To those that don’t know me, the recount of my vacation seems painfully dull. Cristin and I flew on Sunday morning from Chicago to Montreal. We caught the 747 bus from the airport to UQAM (Berri Metro station) and walked the last few blocks to our hotel. We stayed on St Denis between Ontario and Sherbrooke. For me, this is the center of the city. Arguably, Ste Catherine and St Laurent, or some cross street with St Laurent, are the actual center of the city. Okay, I looked this up, it seems the “Center” is where St Laurent hits the St Lawrence.
Day one, check in to the hotel, eat at Hvor (Griffintown). Hvor was one of those gastronomie places. Cristin likes them. I am a fan of all foamed vegetables. This was what seemed to be an exhausting experience for our hosts, as the exposition and explanation stye required of waiters in fine dining is very difficult to translate. Sure, I can flip carrot into carrote or even into zanhorria, but sweet bread and sweetbread are to a gourman quite distinct… and it’s hard to distinguish between glutinous goodness and cooked brains (in fairness, it’s evident on the plate). It was a bit pricey for me, but thanks to the looneys depreciation in dollar terms, my fancy dinner was about $90… we walked there. It’s a hike from the latin quarter. Trying to identify a train station downtown was also a fun time. If there’s one thing Montreal has more of than sex shops, it’s “brother can you spare a dime” types. “Entshuldigung, ich kanne nicht Franzoisich verstehen” is a good retort that keeps them from bouncing back in English from a curt rebuttal.
Day two, up the hill. We walked from the hotel to avenue des pins along rue st denis, then across the Parc Jeanne Mance into the Parc Mont Royal. Cristin’s footwear prevented very creative shortcuts, and some time later we arrived at Beaver Lake and the Chalet. While we could see the St Joseph Oratoire, we never made it there, coming down Ch Cote des Neiges, into Westmount. We had lunch at the Moose Bawr, being fooled by an icon that looked to use like ‘beer, donuts, hot dogs’, but was ‘beer, music, hot dogs’. I ordered a Shakira, it was chorizo on guacamole with onion and pork rinds on top. We waled from there to Peel St Station, then hopped the metro, transferring at UQAM/Berri to go to the market at Jean Talon. Sadly, as a tourist with the full power of a 4 cup cuisinart coffee pot and the US customs fruit beagle to fool, a giant aubergine or beautiful basket of fruit was out of my reach. When I was in seattle, the man I bought potatoes from at the market complained the same, “Tourists don’t buy groceries”. There are a lot of flowers and oddities vendors at Pike Place.
Day three, down the hill. We went down Saint Denis, then down St Laurent, into the old city. A very short stroll around the Ramezay estate was disappointing, but revealed the existence of a few varieties of melon and courges that I was unaware of. The second historical reenactment voice (Mme Ramezay) was pressed in Deustch, it was fun, we were leaving. There are a few pear trees, some flowers, some celerey in the potager, and some signs with voiceover explanations. The historic parts of Vieux Montreal, along with broad swathes of the rest of the city, have the orange contstruction signs up. As a pedestrian, this means that on any given commercial artery, you might end up switching sides every four to six blocks. I’m cool with that. Big parts of the accesses to the eastern parts of Rue St Paul, particularly around the Marche Bon Secours, were discouraging. We ended up along Commune and walked the canal Lachine bike path to Charlevoix. The canal is cool, quite a few locks are traversable on foot, the arm-piston part that controls the gate doors are quite accessible, there are spill-overs alongside in an alternate channel that remind me of the salmon ladder in Ballard at the locks, and the canal is undergoing a very gradual post-industrial revitalization. The city seems to highlight each of these new condo developments with a marker about the business that had been there, meaning that the least understandable edifices are the buildings still serviceable for a purpose, but abandoned, not yet converted to residential use. We made it to the Atwater Market (which is less exciting than the Jean Talon Market), Cristin picked up a few gifts. We walked back, as it was getting to be the start of rush hour. It’s a small hike. Cristin said the first day was 26000 steps from her fitbit, and this time the fitbit was missing. We walked up St Laurent for dinner, and ended up at a Thai place. Eggplant and Tofu.
Day Four, Cristin took a flight back, I was on my own. I walked around from 10AM to noon, then stopped at the room to clean up and change shoes. I had walked to Ste Catherine and Atwater, then back, as a three day pass here is not a seventy two hour pass. I tried to swipe in at a turnstyle at Atwater, it told me to guess again. I thought about going to Parc Jean Drapaeu on Ile Ste Helene, but buying a pass for the train there was not working from a kiosk, and I walked away instead. I walked down to the old city, up to McGill, saw a bookstore (The Word), walked on hoping to find a lunch that wouldn’t bother me, walked around some more, got back to the hotel, went up to Mamie Clafoutis for a Chocolatine aux Pistaches (oh, this was good, and I fear to try the “Oh Mon Dieu” pastry). Walked around, up through the village and under the bridge, back down into downtown, back to the hotel. I decided I would go back to the bookstore, having eaten, and snagged second hand copies of ‘Jacobs Room’ and ‘The Human Stain’. I read a bit… then walked up and down St Denis for a few hours debating what to eat. Eating alone is kind of a bother, and all of the bars here are kind of trendy, or very sportif (full of tv’s), or both, so finding a place where you can get a quiet table to consume carbs and wine or beer was a bit of a challenge… Let’s just say I saw Rue DuLuth more than once tonight, and then settled on takeout poutine and takeout wine. For anyone who’s never been to Montreal, basically every commercial street, and half of the residential ones, are blessed with a depanneur, which is like a convenience store with a cooler. While you can buy alcohol from the SAQ (provincial liquor board store) you can get wine and beer (and whatever) from a depanneur in most of the neighborhoods. If you’re at a seedy hotel, bank on one being on your block.
Day five has not yet happened. I need to get up, pack bags, check out, and get to the Gare des Autocars to catch a bus. Not yet sure if I need to buy the ticket at the Berri station or if that’s going to happen at the bus station. My fight’s at 1:30, so I’m thinking be at the airport at 12:00 and be on the bus at 11AM (it should not take that long, but why risk it). Time to get some Z’s and set an alarm.