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Montreal Trip Report 3 (warning: long and potentialaly boring)

Montreal Trip Report 3 (warning: long and potentialaly boring)

Old Aug 12th, 2003, 09:28 AM
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Montreal Trip Report 3 (warning: long and potentialaly boring)

Same caveat as on the previous two reports. Oh, and I hope I've fixed those maddening question marks that show up when you cut and paste - if not, apologies.

Montréal August 9, 2003

"Le petit déjeuner est un peu plus sage aujourd?hui," announces Mme. de Chevigny as she explains that yesterday?s chantilly-filled crêpes were planned because of the two young girls who were at the B&B. Today she is offering a mushroom omelette, along with the usual spread of cereals and breads and jams. Delicious.

Today I am planning to go a bit farther afield than in the past two days. For one thing, I am used to bucolic vacations and don't like to spend all my time in the city, interesting though Montréal is. For another, I don?t like to visit only tourist attractions ? I like to get into the neighborhoods and see what the people are up to in their everyday lives. This morning I'm headed for the Jean-Talon market, and this afternoon I plan to take a trip out of town.

The Jean-Talon market is a few blocks from the metro stop of that name, smack in the heart of Montréal's Little Italy. An enormous number of Italian immigrants have settled in this city, and after them a whole lot of Portuguese and Asians and more recently Arabs and Central and South Americans ? walking the streets of almost any section of Montréal one encounters myriad ethnicities, languages, accents, not to mention styles and fashions. The fact that it is a university town further enriches the pot. The whole city reminds me of the little pockets of DC ? Adams Morgan, e.g., that exude the vibrancy that comes with young people, artists, and a complete mélange of nationalities and cultures.

The Jean-Talon metro stop tosses you into a bleak cityscape of graffiti and littered streets. You pass a couple of Asian grocery stores, then an Arab butcher, and suddenly a square opens up before you, ringed with cafés and trattorie and poissonieries and specialty shops. About two-thirds of the market is food, and one-third flowers. The stalls are overflowing with local produce ? blueberries, strawberries, succulent white and gold corn (steamed and served with butter right on the spot it you want it), sweet red and yellow peppers, glistening eggplants, tomatoes of all shapes and sizes and colors, shiny cucumbers, lettuces of all kinds, onions the size of softballs, and baskets of squash flowers for stuffing. There are cranberry stands featuring cranberry candles, cranberry candy, cranberry juice, dried cranberries, cranberry jerky, cranberry everything. There are goat cheese stands featuring chèvres just as you'd see them in France ? ash-covered, herb-covered, pepper-covered ? little rolls and domes and cones and discs. There are honey stands and jam stalls and juice stands. Around the perimeter of the market are stores specializing in Italian goods, fat sausages and mortadella and prosciutto and plump mozzarella and flaky parmesan and fresh and dried pastas and unsalted loaves of sesame-studded bread and wines from the Veneto and anchovies from Liguria. There's a store specializing in Québecois foodstuffs and other products ? caribou pâté and bottled veal and lemon sauce, wildflower honeys and Saskatoon berry jam, goat's milk shampoo and dried cranberries. The French influence is marked in this store ? the emphasis on jams and jellies and honeys, cosmetics made from herbs and flowers, pâtés, cheeses, vinegars and oils, ciders ? so many products that had their origins back in Normandy and other French provinces.

I have a café allongé and park at a table in front of the Pain Doré. The scene before me might well be at my *own* Tuesday market in le Bugue, in the Périgord ? mothers with children in tow crunching on candied apples; couples with a large wicker basket between them, each holding a handle, the basket brimming with fresh produce and a large bottle of mineral water, housewives in print dresses and sensible shoes negotiating briskly with vendors over a large head of cauliflower, a street musician trilling on a flute with the case open before him, passersby stopping to listen and toss in a few sous; a young woman in a blue apron spreading samples of ?gateau choco?out on a linen cloth to entice customers; the singsong cries of vendors tempting customers to try their fresh berries, their plump tomatoes, their corn picked this very morning; the couples at the café discussing what to prepare for Sunday dinner in their clipped, nasal French????

I buy some vinegars ? blueberry and Saskatoon berry ? for my son the vinaigrette maven, along with some goat's milk soap, and mender one last time through the market, taking photos of some of the most luscious stalls, then head back to the subway, having had my sensory overload for the morning. I get off at Sherbrooke and walk to the Belle Mansarde to drop off my somewhat heavy purchases, then walk back to the Café Cherrier and get seated for lunch on the outdoor terrace. On Saturdays and Sundays they offer brunch, but I've had too much breakfast to want to have something that heavy, so I opt for a salade au chèvre chaud. It's a disc of chèvre that has had herbs ? thyme and rosemary and pepper ? pressed into it, served on a rondelle of toasted multigrain bread over a large bed of mesclun dressed in a garlicky vinaigrette. The chèvre is good, but the little herb twigs stick in your teeth, and the cheese is just a bit too piquante. I can't help compare it to the cabécou that I love so much, and it's a bit disappointing in that light. Still, it's good enough, and it fortifies me for my afternoon trip.

I'm going out of town, and I have rather arbitrarily decided to head for Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. I like the name, and what little I've read about it makes it sound appealing. I have given very little thought to logistics, and I'm quite content with that ? I want an adventure. So I take the metro to Bonaventure and follow the signs to the Gare Windsor, where I know I can find a train to Ste-Anne. Well?perhaps not. The Gare Windsor is sealed tight as a drum, and inside is a rock band practicing at deafening decibels, with technicians running all over testing lighting and equipment. I ask at the Viennoiserie next door if the station will be open anytime soon ? shrug. I go back underground to the Bonaventure station and ask the attendant ? he says of course it will open. The only reason it's not open is that the first train doesn't leave until 2:30, so why should it be open now (it?s 1:30). This makes some sense, so I go up to street level and walk over to the Gare Windsor above ground. At 2 pm it's still closed, with no sign of opening anytime. Several other potential travelers come up and ask me what's going on ? we agree there is something odd at play. Eventually, I go back underground and follow the signs to the Gare Lucien à L'Allier. Why there are two train stations practically next door to each other ? and both about a block away from the Gare Centrale ? is a bit of a mystery. Anyway, the Gare Lucien à l'Allier is open, though deserted. There is one train sitting on track # 5, and an automatic ticket dispenser and a schedule. Apparently, there is a train leaving at 2:30 that stops at Ste-Anne. I buy a ticket from the billeterie automatique and go get on the train.

The train has a rather odd configuration of seats ? on one side there are the standard two-seat rows, but on the other there is just one long bank of seating along the windows. I share the compartment with a young mother and two pretty blond children who are chattering away in French. As the train takes off precisely at 2:30, it crosses my mind that I only bought a one-way ticket and did not check the return schedule ? well, this WILL be an adventure!

The first few stops are in rather industrial settings or old run-down neighborhoods, but soon the names of the stops are signaling we're getting out of town to some interesting places ?Next stop ? Pine Beach!? (the conductor always says ?next stop? in English, but the names of the places, whether they be French or English names, he always pronounces with a French accent). To my left I can see the water and sailboats and pleasure craft. The day has turned perfectly sunny and clear. As we get within a few stops of Ste-Anne, I realize the train has turned inland a bit, and I'm curious how much of a hike I will have to get into town ? and how I will cross the huge highway that will lie between the train stop and the town. When I do alight from the train, I descend a steep staircase to street level and see a bus stop ahead. As I approach it, a small bus comes along and stops. I ask if he is going to the center ville, and he says yes, of course, so THAT problem's solved. It's a mile or so into town, and he motions to me when we get to the town center, and off I go.

What a lovely place this is ? like a movie set of an old North American seaside town. The main street is lined for about 3 blocks with antique stores and cafés and restaurants whose back terraces give onto a broad canal. There's one of everything ? one bakery, one dollar store, one hairdresser, one dress store, one furniture store, one pharmacy, plus all the second-hand and antique shops. I check out the pharmacy just to pique my curiosity about the prices of Canadian drugs I've heard so much about. Of course, I imagine it's mainly prescription drugs people go to Canada to buy, and I don't have any prescriptions, so I just look at silly things like Visine and aspirin ? sure, a bit cheaper than at home, but no big deal.

I wander along the lakeside and admire the architecture of the houses ? huge old brick and Tudor mansions, plus some stucco, some wooden, all perfectly kept up with magnificent gardens and hanging baskets and window boxes bursting with blooms. There are sailboats bobbing mid-lake and a few rowboats and motorboats. Everyone in town has an air of total tranquility ? meandering by the water, pottering about in the yard, sitting on the front steps talking to friends, ambling down Main Street without a care in the world. Suddenly there is a big commotion ? a dozen or so motorcycles roar into town, and everyone stops to stare and grimace. A few minutes later, there is a wild tooting of car horns and q white convertible Rolls Royce glides through town, bearing a new bride and groom, followed by a half-dozen cars full of tooting, shouting friends and family. Just as suddenly as they've come, they?re gone and its back to a quiet afternoon with the lake water lapping at the shore.

I go into an antique shop and inquire as to where I might find a train schedule and purchase a ticket. The woman I ask screws up her face tight and says "Hmmm?gooood question. IS there a train?" I tell her I've arrived on a train, so yes, I think there must be one going the other direction. She says to ask the ladies at the thrift shop next door ? they know EVERYTHING about Ste-Anne. So I hop next door and ask the ladies, who confer at length and then say they have no idea, I'd really better take the bus. To do that, they say, I should cross the street and wait for the small town bus which will take me "over that way a ways, up near the college?that's where the bus leaves for Montréal. It's the number 211."

So now that I know how to get back, I do some more exploring for awhile, then sit at a café and watch the boaters on the lake while sipping a pint of Belga blanc. This has been a decent adventure after all. I amble over to the bus stop about 40 minutes later, and along comes the bus. I pay my $1.50 Can. only to find out that the stop "over that way, by the college" is about two blocks from where I picked up the little bus. In fact, had I looked hard, I could have seen it from the bus stop. Gives you some idea of perspectives in a small town, I guess. The number 211 comes along and I ask the driver where he ends up in the city. He says the terminus is Lionel-Groux metro stop. Perfect. I ask how much the fare is, and he asks me if I have a carte. I say yes, and show him my 3-day carte touristique. Eh bien, Madame, he says, you don?t have to pay! But, you mean I can take a bus 30 miles from here into Montréal without even paying a supplement? He points to some verbiage on the carte that says it's good for buses, and I tell him, yes, but I assumed that was for buses within the city only. He seems to think I am a bit crazed, so I drop it and say thank you. Heavens! Perhaps I could have gone to Toronto?..heck, maybe British Columbia!

The ride back to Montréal is simply delectable, better than any excursion I might have signed up and paid a boodle for. It winds along the shoreline, stopping at several places within each of about a dozen neighborhoods, each prettier than the last. I am enthralled by the beautiful houses and the glimpses of the lakes, the graceful way the neighborhoods are laid out, the privacy hedges around the houses that strike me as so French. I'm so glad I didn?t bother buying a return ticket on the train.

From Lionel-Groux I take the orange line to Mont-Royal and run behind the station to catch the No. 11 bus that does a circuit of the Mont. The bus is packed with Filippino teenagers on a tour, signing and shouting all the way up to the summit. The road is lined with bales of hay, presumably to protect drivers who might lose control coming down the steep curves. The day has become incredibly hazy, so much so that when we reach the first lookout point I get off, take a look, and get back on again ? the view is nice enough, but it's way too hazy to contemplate taking a picture, and a few minutes? look is sufficient. The bus winds past a lake and the cemetery, then takes off briefly into one of the neighborhoods at the top of the Mont, then turns around and makes the descent. At every stop where someone gets off the driver yells "Au revoir, bye bye!! " I take the metro back to Sherbrooke and go back to the B&B to rest a bit before venturing out for dinner.

Around 7:30 I walk over to the Bar Auprès de ma Blonde (the song running nonstop through my head?il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon?) and sip a beer and write in my journal while watching tout Montréal pass by. Two waiters emerge from the downstairs interior bar, dragging a portly, grinning drunk. A taxi pulls up and they heave him into it, where he collapses on the seat. You have to wonder what happens at the other end of these rides.

After my beer, I mosey over to rue Duluth where I've spied an Afghan restaurant, Khyber Pass. It's one of those ubiquitous Montréal restaurants with the "apportez votre vin" signs in the window (bring your own wine), so first I stop into a dépanneur and pick up a nice bottle of St-Emilion. There's quite a wait at the restaurant, and a lot of apologies from the staff, but I'm in no hurry and am eventually led into the garden terrace at the back and seated under Christmas-type lights. The waiter opens my wine and brings me a basket of delicious Afghan bread and three dipping sauces ? cucumber, coriander, and hot pepper ? all delicious. I order the special ? a complex soup of beef broth and noodles and bits of ground meat and coriander and hot pepper and cardamom and tiny white beans. Fantastic. I follow with Gorma Chalaw, the tenderest of lamb shanks braised in a tangy tomato-based sauce, with white basmati, brown basmati, and spinach basmati rice over which to pour it. I love Afghan food and this is some of the best I've had. I can barely make room for dessert ? a creamy pudding laced with cardamom. After dinner, though it's late, I stroll up and down the rue St-Denis one more time to savor my last night in the city.
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Old Aug 12th, 2003, 10:20 AM
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Wonderful report! One question - Toque - still okay? We're reserved there, just two weeks off - should I keep it? Haven't seen any recent updates.
 
Old Aug 12th, 2003, 10:29 AM
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Ohh this is so great! I hate for it to end!
I must go back as soon as possible and go to Ste-Anne! I have been to Montreal so many times and never out into the countryside!
More please
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Old Aug 12th, 2003, 10:52 AM
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I would have no idea if Toque is still ok - as you can see, I didn't eat there. I'm sure others here have and can give you their opinions.
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Old Aug 12th, 2003, 11:06 AM
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Whoops, StCirq. Guess we'll stick with Toque and see what we see. Nonetheless, your report reads like a novelette, and is quite admirable. You've set the bar rather high for other travellers. Adds to the value of the site.
 
Old Aug 12th, 2003, 03:02 PM
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St.Cirq, I am absolutely fascinated by your trip reports; even more so that you went to Ste. Anne de Bellevue: I live but a few blocks from the college you passed by. I love our area and am glad you enjoyed it also, it does seem like a sleepy town stuck in a charming time warp.
Can't wait for the next instalment of your trip report.
I also spend a lot of time in the city so your impressions are very interesting to read.
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Old Aug 12th, 2003, 04:39 PM
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You're very lucky, Mitchdesi, to live in such a lovely area. I was really struck by it. It was the briefest of vacations, and I tried to make the most of every moment, but it was a fascinating trip.
I grew up in New England, and we used to go to Canada in the summer often, as my father was a teacher and we could roam around for a couple of months at a time. But I hadn't been back for decades. It was a delightful return, though I hardly recognized anything.
I'm sure my impressions are just that - what I experienced, through my eyes, in a very short trip. I don't pretend to be anything other than an observer, and we all know that anyone's observations about anything, at any given time, can be completely skewed.
I look forward to going back to this area, though. I found it intriguing.
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Old Aug 13th, 2003, 04:18 AM
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StCirq, it is always with pleasure and interest that I read your contributions to discussions of France on the Europe board. So, it was with great delight that I happened upon your Montreal trip reports this morning. What a lovely vacation you had! I have been to Montreal several times but not for many years now. Your wonderfully descriptive reports have certainly rekindled my interest in making a return trip in the near future. Thank-you!
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Old Aug 14th, 2003, 06:10 PM
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I enjoy Ste Anne-de-Bellevue as well; I feel miles away from Montreal, almost as if in small town Quebec, all here on the island of Montreal. The boardwalk and the river views can be particularly pleasant.

I used to go to Khyber Pass quite regularly when I lived in the area. A friend of mine and I felt they went downhill, but maybe they've gotten their groove back.

I find it interesting your comparison of Montreal to Adams-Morgan. I suppose of all the neighborhoods in DC, Adams-Morgan is one of the more similar to certain of the more ethnically diverse areas of Montreal. DC however, even Adams-Morgan, always strikes me as "go go go" wherever you go, while Montreal, people are in less of a rush.
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Old Aug 14th, 2003, 07:03 PM
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Well,you're right , Daniel, in Adams Morgan there is always a sense of being rushed. Not so in Montréal.
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Old Aug 15th, 2003, 03:30 PM
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Just something that might interest you... I had a 3-year contract in Baltimore between 1999-2002. I found there was only one place I could go for a day trip which "reminded" me of the feel of Montreal. Would you believe it was *drum roll*....

Philadelphia in parts. Maybe it was because people still lived closed together, or the sight of people sitting out relaxing by Rittenhouse Square, or the cafes on the urban streets or the historic architecture (although very different from Montreal) at every turn. There certainly are differences between the two cities as well...but who knew, that's where I discovered I wanted to go when I wanted a bit of a Montreal feel. Funny eh?
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Old Aug 15th, 2003, 03:47 PM
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Yes, Daniel, I can see that! Maybe that is why we liked Philadelphia so much on our first trip there this spring.
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Old Aug 21st, 2003, 06:31 PM
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Daniel: I went to college at Bryn Mawr, and spent a lot of time in Philly. I haven't spent much time there since, but I do have to agree with you. I also have found very small pockets of Wilmington, DE, that remind me of Montréal, or maybe it's vice versa.
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