Late in the summer/early in the fall, the Boy and I started looking around to where we might go for our “long holiday weekend travelling” in the fall. One place we’d talked about for a while was going up to Canada – so close, and still technically foreign! And with the Veteran’s Day weekend providing me with some time off immediately after the election, we thought, “Hey – it’ll be a great joke, the whole ‘escaping to Canada’ thing.” And then it turned out to be less of a joke. Luckily no one in border security up there was worried we might try to stay forever, so it wasn’t an issue. We traveled up there most of the way on points from my credit card, and were potentially going to use the Boy’s Marriott points, but then we took into account the fact that the US dollar is worth about 33% more than the Canadian dollar, which means everything up there is technically a 25% discount on the advertised price. For retail goods, that’s often taken into account, but for things like food and hotels, it’s not as much, so we got to stay in a swanky hotel right downtown. The location was perfect for us, because we were able to walk pretty much everywhere, and we do love to walk.
We got in at a decent hour (plane landing at 6:30ish), and were in our room before 7:30. We got on Wifi immediately, and browsed around Open Table to see what had seating, and was nearby. We found this super cute and hipster restaurant a few blocks away called Monsieur Resto+Bar. It was adorably cozy, and at our dining time of 8pm, was relatively quiet (though would fill up a little as that Thursday evening went on). We each had a nice drink, and two courses each, and the price was definitely not bad at all taking that into consideration (remember – prices are 25% off when converting to USD). We didn’t feel rushed all evening and I got to enjoy my mussels while the Boy at risotto, and we had a great conversation with the restaurant manager about the cool DJ music that was playing while we ate! Very cool and recommended.
We slept late the next morning – VACATION! – and eventually made our way for a lunch/brunch. This pattern would hold for the entire trip, and made things even easier on the budget – two meals per day is less to pay for than three! We started off the day at Eggspectation – a Montreal chain that it turns out has 6 locations in the greater-DC area (among others)! They have a large menu with lots of yummy looking breakfast foods. I got a meat lovers omelette and a pink smoothie (yum!) while the Boy had some kind of crepe (can’t find it on the menu), coffee and a side pancake that turned out to be too much, but we picked away at anyways because of the maple syrup. It was a fun experience, and knowing that they’re also nearby means maybe we’ll go back!
Since I didn’t have time to do a full crazy-lady-travel-spreadsheet per usual, I purchased my preferred brand of guide book – the Frommer’s Day by Day for Montreal. I like that they give you lots of interesting walking tour options, especially for different areas of the city and different interests. It led us around to a bunch of different places downtown, and we got some inside scoop that we would not have known just walking around by ourselves. I loved this garden by the Christ Church Cathedral in the middle of the city.
We spent the bulk of the afternoon touring the McCord Museum, which is part of McGill University. It’s a fascinating museum that looks at Native cultures, as well as history of the city and interesting rotating exhibits. The one that was on while we were there (and is there until the end of March 2017) is an exhibition of photographs by William Notman, who was a premier photographer in the city in the mid-late 1800s. It was fascinating to see the different portraits he did of people in a variety of walks of life, professions, and areas of the city and country. Definitely something to check out if you’ll be in Montreal soon.
When we’d see as much as we could at the museum, we got a quick coffee (for him) and hot chocolate (for me) pick-me-up at Second Cup (a chain my cousin who lived in McGill used to love), and then made a trek up Mont Royal. This sort of mini-mountain in the center of town is a large park, with lots of walking trails, and is closed to vehicular traffic for the most part. It’s a lovely quiet space in the center of town, and the view of the city at Sunset is supposed to be terrific. We got there a few minutes after sunset proper, but it was still quite beautiful. From the city-viewing point, we walked over in the dark towards the large electrically-lit cross that sits on the top of the mountain. It was…an experience. And large. Note to other prospective sunset-hikers: give yourself plenty of time. The trails that go to the top can be steep in places, especially if you’re trying to make good time. Also make sure that your battery is charged, as you might need your phone’s flashlight feature if you’re making your way down in the dark.
Deciding that we wanted to work on our Untappd Canadian Beer Badge (The Great White North), we made our way to a bar that the internet told us had good nibbles as well (since it would be our dinner). We found Brutopia to be a fun spot, and if we’d stayed longer, there would have been live music. The beer was excellent, there was a variety of tapas-style foods (the Boy was very disappointed their Samosa guy hadn’t shown up that day), and we sat cozily in a side room trying interesting new Canadian beers (not just Labatt!) and chatting. Highly recommended.
The next morning started late again, so we looked for someplace fun for brunch. That turned out to be Cafe Parvis, a few blocks away. It was ridiculously cute inside (lots of plants and medical models in a large open space with lots of windows), and the food was good too. I chowed down on ridiculously perfect Banh mi sandwich, and even my chai latte was decorated with an adorable leaf. They’re a little difficult to find, down what appears to be an alley, and from some angles their door is hidden behind a dumpster/container thing, but it’s worth the trip if you can make it. And sitting at the bar is always a good choice.
From there we made our way towards the Old Port area, which is where almost all of the historic buildings are located. We went inside the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, which was beautiful inside – all glowing blue with gold stars painted on the ceiling. The stained glass around the sanctuary tells the history of Montreal both historical and religious, so that’s neat. There’s also a beautiful chapel behind the main sanctuary that’s done up in golden-colored woods with a bronze altarpiece, so the entire room is just warm and glowing in a completely different way. It’s not too expensive – just $5 CAD per person, which goes towards maintaining and restoring their beautiful artwork.
Walking around the Old Port area doing one of the Frommer’s walks was quite fun too, and I can imagine that in warmer weather, there would be more to do (there are lots of places to rent boats or go out on the river), and it would be more pleasant with a warm breeze instead of a chilly one. It was still quite pretty, and it was nice to be down by the river.
After doing our walking tour we made our way to the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, which I loved. They had some terrific archaeological exhibits, and a terrific multimedia show that incorporated an open archaeological site into the presentation. I feel like I learned more from that museum than I did anywhere else, and there was so much to see. We only left because we didn’t think we could get through another exhibit before closing time!
Also FYI – if you’re interested in really yummy coffee shop offerings and food in an amazing repurposed space (this time an old bank) – look no further than Crew Collective. Service may have been slow, and there were no places to sit, but that’s because there were SO MANY PEOPLE. It was legit good. Not only that, but there were two different weddings taking pictures with bride and groom in the entryway while we were there. I don’t blame them. It’s gorgeous (this is their ceiling).
We happened to be in town during Restaurant Week, and lucked into a reservation at Beaver Hall, which was jam-packed. It made me glad I’d reserved in advance! The space was so cozy, and the menu limited for the evening, but we had so much fun, and the food was so good. I pretty much overate, but it was worth it. Both the Boy’s beef tartar, and my Parmesan-arugula risotto were perfection.
We had a mid-day departure the next day, but we still had the chance to experience one more uniquely-Montreal thing at the airport – Bagels! The Bagel Bar near gate 79 serves fresh St-Viateur bagels by themselves, or in many kinds of sandwich configurations. A perfect way to end the trip.
Got any questions? Have you been to Montreal before? What did we miss? I’m sure there’s a lot, but the weekend was just too short!