Reuniting with an old love: Montreal

I was booking a air miles reward ticket to go to Greece for my friend M’s wedding.  As I looked through my options on one jumped out at me….. it involved a layover in Montreal!!  Hmmmm, lets see what I can do with that!  I immediately booked it, and got on the phone to the United Airlines Premier assistance number.  Thankfully, all of last year’s work travels bumped me up into Silver Premier status, which means I get a real person on the phone a little bit faster.  I asked about extending my layover for a couple of days, and I was told that would be no problem.  Yay!!

First things first: put in my request to extend my vacation by 2 more days at work.  Check.

Next, contact my friends in Montreal…. ladies & gents, I’m headed your way!!  I weigh my options…. stay downtown in a hotel, over a bridge and a 20 minute drive out-of-town with friends, or a couple of stops away from downtown in Westmount with other friends.  After weighing my options, I settled on Westmount, and then all I had to do was wait for my vacation and figure out what I wanted to see & do with my 2 days in Montreal!!

A vacation pic someone posted online who clearly had a different purpose for visiting than I did!

Now, mention Montreal to men (boys?) of a certain age and who hail from certain parts of the US and Canada, and a slightly creepy smile forms on their face as they think back to some stripper they saw on some bachelor party trip, because Montreal certainly does offer its fair share of sex shows, strip clubs, and other adult businesses, so it is quite popular for bachelor parties & boys only weekends.  And from what I’m told, you’re allowed to touch the women a little more freely (for a charge, if you spring for a “contact dance”) than you are normally allowed in the US.  Plus, for young Americans, the fact that the drinking age is 18 not 21 is definitely a draw, so I’m sure that draws some groups for “guys weekends” starting at a young age!  But Montreal offers so much more than this, and for those who only know the seedier side of Montreal: you’re really missing out.  The Montreal I fell in love with years ago is a culturally rich, cosmopolitan city with food, wine, beer and music festivals abounding.  There’s always something to see, there’s always something to do.  There’s something for everyone!

I got lucky and realized that I would be in Montreal just in time for the kick-off of the famous Montreal Jazz Festival!  Bonus!!  I would have a chance to visit old friends, reunite with my old love: Montreal, stop by my old haunts from my University days AND walk around Jazz Fest.  All just an appetizer for my real vacation: my trip to Greece & Turkey?  Am I a lucky Chitalian or what??? 🙂

Day One: Finally my trip was upon me.  I got to the airport early, and since my flight was delayed, I had breakfast at a little Mexican Bar/Restaurant at the airport.  What the heck, this is vacation…. yes, thank you waitress, I will have a Bloody Mary with my breakfast quesadilla!  Tastes even better knowing that most people are at work while I drink it!

I’m on my flight, and get to Montreal.  I take a cab to my friends’ house, and we have a drink and figure out our plans for the evening.  We head over to a great Middle Eastern grocery store I’ve never been to before, and get some pre-marinated meats to grill up for dinner, and a few hours later, I’m hanging out with old friends and having a lovely little BBQ dinner.  Ahhhhh, starting vacation off right!

Day Two: My second day in Montreal.  What to do with myself?  I decide to go downtown, and download a Metro map onto my phone….. I haven’t been in Montreal for a while, so I can’t remember the Metro layout, and refuse to look like a tourist, breaking out a paper map or standing in front of the map at the Metro stations, so the phone lets me discreetly double-check my plans without looking like an outsider.  Silly vanity, I suppose.  I hop on the Metro, and get off at the Peel Metro stop.  I go and meet an old friend for lunch at m:brgr – a fancy and delicious burger place.  I’m immediately a fan.  I have a local cider named Mystique– another thing I immediately became a fan of!

The Word – used book store on Milton Street

Milton Street entrance to the McGill campus, where the wrought iron Milton Gates used to be

My friend and I catch up over lunch and a walk around the McGill “ghetto” (not a ghetto in the traditional sense – just the name of the neighborhood adjacent to the university campus that has been overtaken by students).  I am saddened by the removal of the old Milton gates to campus, but heartened by the sight of the buildings I used to live in, various depaneurs (aka convenience stores) and restaurants in the area that I knew and loved over a decade ago when I lived here.  Even the used bookstore that I used to go to buy textbooks is still there!

Day Three:  Only a partial day in Montreal because I have to leave (or rather attempt to leave…. see my departure drama story in this previous post) for Greece in the evening for the real vacation.  But I must make the most of it!  I go downtown and walk around for a while, and make sure to get some quality things going on: dim sum with a couple of friends; meet up with some others and walk around Jazz Fest and do a little bit of shopping.  Sadly, too soon it is time to depart for the airport and I say goodbye to my friends and my old love, Montreal.

But just because MY trip there is now over (hopefully to be repeated soon), that doesn’t mean that I can’t give some suggestions to anyone else who is lucky enough to be headed towards Montreal!  Here are some of my favorites!  If you get to head to Montreal, check’em out on my behalf!

The apartment building near campus that I used to live in

Now, because I lived in Montreal when I was pretty young, my favorite Montreal restaurants are the cheap ones and not anything particularly fancy.  I tend to skip the pizza place that was on the ground floor of my building – not bad, and definitely cheap, but not something to go out of your way to have!  But there are other spots that nostalgia keeps bringing me back to. Some of my Montrealer friends mock me for this and try to get me to go to more “grown up” places, but nonetheless, these are some of my favorite haunts that I try to visit whenever I get back:

– Dim Sum at La Maison Kam Fung
EuroDeli for the ham & cheese calzone
Amelio’s Pizza for their Reuben Pizza.  I know.  Reuben pizza doesn’t sound so good, right?  But trust me….it’s great!  Everyone I’ve forced to try it has quite enjoyed it! 🙂
Gert’s bar on the McGill Campus for a local draft beer (perhaps a Bierbrier?)  When I was a student, Thursday night was the night to go….. not sure if that’s still the case.  You’d have to ask a current McGill student about that!

The McGill Arts Building

This time around I didn’t make all of my spots (though I did get my Reuben pizza and got my Dim Sum on!)  Some other tips for visiting Montreal?

  • The Biodome is one of my favorite attractions in Montreal.  They’ve recreated five different ecosystems indoors and you can walk around and experience them all.  My favorite part is the puffins – just super-cool animals!
  • Just walking around the Old Port
  • Cirque du Soleil in Old Montreal
  • Shopping downtown for the bigger chain stores (some of my favorite Canadian clothing companies include Tristan & America – a great place to buy work clothing for men & women; Roots for leather goods and casual clothing; Jacob for women’s clothing; BCBG, which we have in the US, but somehow I always manage to find nicer pieces in Montreal.)  I usually start on St. Catherine’s street, and go in and out of the malls that are connected underground.
  • More shopping around St. Laurent street, for small boutiques with more trendy, fashionable clothing.
  • La Ronde, a Six Flags amusement park which is great for kids of all ages!
  • Casino de Montreal for a little gambling, if that’s your thing.  This is where I first learned how to play blackjack, and I even walked away with $50 – which is a lot to a college kid!
  • Smoked Meat at Schwartz’s Deli
  • Mount Royal Park – back when I was in school, people would go on the weekends for the tam-tams, and impromptu jam session of bongos.  It was a very hippie, laid back vibe that was always a good time.  Not sure if that is still going on today though.
  • Notre Dame basilica in Old Montreal, a beautiful church, known for being where Celine Dion got married and for being a place where Pavarotti has performed.
  • If it is winter, and you’re a skier, you should head out to a favorite spot of mine: Mont Tremblant.  Good skiing!  If you’re a novice there are some smaller, cheaper mountains that are closer to Montreal and not as busy, but Tremblant is a good balance of basic runs and more challenging runs, good skiing as well as good apres-ski.  Overall, Tremblant is a great mountain!

If you get a chance to visit Montreal, enjoy these on my behalf please!!

Your Montreal-loving,

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