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Quebec and Montreal were wonderful: I hope you can use this info

Quebec and Montreal were wonderful: I hope you can use this info

Old May 2nd, 2007, 07:31 PM
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Quebec and Montreal were wonderful: I hope you can use this info

It was in the high 80’s when we got back to Atlanta from our Canada trip, making the end of vacation even more of a return to reality. When we left Montreal this morning it was about 60 and sunny. Very nice. Perfect for the long city walks we had enjoyed over the past eight days in Quebec and Montreal. Over the course of our visit (April 24 thru May 2) we had some variable weather, even some rain, but nothing we could not handle with a raincoat and umbrella. But for those of you planning a trip later this month, I can tell you the weather was superb for the last couple of days and promised to continue nice for the the short term, at least.

To return the favor of all who gave me good advice and suggestions for my trip, here’s a summary of the trip and some of the activities we enjoyed. We were three nights in Quebec and five nights in Montreal.

We used frequent flyer points to fly from Atlanta to Detroit to Quebec City. It is always a pleasure to see how civilized other airports are compared to our beloved Hartsfield-Jackson. It was an easy journey although fairly late when we arrived in Quebec. About a 20 minute wait in line to go through the immigration/customs/border crossing rigmarole, but no problem. Cabs were plentiful and it’s a flat rate of $35 into the city. The driver was friendly and pleasant and although my French is next to non-existent we were able to greet him and give him the name of the hotel.

The Dominion 1912 has been mentioned many times on Fodor’s and Trip Advisor and I would unreservedly recommend it to anyone visiting Quebec. Our room was large, beautiful and super-comfortable. $209/night. The radio was playing when we entered the room and there was a small bottle of ice cider waiting for us upon arrival. There was a fire burning in the lobby each afternoon and evening and coffee is available all day and night in the lobby as well. (Good coffee, in nice cups.) Breakfast is included in that price. It is served buffet style in the lobby and includes fruit, juice, cereal, pastries, toast, jam, cheese, hard-boiled eggs—it is both a savings and a convenience. The architecture of the place is very much old city but the décor of the hotel is ultra-modern. It works beautifully. I think every lighting fixture in the lobby was a work of art. The staff was unfailingly gracious and helpful.

Dear Husband liked the hotel, too, which was a relief because he is a large hotel person. I had feared he would take one look at the Chateau Frontenac and be sad that we were not staying there. Not to worry. He loved the Dominion and was content to walk around the Frontenac one afternoon and return one evening for drinks.

Quebec City is a small place so it was pointless to fret over whether to stay in the upper town or the lower town. I suggest staying within the ancient walls and one can then walk anywhere one wishes to go.

I highly recommend the walking tour we took our first day. Les Tours Voir Quebec offers a three hour tour for about $17. Our guide, Jacques (not Jack! He told us.) was both knowledgeable and opinionated about Quebec and its history. You can get more information or book a tour at the tourist information office across from the Frontenac. It is not a strenuous tour—in fact they make a big point of telling you “it’s all downhill” when you inquire, but trust me, ladies, don’t wear heels in Old Quebec. It’s the cobblestones. The military history was interesting but I still can’t figure out how Montcalm lost to Wolfe—when you see the city walls and those cliffs you will know what I mean.

It’s also a great town for art galleries, especially the lower town, I think. There is a group of galleries owned by one family, Les galleries de la famille Beauchamp, on St Pierre which had some beautiful work by Quebecois artists. Sadly, I went home with nothing but a brochure.

Also in the lower town, the Musee de la Civilasation was very interesting. It is big so count on spending a lot of time there or content yourself with seeing only part. We did the latter. Quebec history was interesting with multi-media exhibitions. Also, we viewed an exhibition on the history of cinema in Quebec. I love movies so that was fun, too. Watch for a very young Richard Dreyfuss in a clip from “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.”

Let’s talk about food. Here are some of the spots we really liked. The man at the tourist info office recommended lunch at Café Conti. It was a groovy looking place with purple walls and red banquettes and lots of bright modern art on the walls. White table cloths and mostly well dressed patrons, business people at a large table on one side of us and a few elegant middle-aged women with good jewelry lunching on the other side. Everyone speaking French, everyone looking like they were having a wonderful time. Lunch was three courses: soup, main and dessert; and coffee, and we had wine, and was about $40 with tax for the two of us.

There’s a small place right behind the Dominion called Restaurant 48. Pizzas, sandwiches, light meals and nice wine. Very friendly, and fun. They also serve what might be described as tapas: little bites of this and that, e.g. cheese on toast, roasted asparagus with ham, for a dollar or two each. We went there twice, actually, and enjoyed it both times.

We had a superb dinner at L’Echaude. Bistro style food in elegant surroundings. I had duck confit avec frites, DH enjoyed a stewed lamb dish made with olives and tomatoes. This was expensive: our main dishes were $18 and $27 respectively. But very very good. Again, this was a French speaking crowd. I guess I mention this because I was in Italy last Fall with my sister and we felt we were continuously surrounded by Americans—I love my fellow countrymen but still I was surprised that my trip to Canada proved to be the more “foreign” experience in some ways.

Well, it is getting late and I am embarrassed to see how long winded I have been. If it looks like anyone is interested I will post again about taking the train from Quebec to Montreal and our five nights in the Omni in Montreal—a great city! This was a very good vacation—fun, interesting, very good food and hotels, and no jet lag! I look forward to another visit. The Quebecois we met were unfailingly gracious and generously bi-lingual. If you like what cities have to offer, I think you would like Quebec and Montreal.


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Old May 3rd, 2007, 02:05 AM
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lovely report, keep it coming !!
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Old May 3rd, 2007, 03:09 AM
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More, please,this is a wonderful report!!
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Old May 3rd, 2007, 04:32 AM
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I remember your asking questions prior to you visit to la Belle Province and am tickled pink you had a great time in la Vieille Capitale! I was lucky to have a close friend living in Quebec City, so I grew quite fond the 6 or 7 times I paid him a visit.

Please be as long-winded as you like!Your trip report has been very enjoyable so far and I look forward to hear about your adventures in my home city of Montreal.

DAN
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Old May 3rd, 2007, 06:02 AM
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Keep writing - I'm enjoying it.
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Old May 3rd, 2007, 08:15 AM
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We are planning a trip just like this for the summer with our 3 teenage boys. Please include the details of the train trip and Montreal highlights !

Also, any recommendations for hotels that can accomodate 5 would be appreciated!
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Old May 4th, 2007, 03:27 AM
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This is a wonderful report - please continue with the rest of your journey! I can't do this for a year or more (I do way too much advance planning)but I will book mark this one!
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Old May 5th, 2007, 12:50 PM
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Thanks, mitchdesj and cmcfong. Here comes part two.

Dan, both cities are wonderful but if I had to choose one it would have to be Montreal.

I am glad you are enjoying reading it, Sally, I am enjoying writing it.

Jaxfamily, I think your boys would like the train. If they aren't regular train riders it would be something new for them. Check out the VIA website, there's a variety of discounts available.

oliverandharry, I listed some resources you might enjoy at the end of the entry.

Here goes...

Thank you for the kind words and encouragement. I’ll continue to the Montreal portion of the trip as it gives me the chance to remember the details.

The weather had turned cold and rainy so I was looking forward to the evening rail journey. I had splurged when I purchased the tickets on line at the VIA rail website and held two one-way, first class tickets from Quebec City to Montreal. They were $99 each and included dinner with drinks. Not having to contend with a car made it well worth it to me.

The train station in Quebec is a beautiful old station although not tremendously busy. In the vaulted ceiling of the station there is a stained glass window depicting a map of North America—very fine except I think it was installed upside-down as it shows east on the left. The train was a little late arriving and a little late departing because of a “slight derailment.” That made for some interesting speculation.

Train travel is a good way to kill two birds: you get from A to B, and at the same time you get off your feet and a chance to rest from touring around. They checked our luggage, there is no security whatsoever, you don’t have to take your shoes off or empty your pockets. Plenty of cabs at our destination and the driver took us to the Omni Mont Royal, pointing out sites of interest along the way: McGill University, Crescent Street for nightlife, St Catherine’s for shopping.

The Omni has a Select Guest program. It’s free, you just register on line. Then, as a Select Guest, you are eligible for room upgrades when available and (this is what convinced me) coffee delivered to your room each morning, gratis. Seems like a small thing but I really appreciated not having to pay extortionate room service rates in order to get my first cup still in bed. Also, and I guess this is part of the Select Guest thing, one day we returned from sightseeing to find a plate of chocolate dipped strawberries in the room for us.

Visually, the Omni looked a little stodgy compared to our chic hotel in Quebec, but it was very comfortable, the room was large and had a view of the mountain, and the service was first rate. The concierge was very helpful, getting us reservations for dinner, booking a tour, mailing our postcards.

Downtown Montreal is very convenient. It is an area we enjoyed exploring in its own right and there is easy access to the Metro which will get you almost anywhere in minutes. Our first day was not too thrilling; we needed to find a Laundromat. En route to the laundry, we stopped at Premiere Moisson for coffee and croissant. Yum—very very good croissant, a long way from the dreaded crois’sandwich.

After the laundry—always an interesting slice of life—I noticed DH developing a nervous tic. I investigated and it was revealed: today was the day of the NFL draft!! Miss the draft? Heaven forfend.

Our concierge phoned a sports bar to see if they might have it on TV and kindly explained that this was the week of the Stanley Cup playoffs AND the world championship of hockey. Not to mention baseball season. But the folks at the bar said they would do their best and so we headed off to La Cage aux Sports, adjacent to the Bell Center. A zillion TVs, beer, wings, etc. All the TV’s were on hockey, of course, except a tiny one in the corner where they managed to find an NFL satellite feed. Disaster averted. DH was very grateful.

Back to tourism-related information. We took a bus tour set up through our hotel. It was about three hours and included major tourist sights: Mont Royal, Oratoire, Vieux Montreal, Notre Dame, sites of the Olympics and of Expo 67—including a great view of Habitat 67—and lots more. $36.00 each. Not too long ago, I would not have been caught dead on a bus tour. I have come around on my thinking, there were many sites included that I might have missed had I directed all the siteseeing. DH and I have a bad habit of stopping at a scenic café and then whoops, there goes the afternoon. On this trip, we were so way off season, there were not many tours to choose from. For further into the summer I saw brochures for boat tours, bike tours, and other interesting options.

One option that we passed on: the caleche tour (horse drawn carriages.) I was sure we would do this in both Quebec and Montreal. However, those horses reeked. You could smell them half a block away. So, no caleche for us.

Again, I had downloaded walking tours from Frommers.com. There are four of them. We used them for the Plateau area and for Old Montreal. I liked them both. They are easy to follow and contain lots of good information. Especially for the walk around the Plateau. There is no real sightseeing destination there so it is really just a walk down the city street, look into the shop windows, stop for a cup of coffee, do some people-watching, kind of tour. In other words, it’s great fun.

We also had a good time getting lost in the underground city. That place is a marvel and a great option if you have bad weather. It’s not just another mall. And you will get lost. The metro stations, themselves, are architecturally interesting and the people-watching opportunities are beyond compare.

The Old Montreal walking tour has a greater emphasis on the historical of course, and points out the buildings and houses that exemplify early life in the city. I especially liked the sailors’ church, with its model boats hanging from the ceiling. Also, we visited the Bonsecours Market. There is an odd mix of retail in there, not all great, but if you enter and then turn left to the far end of the building there is a very nice gallery of work by Quebecois craftsmen. Furniture, jewelry, pottery, all very fine.

We had three great dining experiences in Montreal. My favorite for being unlike anything I have experienced is L’Entrecote St. Jean. Their motto is “No surprises”, an understatement. The menu is exactly the same, seven days a week. You get soup (not a choice of soup, just soup.) Then you get a salad of Bibb lettuce and walnuts with vinaigrette. Then a strip steak and frites. Then for dessert, profiteroles. The only choice you get to make is this: you can skip the soup and dessert. It was all good and just so bizarre, everyone in the place eating the exact same meal. I loved it.

We also dined at L’Express. The real bistro experience. We shared foie gras to start then DH had roast quail and I had braised beef. The food was excellent, the service just right and our reservations were honored to the minute. One thing we noticed in all the Montreal restaurants we visited: everyone seems to be having such a good time. Serious chattering and enthusiasm for the food and the wine. Also, we saw no children in the restaurants. Not one. Dining is a grown-up sport. And although the clientele is almost exclusively French speaking, the waiters switched easily and graciously to English as soon as they detected we were struggling.

Our third great dining experience was at Au Pied de Cochon. This is a meat-eaters temple of gastronomy. I think of it as a vegetable-free experience but I exaggerate. They specialize in red meat slowly braised. And it is out of this world. When our entrees arrived my pied de cochon was such an enormous portion that I did not want it placed before me and begged dh to switch orders with me. We were sharing anyway so they put the braised lamb in front of me. Both were memorable. Somehow the waiter convinced us to try the sugar pie for dessert. It was worth it. One note, I think Frommer’s describes this place as moderately priced. With wine and two appetizers and the food I mentioned above, plus tax and tip, we spent about $200. Not moderate by my standards. But seriously good. I have read that this restaurant has a lighter summer menu. If any readers can report on this I would like to know about it.

I regret that we were unable to try the smoked meat at Schwartz. We just ran out of capacity—I mean, how much can one eat? But we did the next best thing, we hung around outside of it for a while and smelled it.

After dinner that evening we strolled around the Plateau area again, looking in the shop windows, until we came to Le Quai des Brumes, a bar with live performances, on Rue St. Denis. We stayed a while and listened to some music. Very nice crowd. Interesting performance.

And the next day we went home. Easy taxi ride to the airport. Despite doing the customs and immigration thing before the flight we were still way early. An uneventful flight and then we were back in the ATL.

It was a great trip and I hope I get to go back there soon.

Besides Fodor’s and Trip Advisor, the following resources were helpful:

New York Times travel section
London Times on line travel section
www.montrealfood.com
www.frommers.com
http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/
The Globe and Mail
Montreal Mirror
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Old May 5th, 2007, 03:16 PM
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Great stuff, olive_oil! I have permanently bookmarked you! Thanks.
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Old May 5th, 2007, 08:18 PM
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Hi, Olive Oil! Happy to hear that you had a great trip. Thanks for the wonderful report!
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Old May 6th, 2007, 02:18 AM
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Olive, thanks for posting the montreal part, you did it the right way and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Entrecote St. Jean is a place I go to every 2 months, an old standard when you want steak and frites, I do love the profiterolles.
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Old May 6th, 2007, 11:27 AM
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Thanks for your post Olive. My wife and I will be in Montreal mid-June and it was so timely to see your report trip.

Some questions though if you don't mind. How expensive was L'Express? Are they open for lunch and do you absolutely have to have a reservation?

Did you get a chance to go to Chalet du Mont-Royal? Read somewhere it's a must-see.

Thanks, Lucas
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Old May 6th, 2007, 12:16 PM
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Dear Lucas,
You are welcome. I hope you have a fine time in Montreal.
L'Express is open seven days a week if memory serves for both lunch and dinner.

Our concierge at the Omni phoned on a Sunday to make a reservation for Monday at eight o'clock. By ten o'clock the tables looked like they were opening up and there was space at the bar.

However--and this might be important--we were there at the end of April, you will be there in high season.

If you have made your hotel reservation, maybe they can book a table for you?

We spent $145 for dinner. That included a $30 foie gras appetiser, two mains, and one dessert, a bottle of wine and coffee.And tax. I thought it was a good value.

Sadly, we did not see the Chalet. But there are several "must see's" that we missed. But that's OK, it gives me something to plan for the next visit.

I hope you have a great time.
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Old May 7th, 2007, 05:17 PM
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Hi Olive_oil

I'm glad you appreciated Montreal; not everyone does. I live in the Plateau Mont-Royal district and despite the fact that it's home, there are days I still get swept up by the energy of the place. Vive Montréal!

DAN
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Old May 10th, 2007, 08:41 PM
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Olive_oil, I tremendously enjoyed both parts of your travel report! Oh, mann, oh, man, I can't wait till autumn! Your description of, and experience with DH at, L'Entrecote St Jean has inspired me to steer myself (pun intended) in the restaurant's direction. And your take on the caleches is priceless!!! I still plan to experience a horse-drawn carriage ride, but now I know to bring a clothespin. It's funny, but stench appears to be the last thing (if at all) that a person thinks of while planning to do an activity in a foreign place. But that's what I LOVE about your two travel reports -- you provided us with the five senses, even if they're all virtual, through your words. As they say in my part of town: That's sumthin'!!! Er, uh, Olive, if you feel like writing a postscript, I'm sure our fellow Fodorites would love to read even more.

gogoboots99
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Old May 12th, 2007, 06:44 PM
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Thanks, gogoboots, for the kind words.I am glad you enjoyed my comments.
I can't figue out the thing with the stinky horses. Maybe they get a good scrub down every year when it warms up. In that case they should be smelling sweeter soon.
I hope you have a good trip.
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