Back from Canada! Here’s the breakdown, me hearties:
Left the house at 6am, gassed up the car, put some air in the tires, and ate some McDonald’s (mmmm… those biscuts are to die for). Then… lots of driving. Out Route 2, up Interstate 91 in Vermont, and then up Interstate 89 (also in Vermont). Whew! What a long drive that was! Thank goodness for cruise control. The Keithmobile handled the ride quite well (as you would expect), keeping pace even up the steep, steep hills of the Green Mountains. Eventually, near St. Albans VT, I let Amanda drive. Shortly thereafter, we got to the border crossing. (We were closer than I thought, but I was tired, damnit!) So, after about a half an hour wait to get through the border, we were on our way on Canadian route 133. From there, Amanda got us a bit lost with her amazing driving skills, but we made it into Montreal anyway. By this time, I had taken over driving, and Amanda tried to guide me to our hotel, but she took too many turns and didn’t really know where we were going, so we spent some time dodging the local traffic.
Let me just say that Canadians drive REALLY FREAKIN FAST. That, and they simply DO NOT give way AT ALL. I thought Boston drivers were rude, and they are, but Canadians are rude AND oblivious. It’s a dangerous combination.
So we finally made it to our first hotel… Comfort Inn. It was too early to check in (being about 1pm) so we parked in the hotel parking lot ($15, Canadian though) and walked around downtown. It’s an interesting city, but I was a bit bedazzled and didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.
A strange note about Montreal… something I noticed right away was the abundance… almost the exclusiveness… of *cue music* the beautiful people, the beautiful people (dun nun nun…) *end music*. Now, I’m being serious here – there were just too many good looking people there, male and female. It made me feel a bit out of place! And the french – oh god the french!! Everything in bloody french!! The bigger places had english as a “subtitle”, on signs and menus, but many places simply had French only. Wacky!
We ended up having lunch at a place called “Dunns,” suposedly world-renowned for its (get ready for it) smoked meat. Yes, that’s right – Canadians have this strange love for “smoked meat.” I don’t know what kind of meat it is, but it’s smoked, and supposedly very good. I had a smoked beef salami sandwich, and man, was it good. The meat, and I’m serious here, was like 2 inches – and the slices were thin, so that’s a lot of slices! Tasty though. The waiter greeted us with “bonjour-hello”, apparently a common greeting used to figure out what language you speak. Useful information, indeed.
So after doing some more window shopping and exploring of downtown, we went back to our room (exhausted, we didn’t sleep enough the night before) and napped. The city was busy, too… the Montreal Film Festival was in town for the weekend.
That night we decided to go out somewhere interesting for dinner. Using Amanda’s Lonely Planet guide book, we selected a little bistro. Little did we know we’d have to walk a bit to get there… le Metro only came so close to this place, which was kind of on the outskirts of the city. Needless to say, I had made a reservation, not knowing how busy it would be… and of course when the guy answered the phone I had no idea what he was saying, so I just figured “what the hell” and started speaking in English, hoping that he’d understand. Thankfully, though, he did. (this became my modus operendi for the entire trip, since I was too embarrased to say “parle vou Engles?” or whatever.)
The bistro turned out to be a REAL nice little bistro, with wood floors and intimate little tables. Amanda and I dined by candlelight, drinking some supurb red wine and snacking (to start) on little bread slices and salmon mousse – which was surprisingly good. Then, the main course… I had a wonderful steak, marinated in some insanely good port wine sauce (I think, the menu was in French after all). It was SO tender, and it came with some dijon mustard, which I tried (after trying the steak without it of course). It was also GOOD. What a kick it gave the steak! My mouth still waters thinking about it.
I should mention at this point that pretty much EVERYTHING we ate in Montreal was 10x better than you could get back here in the states without spending a fortune at someplace like, say, Maison Rober in Boston or something.
Anyway, dinner was fantastic – the waiter was SO nice, we gave him a HUGE tip… as in, bill + tax = $75, we tipped him another $25 to round it off to $100. That’s like a 33% tip! But he was REALLY nice, he even gave me another glass of wine (we got the wine by the glass) for free. And it’s something special when the waiter lets you taste the wine before you accept it. He even opened the bottle RIGHT THERE for us! Amazing!
Amanda had a remarkable lamb dish, but I can’t speak for it as I didn’t eat it. But she said it was GOOD as well. Naturally!
So then we went back to the hotel and to bed – and thus ends “Day one.”
We rose somewhat early and headed out to find bagels – apparently there’s a different kind in Montreal, not at all like what you’re probably used to. They’re soft and a bit sweet and thinner than “New York” style bagels, but honestly, I didn’t care for them. Amanda did, however… there may still be some bagels in a bag somewhere around here, but if Amanda finds them, they won’t be around for long.
After breakfast we went back to the hotel and checked out. Now we were on our own, and actually driving in the city (something I don’t like doing because everyone drives like a psychopath). We went up to something I think called “le mont royal,” but really it’s just a big hill in the middle of the city, that’s covered with a HUGE park. It was nice, there was a villa at the top with an amazing view of the city. It’s HUGE too, you could spend all day wandering on its trails.
And another thing about this park… the squirels there are SO TAME! There were people feeding them peanuts, and they would just sit there, eating their nut, and one person we saw was even PETTING them! Amazing! Squirels would NEVER sit that still in, say, Boston Common.
From the park we went east a bit to “le Biodome de Montreal,” a huge domed complex that was like a big enclosed zoo, with very realistic environments. Very cool. The jungle was my favorite, it was hot & humid in there, just like you’d expect. I’ll put some some pictures of that part later, I think.
From there we went across the street into the Jardin Botanique, or the botannical gardens. Very, very neat. They have a little exhibit near the entrance, called the “insectitarium,” which is, as you would expect, all about bugs. Kinda cool, but more for kids, I think.
The gardens – oh my freakin’ god, the gardins. They are simply HUGE. Amazing. Wonderful. I wish I had a bigger memory card (only 16 megs, it’s what came with the camera!!) because I could have taken dozens of pictures. The flowers, the different arrangements… so wonderful. And in the China gardin, they had those paper lamps strung up all over the place, in fantastic shapes & colors… oh wow! And it was all so cool, so real, so lively… amazing. We could have spent an entire day in the gardins, but in the end, we had to leave and only see the China and Japan gardins. In the Japanese section, there was a class of students (all adults) practicing with samurai swords; first with wooden (bamboo) practice swords, and later with the real thing (undoubtably unsharpened though… but maybe not?). It was COOL. Except that they spoke in French, which I didn’t understand (except when they went “HAI!” when they swung their swords).
After the gardins we went to our second (and last) hotel, the Hyatt. VERY nice. We jumped ship for a while and got something to eat at a nice outdoor bistro downtown, where I had some chicken with mushrooms in a red wine & cream sauce (oh so nice). We stopped at the film festival on the way back and watched the crowd for a bit, but the movie wasn’t starting for a while yet, so we went back to our room, watched some stuff on the only English channel we could get (the Discovery Channel), and then went to bed.
I should mention that both of our hotel rooms had KING sized beds, and truthfully, we’ve never slept so well. We NEED a king sized bed!
After a restful night’s sleep, we had breakfast at the hotel, and checked out. We wanted to get an early start back because the border crossing can get very busy. We packed our things and headed out, leaving the city behind us. An uneventful drive for 6 hours brought us home around 4:30pm Monday, and Amanda unpacked our things while I went down to the do-it-yourself car was and scrubbed all the dead bugs off the front of the car :-). Road trips can take a toll, it seems.
Then, we just relaxed for a bit, and went to bed. And now it’s early Tuesday morning and I’m going to wrap this up, because I have to get to work!
So if any of you are thinking of going to Canada – GO! It’s close enough, and aside from the French thing (outside of the city, very few people speak English – it is, after all, Quebec, the province that tried to seperate from Canada and become its own French (only) speaking country) you’ll have no problems communicating. (Reading signs and menus is a different matter, however.)
Ta ta for now!