?s and Schwartz?s (more later), they were very good. After lunch we followed a guidebook?s walking tour of downtown. Later in the day, we explored Chinatown and old Montreal. We had Dinner at Modavie on rue St.Paul ouest in the Old City. It was an excellent meal with live music (a 3 piece jazz combo) ? but expensive. Two appetizers, two mains, a moderate bottle of wine and one dessert with tax and tip came to $200.

Day 2 ? We took a 3 hour bus tour with Grey Line ? it came free with the package from our travel agent. We saw some churches we probably would not have gotten to and got to the top of Mont Royal but we also sat in traffic a bit. It wasn?t bad but we really wouldn?t recommend it. In the afternoon we walked around downtown and paid a visit to the Musee des Beaux Arts (nice, but we were expecting more). Dinner was at the House of Jazz (formerly Biddle?s) on rue Aylmer (ribs, chicken wings, etc.) The food was OK but it probably would have been better to eat elsewhere first. The music however was great. My advice ? get dinner elsewhere and then go to HOJ for drinks and the jazz (no cover!)

Day 3 ? We took the train to Quebec City (3 hours, more comfortable than Amtrak). We went tourist class. First class seemed to have a private lounge car they could wander around in, but otherwise it didn?t look like they had much else. You can buy sandwiches and beverages on the train. Note: We booked our tickets in advance online at ViaRail (Canadian Railways). Ordering tickets in advance saved a few bucks. If you are staying in or near the old walled city, you?ll need to take a cab from the station to your hotel. The cab to our hotel was about $7.50. We checked into the Loews La Concorde (excellent hotel, short walk to the wall, next to all the action on Grand Allee, highly recommended with minor reservations). Walked all over the very beautiful old city. Had a really lousy dinner at La Caravelle on St. Louis (and it was expensive too). Went back to the hotel and tried to get in to the rooftop bar, but it was closed (they were using all the space for the restaurant [L?Astral]. We went down to the lobby bar and had a few drinks. They were very cheap with their pouring and I would not recommend going there. The guidebook recommended L?Astral for the food and view, but we couldn?t get in (it was a holiday weekend), so I can?t comment on it.

Day 4 ? Took a half-day tour of the outlying areas with Old Quebec Tour (also part of the package). We went to Ile d?Orleans, Montmorency Falls, the Beaupre coast and the cathedral of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre. This was very nice and gave us a look at the outlying areas that we wouldn?t have been able to see without renting a car. We came back and had delicious (but expensive) pizza at Le Grand Café on Grand Allee. Tried to get in to L?Astral for dinner but it was booked up solid. Since the food at lunch was good, we went back to LGC for dinner, which was pretty good. During the afternoon, we went to the Musee de la Civilisation in the old city, which was disappointing, especially after the great review in the guidebook. Walking on the Terrasse Dufferin (the boardwalk), however, was wonderful. It is very scenic and there is a fun atmosphere with street performers.

Day 5 - We went to the very beautiful Parc Des Champs-De-Batailles (the Park at The Plains of Abraham). Later we walked out of the tourist area, over to Ave. Cartier and found a few bars and restaurants that looked very promising but we were leaving that day and didn?t have the time to check them out. Stopped at Les Halles du Petit-Cartier, a market/mall filled with different shops. We picked up a delicious picnic for the train ride back to Montreal (terrine, olives, ham, mustard, cornichons, tomato salad, bread). Frankly, this was the best meal we had in Quebec City. The train ride was again pleasant and uneventful and we checked back into the Marriott Chateau Champlain. We had left most of our luggage with the hotel, just took a weekend bag to Quebec City and that was very convenient. Note on the Marriott Chateau Champlain: It?s called the ?cheese grater? because the half moon windows make it look like?you guessed it. It was very convenient to the Central Train Station (just down the block), was on the Metro (an elevator ride down from the lobby) and was part of the Underground City. It was centrally located but a good 15-20 minute walk to the Old City, the museums and a lot of the restaurants. Not very far but not close to the things you want to see. The rooms were very nice and had hairdryers, irons, ironing boards, cable TV. We had a beautiful view of the city both times. The staff (front desk, concierge, bellmen etc) was very nice and very helpful and I would recommend it completely. Just be aware of the walk. (Since we broke up the visit to Montreal, maybe we should have come back to a different hotel, one closer to the old city. This way, the first part of the trip would be focused on downtown and for the second part we would be in the old city. But it was really convenient to check our luggage and just use an overnight bag for QC.) There were always cabs parked in front of the hotel, so if you wanted to cab it there was never a problem. The only cabs we took were to and from the airport ($31 fixed price) so I?m not sure how in/expensive they are for jaunts around town.
On the recommendation of a bellman we had a very good dinner at Café Republique (on Peel near the tourist office). Later we heard great jazz at Upstairs on Rue Mackay. (a $10 per person cover was the only down side to Upstairs)
Day 6 ? Went to the Biodome and the Gardens. The Biodome was very nice and well worth going to. The gardens were spectacular and were the high point of the trip. Highly recommended. We were lucky to take a guided tour with a volunteer who clearly loved the gardens. His enthusiasm and knowledge only made a great day better. Afterwards we had a great dinner at Café Alexandre on Peel.

Day 7 ? Took the guided walking tour of old Montreal with Guidatour. This was excellent and I highly recommend this tour. Later we went to the Musee du Chateau Ramezay, which was small, but well worth visiting. Lunch was delicious salads at La Terrasse du Chateau, right on the grounds of the museum. We also went to the Point-a-Calliere, - the museum of archeology and history. This was just OK. Dinner was at Savanah on bd. St-Laurent and this was the best meal of the trip. The restaurant was fantastic and we highly recommend it.

Day 8 ? Went to the McCord Museum in the morning, small but well worth going to. Lunch was at the famous Chez Schwartz on St. Laurent for the last smoked meat sandwich of the trip. While delicious and cheaper than Dunn?s, the sandwich was not significantly better. We?d have to have a side-by side taste test to tell which was better and then we?d probably need bypass surgery. Note: Sandwiches at both Dunn?s and Schwartz?s were offered Lean, Medium or Fatty (we had Medium in both places). Schwartz?s is a good hike out of the downtown area, but the atmosphere was priceless. Just like the Lower East Side in NYC in the ?50s.

We also checked out the Underground City. Interesting, but confusing. Because the weather was so good, we didn?t spend much time there. Mostly we walked outside or took the Metro.

We took the Metro all over Montreal and it was delightful. It shut down at midnight and there wasn?t as complete coverage as I would have liked (no Old City station) but it was clean, on time and seemed very safe.

Both Montreal & QC seemed very safe. There were the usual homeless panhandlers but they seemed harmless.

The city closed down earlier than we expected. Maybe this is because the Metro closes early. Maybe it was because we were staying in the downtown area. Because so much seemed to close up early we would usually end the night at the bar in the Marriott for a nightcap- very nice and comfortable. For breakfast we skipped the expensive breakfast ant the hotel restaurant and went downstairs to a place on the concourse level (part of the Underground City?) called Le Muffin Plus. Very nice, very reasonable and very good bagels (this from two New Yorkers!)

On language, the people in Montreal are the most bilingual people I have ever met. They will switch back and forth between French and English mid sentence. People in Quebec City are similar, but not quite as bilingual, though everyone you meet in the tourist business (hotels, restaurants etc.) are perfectly fluent in English.
Considering that both cities are on the water, there was very little fish served anywhere. I couldn?t tell you why. The bad meal we had in QC at La Caravelle was seafood. We picked the place because they had a whole seafood extravaganza in the window refrigerator ? Lobster, Crab, Shrimp, Tuna. While they didn?t overcook the food they also had no idea how to season it, it was absolutely tasteless. Advice ? expect to eat a lot of meat on the trip. The only exceptions were the smoked salmon & herring appetizers we had at Republique and Alexandre in Montreal ? they were excellent.

Because our time in Montreal was broken up we didn?t buy the Museum Pass. We should have. Each Museum cost about $10 per person admission and they weren?t very large. Don?t think in terms of the Louvre or the Met. You?re in and out of these places in two hours. One day we hit three museums and got banged for about $60 in admission charges. If you plan on going to a few Museums ? buy the pass!

We had 5 nights in Montreal and got to see most of the things we wanted to. We could have stayed longer. We loved Montreal and there was more to see and do. We stayed two nights in Quebec City and it was not enough. We really would have liked an extra day. There were things we didn?t get to and we only got to see the very touristy side of town.

To be honest, we expected the trip to be cheaper. One of the reasons we picked Montreal/Quebec over say, Belgium (which was one of our possible trips) was the expectation that the currency exchange would benefit us. It did, but not as much as we hoped. While some things that cost $1.00 US here cost $1.00 Can. there, many things that were a buck here were $1.35 there. So much for the exchange rate! (The Exchange rate while we were there: $200 US got you about $240 Canadian) Of course if you stay downtown anywhere in the world, you?re going to pay tourist prices so we really shouldn?t have expected any bargains. However some things I?ve never paid for in the US were extras in Montreal ($0.35 for a slice of pickle with a $10 sandwich!). The metro was priced at a flat $2.50 per ride. There were deals on bulk purchasing but they really didn?t work for the short-stay tourist (especially with our trip broken up the way it was.)

Taxes are also something I should mention. There is a 7 or 8% Federal Sales Tax AND an additional 7 or 8% Provincial Sales Tax. There is a method for getting reimbursed as a visitor and it involves filling out some forms and mailing all receipts off to the various government offices with copies of your tickets into and out of Canada. In the end we gave up and considered it part of the cost of the trip. Advisory: Credit card receipts in Canada contain your ENTIRE credit card number, not just the last four digits. That?s one of the reasons for not sending in all the receipts.

Still, all in all, we had a great time and we will be going back

Sam & Fran Silverman
FranS is offline  
Sep 19th, 2004, 03:12 PM
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Hi Sam & Fran,

I'm glad you enjoyed Montreal and Quebec City. It's too bad I wasn't able to help you in advance because I could have pointed you out to a few restaurants in Quebec City that would not have burned a hole in your wallet but would have created delicious memories. It's true that a number in the Haute Ville, catering largely to the tourist population, can be grossly overpriced and sometimes not all that good. I was blessed with a friend that lived in Quebec City that found the gems for me.

I'm glad you appreciated the ambience on "the Main" near Schwartz's. I did try Schwartz's a few times when I first moved to Montreal and remember thinking it was tasty for what it was, I find I'm more into healthy options these days, so I leave the debate for others. As for the city closing down early, I can assure you that it doesn't but can see how you might think so from being in certain sections of town. Again, glad you had fun and hope you can make it back someday!
Daniel_Williams is online now  
Sep 19th, 2004, 07:05 PM
  #3  
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Thanks for the reply. We had such a good time, we will be back. And, we'll make sure we'll ask the experts for restaurant recommendations.
Fran
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Sep 20th, 2004, 01:48 AM
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What a great trip report; I'm glad you enjoyed Savanah, I love it also. The author Maeve Binchy is a friend of one of the owners ( who also owns bookstores in mtl)
and she was there this summer. You could have saved metro money by buying a few strips of tickets. I have to agree about the former Biddles, not a place to have a meal;
Charles Biddles senior died a few years ago and the place was sold and renamed, I guess; I did not know that. His daughter Stephanie Biddles is a jazz singer and performs at Savannah's sometimes.

I am going to Quebec city next week and will try to find some restaurant recommendations for this board.

Many thanks for your report, it was a pleasure to read.

mitchdesj is offline  
Sep 20th, 2004, 02:51 AM
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Thanks. Have a great trip.
Fran
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Sep 20th, 2004, 06:03 AM
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Fran, nice report. I have been to QC about 4 times, and Montreal many, many times. I agree that Montreal offers better dining options, and QC is in general more expensive than Montreal. However QC may be the most beautiful city in North America. As for Montreal, there is much more to the city than the downtown and old city. We actually don't spend much time in either area anymore, but instead love wandering the streets of the plateau area, St Denis, and even some of the neighborhoods on the north side of the island. Like many large cities, the downtown is neither the livliest nor cheapest area for nightlife or dining.
zootsi is offline  
Sep 20th, 2004, 03:56 PM
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Your comments make a lot of sense. And, yes, QC is beautiful.
This was our first trip and we wanted to see the "must see" sights. Now that I know how much I liked QC and Montreal, I look forward to returning to both and expect to get out of the touristy areas and explore the cities a bit more.
FranS is offline  

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