Christmas isn’t that big of a deal for my parents so for the past several, I’ve had untraditional ones. Last year I went down to Los Angeles to hang out with my brother and his girlfriend, which was great fun, and this year I had the chance to visit Mont Tremblant and Montreal.
A friend from college was kind enough to invite me along on a family ski trip. At first I was hesitant since I don’t ski, but then I saw on the website that there were lots of other activities — hiking, ice climbing, snowshoeing, dogsledding — and though what the heck.
Unfortunately for all those non-skiing activities you need snow, and when we got up there, there was zero. They did make fake snow for skiing and sledding, but not for anything else.
Of course I could have gotten out of my comfort zone and gone skiing, but I wasn’t feeling it. However, I did find other stuff to do.
Actually, it was more like a walk since it was a paved road. Either way it was lovely.
I ended up walking up to the casino (I peeked in though didn’t gamble), which felt like a trek but was less than two miles. It probably felt long because I wasn’t sure where I was going and there were few landmarks. It’s not like city walking where suddenly you realize you’ve walked five miles.
From the ski resort there’s a city bus that goes into the little towns between there and Montreal. A nice young woman at the information center recommended either the Old Village, although she said in the winter it was very quiet, or Saint-Jovite, which was more happening. I chose Saint-Jovite.
“Happening” is a relevant term. The town was cute and picturesque, but very small. I stopped in a few shops and walked back and forth a few times, basically killing time until the next bus. Unfortunately I wasn’t hungry, otherwise I would have eaten. The restaurants did look pretty good. But it was nice way to pass the time.
While I was waiting to meet my friend for lunch, I saw this African American woman having her picture taken. She had brightly colored hair — which was what caught my eye — and was just stunning. I thought, That looks like that actress from Law & Order who’s married to Garret Dillahunt. (Don’t ask me how I know this. Okay, I’ll tell you. I have a crush Garret Dillahunt.)
Then I realized it was the actress from Law & Order (and many other things) and I thought, Is Garret here too? As she passed me, I saw that he was (almost unrecognizable in all his ski gear) and like an idiot fan girl, I gave a little gasp. But of course I was too chicken to actually go up to them.
By the way, Garret was also disappointed about the lack of snow.
Getting down to Montreal
I had figured out that I needed take the same city bus I took to Saint-Jovite down to the stop where the Montreal bus picked up. But then my friend was kind enough to give me a ride.
Before we left, we had a chance to grab breakfast with her son, after which he and I pretended to stomp on a miniature village.
It had started snowing that morning (finally) so I was extra glad to have a ride. We got to the bus stop, which was at a Shell Station, in plenty of time for me to buy my ticket, for everyone to pee, and to get random snacks.
The bus was one of those big comfy ones, and it was packed. I got the very last seat, which was at first occupied by this guy’s giant duffel bag, but then I went to the driver, who asked the guy to move the bag.
While my seatmate came off as jerky at first, he was actually okay. Behind us were two of his friends, and after one got off, he sat with his friend so that for much of the ride I had a row all to myself. Except for the last 45 minutes that is. At that point, this large French Canadian man sat next to me, and was all insulted that I didn’t want to talk to him and wanted to listen to podcasts instead. Tough merde.
It took two and a half hours but felt very quick. Yay for podcasts!
In addition to having fun on this trip, I realized that I’m a total city girl and not big on physical activities (unless those activities involve running, hiking, or punching and kicking things). So Montreal was more up my alley.
A high school friend and I stayed at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. I picked it sort of randomly. The price was right and the ratings were good. Plus it was right in downtown Montreal.
I loved everything about the place and would recommend it. Our room was huge and everything seemed new and clean. Plus the customer service was excellent, from the front desk (who printed my train ticket at no charge) to the concierge to the guy who brought my room service.
We hit two museums during our stay. On Sunday we visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which was free for the holidays. It’s freaking enormous and confusing. I kept getting lost trying to get to the cafeteria to meet my pal.
I saw a few random things, including stuff about Napoleon, a couple of contemporary exhibits, some Dutch still lifes (which I’m a sucker for), and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. I would definitely go back to get a better handle on the place.
The food wasn’t bad either. I had a turkey sandwich, which was basic but hit the spot, and a panna cotta with caramel which was SO GOOD.
The other museum we went to was the Pointe-A-Calliere, also known as the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. It was pretty good although I liked it less than the art museum. I had read articles touting the underground ruins, but those were just okay. They were no catacombs.
I liked better the Agatha Christie exhibit. While I know Christie for her mysteries, I didn’t know much else about her or that she had such a fascinating life. I think I had heard about her 10-day disappearance, which turned out to be the result of her husband leaving her for a woman named Nancy Neele (Christie checked into a hotel under the name Mrs. Teresa Neele).
But I didn’t know she was an amateur archaeologist (hence, her exhibit at that particular museum), and that during a dig, she met the man who would be her second husband. Max Mallowan was an archaeologist and 14 years her junior. When they married, he was 28 to her 42, which to me is pretty awesome.
We ended up spending about five hours there, two and a half of which was lunch. Service was, shall we say, leisurely. But the food was very good: a nice salad, pasta in a cream sauce with Spanish ham, and for dessert this delicious kind of fruit and nut loaf as well as pannacotta, although this one wasn’t as good as the one at the art museum. All in all, an excellent way to spend a freezing cold day.
While Montreal Chinatown is nothing compared to New York or San Francisco, I still liked it. We didn’t have a sit down meal, but we did have steamed pork buns from Patisserie Harmonie. We had no idea the place was so popular. All we saw that it was cute and on the corner, and the wares in the window looked good.
So good in fact that the next morning, we stopped in again, this time for roast pork buns. Those were tasty too.
And if you’re ever in that area and need a place to pee (and thaw), stop in the pagoda-topped Holiday Inn. There’s a very welcoming lobby on the second floor with a restaurant and fish pond. After using the ladies’, we had our buns in warmth and comfort.
Need I say more?
Notre Dame Basilica and Old Montreal
We were lucky in that we got to see the Notre Dame Basilica at night and during the day. Unfortunately, the cold killed my phone battery so I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the beautiful blue-lighted angels. I did get plenty of inside shots however.
Walking around Old Montreal was fun although it was so damned cold. And it always somehow ended up being dark by the time we hit that part of town — although that’s not difficult when sunset starts at 4:30.
Poutine, bagels, and maple syrup
A trip to Montreal wouldn’t be complete without trying poutine, their bagels, and maple syrup.
The place we got the poutine was a random bar in Old Montreal. We’re guessing the poutine was good — we got it with cut up hot dogs — but we have nothing to compare it to. It wasn’t bad, that’s for sure.
After a whole day out and about in frigid temperatures, my friend was brave enough to go back out one evening for bagels. (I, on the other hand, stayed in and ordered room service.) She was also kind enough to give me one. It was good although sweeter than a New York bagel. Her theory was that they make them with less salt. It was also less dense.
Finally, we both tried something maple syrupy. She had the famed maple taffy, and I had a maple syrup candy. It didn’t suck.
The trip back
Monday night the city was hit with more snow, which got my bud and me both worried about our bus and train, respectively. However, we made it out in time, even if our trips took longer than they were supposed to.
I had gotten to the station pretty early so I managed to get a window seat, which while annoying for peeing, is good for phone charging. The first third of the trip was okay, even though we sat on the tracks for a good 45 minutes waiting for a freight train to pass. I had my podcasts, worked on my writing a little, and ate bad food from the cafe car (another hot dog!).
We got to the border pretty quickly. My seatmate had said that on the way up, they sat at the border for two and a half hours. I was glad she told me so my expectations were set.
While driving through the border was fast, being on a train took longer. The border police came on and checked every single person’s passport and asked a few questions.
Most went off without a hitch — that is, except for a woman in my car. I didn’t know anything was going on until the police made her get up and go either into the next car or the vestibule. She was protesting a lot in French, saying, “Non!” and “Pourquoi?!” At one point she was screaming. Her kids got very upset, crying and such.
Eventually it seemed like the whole family was getting up to leave, but then I think the dad told the kids to stay with the other adult relative who was with them. The kids cried some more, but eventually they calmed down. A border policeman said, “It’ll be okay. Your mom’s just going back to Canada.” They probably thought she was being sent to jail.
I still don’t know why she was kicked off. Maybe her passport was expired or maybe she overstayed her last visit. But Canadians generally don’t need a visa to visit the U.S. Whatever the reason, soon after that we got moving again.
In all we were about an hour and a half late. We were supposed to get in at 8:50 but got in at 10:30. I was going to be frugal and take the subway, but between my luggage and being exhausted, I splurged on a cab and was home before 11.
While I might not go to a ski resort again (since I don’t ski), I would definitely pay another visit to Montreal, especially after the weather warms up.