A long weekend in Montreal: Art, oysters and high wire acts
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
After four weeks of being home, we were ready to hit the road again. This time, for a car trip.
We'd visited Montreal a few years ago, and loved the city, so we couldn't wait to go back. We are fortunate that this great, international city is only a 5 hour drive from us, and the ride there was full of foliage turning colors, so it was a beautiful the entire way. Crossing the border was easy-peasy - we showed our vaccine cards, the results of our COVID test, and cruised to Montreal.
The weekend forecast wasn't in our favor, but we arrived that afternoon prepared to weather any storm: umbrellas, rain hats, and rain jackets had been packed. The skies were gray but we still managed to have a late lunch outside in old town, a beautiful, cobblestoned part of the city that is reminiscent of being in Europe - the French being spoken all around helps to stoke the illusion! We loitered in old town before heading to dinner in the Latin Quarter and calling it a night.
As a lover of anything sweet, I couldn't wait to have the almond croissants at Mamie Clafoutis the next morning for breakfast, although, once we were there it was difficult to choose between all of the gorgeous pastries in the case. But we did, and I went with my original almond choice while Joe had a warm pistachio croissant fresh from the oven. They were insanely good (which is why we'd return again the next morning for more!). If you love fresh baked breads and pastries, this is a must do.
After breakfast we took our time strolling back toward old town, and, as luck would have it, eventually walked right past St. Viateur Bagel. We'd heard about the Montreal "bagel wars" - which basically means people have a very strong allegiance toward one of two of the most popular shops (and rivals) - St. Viateur Bagle or Fairmount Bagel. What makes a Montreal-style bagel different from a NY bagel or others? It's smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser with a larger hole, and it's always wood-fired.
This seemed like a great time to grab a small lunch before heading to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for the afternoon. Joe ordered his bagel with salmon, capers, onions and cream cheese, and I just had mine with cream cheese - we gave them both a thumbs up. Another great find.
On our way to the museum the rain started. Good thing we came prepared, because it didn't stop. For hours. Fortunately, we don't melt in the rain and it was kind of cool. The museum lobby has a glass-topped ceiling and we could see the sheets of rain sliding down all afternoon as we wandered from floor to floor and exhibit to exhibit.
The museum was a total surprise because it has such a huge diversity of art - from ancient Egyptian pieces to contemporary and video installations. But the coolest exhibit for us was The World of Yousuf Karsh. A world-renowned portrait photographer, Karsh has captured some of the most well-known people of our time on film - from Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill to Georgia O'Keefe and Princess Grace. He held over 15,312 sittings during his career and produced over 370,000 negatives! The exhibit included his words about each of the people he photographed and his session with them. Soooo awesome. It also reminded us that the art and exhibits we always enjoy the most always seem to be portraits (one of our most favorite museums ever is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh).
Toward the end of our museum visit we were able to contribute our own art, albeit with markers on paper. A local theater group was asking visitors to share their impressions of one of the exhibits by making drawings and other creations. Joe tapped his inner artist and went to work.
We stayed until the museum closed but had a few hours to kill before dinner, so on our walk back to the hotel, Joe searched his phone for a bar nearby where we could get out of the rain and have a pre-dinner cocktail.
When he finally looked up and told me he found a place, we knew it was meant to be. My favorite French word is pamplemousse - it's just so much fun to say. It means grapefruit, a fruit I don't even like, but I love saying that word! The place Joe found for us to park ourselves for a bit to dry off: Bar Pamplemousse.
Well, not only did we stay long enough to dry off, we also stayed long enough to take advantage of their incredible happy hour special: 12 oysters for $20 (Canadian)!!! They were sooooo good, which is why we had to order two rounds of oysters, and several cocktails to wash them down. It was just drizzling by the time we finally left, and it was so late we decided to head straight to dinner in old town at Restaurant Ghandi. The Indian food was delicious and a great way to end our soggy, wet, gray day.
The next morning we awoke to blue skies! This was welcome, because we'd planned to ride bikes up Mount Royal. There are times when you just hit your head and think, "obviously!" when you learn new things. This is what happened when I finally realized that Mount Royal, the small mountain that rises from the West of downtown Montreal, is thought to be the origin for the city's name. Makes sense!
After another almond croissant we rented bikes at the Bixi stand nearly and rode toward the mountain, passing McGill University on our way. Wow, what a beautiful campus right at the foot of Mount Royal!
This is where I admit we overestimated our desire to ride up a hill that steep, and eventually turned around in the direction of the waterfront instead (downhill all the way)! But we did walk to the top the last time we visited and it's beautiful, the view over the city is not to be missed, it's a large park with walking paths and ponds (and even a restaurant), and is definitely a must do when there. Here's a pic from last time to give you an idea.
He had no net or harness! It was really nerve wracking watching him do this, but he made it back and forth and we all cheered. What a neat, unexpected sight to see! Watch it and see.
Once again, though, Mother Nature had other plans for us. Our bike ride ended sooner than we wanted when the rain returned. We decided to call it a day. On our way back to the hotel we grabbed a few bottles of wine (with screw caps - the corkscrews we always travel with were in our other bags) and headed back to the hotel to watch the Patriots take on the Cowboys.
It poured on us on the way back but since it would be our last walk through the city, we didn't really mind getting wet one last time. We ended our few days in Montreal cheering on our football team (tough loss) and with another new travel learning that will serve us well in the future: when choosing which wine to drink first, always start with the good bottle, it makes the one that comes after seem not so bad. Yes, the first bottle we opened was...meh. So we put it aside to breathe and it tasted so much better during the fourth quarter (when we were washing down the bitter taste of defeat).
Montreal is an amazing international city, and if you're lucky enough to live within driving distance (even if you're not!), it should definitely be on your list of cities to visit. You won't regret it and you'll get a little taste of Europe so close to home!
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