This place confuses me. The clash of cultures is even greater than one you will find in New York City, and the food? It’s better. What do you do when it’s autumn and you have 36 hours in Montreal? Everything. Embrace this city by doing everything. Get ready to clock in 10-12 miles a day of walking because that’s what you do here.
Time for breakfast, and what’s for breakfast? Bagels. But Natalie, why would you eat a bagel when you should be enjoying a croissant or some other delicious pastry? It’s quite simple, the Montreal bagel isn’t quite a bagel by NYC standards, but in my opinion it’s something special. You can’t compare this to any other bagel you’ve ever tasted. Boiled, wood fired, then covered in sesame seeds. It’s chewy like a pretzel, but the flavor is all it’s own. Delicious when loaded up with smoked salmon, onions, tomatoes, and capers…My favorite? Just butter with a hint of salt. There’s nothing better in this world. There are two places to pick up bagels in Montreal. St. Viateur and Fairmount. While I am partial to Fairmount, I love the little St. Viateur cafe up near Mont Royale. It’s a lovely sit down breakfast experience. When you order a bagel sandwich it is always accompanied by fresh fruit and the best coffee. Despite the fact that it’s a bagel, you feel like you’re in a Parisian cafe. When you want to bring dozens of bagels back across the border go to Fairmount, you’ll thank me later.
Le Marche Jean-Talon! If there is a better foodie destination this side of the Mississippi please tell me about it. The produce is so fresh it will bring you to tears. Charcuterie which will make your mouth water, fresh bread around every corner, pastries unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and the cheese. Lets talk cheese. If you know anything about Canadian history you know that Quebec is only an honorary Canadian province. The Quebecoise are French by all means and have a tumultuous past with the rest of Canada. Canada holds onto Quebec by letting them do whatever they please. The laws in Quebec are so different, and here is the greatest law. In Canada raw milk cheese is not allowed to be sold, the exception is made for Quebec, and it is my favorite exception. I over-indulge on cheese whenever in Quebec to the point where my stomach is in knots from too much lactose. I am what you call lactose sensitive, and I simply could care less.
We haven’t eaten for five whole minutes…time to eat more! Montreal’s Chinese Quarter is full of delicious eats. The best food isn’t Chinese, but Vietnamese. Pho Tai is one of those simple foods that could make the most bitter person smile. Along with some bubble tea we were good to go.
The Chinese Quarter is also located conveniently close to the Old Port section. One of the most popular watering holes in Montreal is Three Brewers. The one in Old Port was filled with cruise ship tourist, but we had fun anyway. Anton drank a liter of beer which was bigger than his head, I went with a reasonably sized half liter. We sat there for hours enjoying our time away. Our beer tour continued at my personal favorite Montreal brewery on Rue St. Denis, L’Amere a Boire. Montreal is becoming well known for the high quality beer they turn out. So long as you drink, this is something you can’t miss. L’Amere a Boire also has incredibly reasonably priced food which makes it a great place for a quick snack. I went with my usual pretzel with beer cheese.
The reason we wanted to visit Montreal was to enjoy the renowned Festival of Light which occurs every fall in the Montreal Botanical Gardens. We managed to secure some of the last times available for the evening. We had no idea, but this is something you need to book ahead. While waiting for the sun to set in the gardens something amazing happened, Anton and I announced our engagement to the world! I can’t describe in words how happy we are to be spending the rest of our lives together.
If you’ve never seen the Botanical Gardens in Montreal, get in your car now…no seriously, now. These gardens are drop dead gorgeous and wonderfully maintained. I could spend an entire day enjoying them, but I will settle for sunset and twilight. The alpine garden is my favorite obviously.
Finally, we can see the Festival of Light. It begins in the Chinese Gardens which I never saw on my last trip to Montreal, they were closed for renovations. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to view the gardens for the first time. The lanterns were elaborate, they floated on a pond surrounded by pavilions which are traditional to a Chinese garden. It was like a tranquil little city. A vendor sold moon cake and jasmine tea, and a musician played one of my favorite instruments, a guzheng, which is a type of zither. I entered the pavilion which she was playing in and listened. Most people went in for a song, then left, but I could have sat there all night. She transported me.
Soon after we entered the First Nation Garden, a beautiful homage to Native Americans. We heard the sound of drumming and were greeted by a simple show of light and sound which portrayed the cycle of life. The canvas? A simple tree, Anton and I were completely at awe.
At this point we were exhausted. After a tour of the understated, yet elegant Japanese garden we left for the train. This festival is totally worth the drive alone.
Saturday night in Montreal at dinner? Normally I would say dinner at L’Express or another French bistro in Old Port is always a good option. After an hour of traversing up and down Rue St. Denis we came up dry and ended up going to a grocery store near the metro station. We made a salad and ate french fries for dinner. Better than going hungry! Still we probably should have made a reservation that morning before setting out. If you’re looking for a casual restaurant, no reservation necessary, but L’Express is one of the most popular restaurants in Montreal. We were silly to think it would clear out by 9pm.
When in Canada we make a point to go to a nordic spa. I know what you’re thinking, too expensive. Wrong, we got an incredible brunch and four hours of bath access for less than the price of a day of skiing. Admittedly, the spas in Montreal are far more expensive than the ones further out of town, and I would call them overpriced… However, nothing is more rejuvenating than a full thermal cycle. Hot (Sauna or hot tub) for 15 minutes, cold (pool or shower) 10-20 seconds, rest (take a nap in a hammock) 30 minutes, and repeat. The brunch wasn’t a sausage, pancake, scrambled egg affair. Instead it was the finest smoked salmon, impossibly fresh fruits, to die for pastries, and everything else you’d expect to find at a fancy brunch. Mimosa included! There’s something satisfying about sitting in a spa robe, gorging yourself, and planning how you will further indulge yourself. No pictures or cell phones allowed in this spa!
Time to say “au revior Montreal” and hello Burlington, VT! On the way out I spent my remaining Canadian cash on…bagels. Not leaving without them, or kinder surprise eggs. They’re so much fun. Food and a flight at Citizen Cider was followed by a stroll in downtown. Last time Anton and I were here we ended up drinking our way through Burlington on our way to Ottawa. It is VERY easy to do that here. We had a kitty to get back to so maybe next time Burlington.