Montreal – Au Revoir

2nd to 4th July 2016

 Today is our final day in Montreal. The plan is to get some breakfast at l’Avenue du Plateau, head to the Basilica and finish up with shopping at the underground city.

2016-07-08-PHOTO-00001771The long line we saw outside l’Avenue yesterday and people’s obvious willingness to wait to eat there has piqued our curiosity.  B and J, our early risers, head out to reserve spots in the queue, while the husband and I stay back to hand over the keys to our Air BnB owner. When we get to the restaurant half an hour later, B and J are still in queue. We all wait for another twenty minutes to be seated. The restaurant owners have the sense and decency to offer patrons, who have spent close to an hour standing in line outside, complimentary fruits once they are seated. A hungry customer is an angry customer. We place our orders and wait. The fruit is long gone.

Montreal 2016The three South Indians with me cannot do without their morning coffee. Et moi? I’ll have a mimosa, s’il vous plait. Orange juice for breakfast + Champagne for lunch.  Blame it on New York, if you will ❤

When the food comes, the portions are large and beautifully plated. We dig in eagerly. Nom nom!! I got the scrambled eggs with mushrooms and truffle oil, which was so-oh good, but J’s burrito with quinoa in it was even better. The husband and I have enough left over for dinner. We don’t know it yet, but boy will we be glad for it later!

2016-07-08-PHOTO-00001761Next stop, Basilica of Notre Dame. The plaza is packed. There is not a parking spot in sight. We drop B and J off and go looking for parking. When they were done marvelling the stupendous interiors, we had still not found parking, so we simply pick them up and make our way to the underground city, Montreal’s shopping haven. The name underground city conjures images of Palika Bazaar and Heera Panna. Palika Bazaar is New Delhi’s literally underground bargain market, popular for grey goods. Heera Panna is Mumbai’s above ground version of the same. We park and make our way through a labyrinth of buildings, stations, shops and cafes, only to reach a humongous shopping mall. What an anticlimax!

We navigate our way back through the maze to where we have parked, miraculously managing to find Anthea of AntheasChronicles and Rohan in there.  The trip back is uneventful, save for a strange man at one of the rest areas. I wish I could remember which exit we took. This janitor stood outside the restrooms with a broom and a pail, staring vacantly into empty space. He didn’t move a muscle or blink or in any way acknowledge our coming or going. He just stood there like a wax statue, absolutely motionless. Freaky!!!

 

 

 

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Montreal on Bicycles

2nd to 4th July, 2016

We are not going white water rafting like I wanted to, instead we are going cycle around Montreal. I think it’s a fair compromise. I have always wanted to pedal my way through a city. We choose to use Montreal extensive public bicycle sharing system – Bixi, but first some breakfast. Yelp shows us a 5 star rated brunch place around the corner. When we get there, there is a line outside extending almost all the way down the block. Too hungry to wait, we keep walking. Ever since the Canadians told us about Paris Crêpes, crêpes have been on our mind. Montreal is full of cafes and restaurants that serve crêpes. We walk into the first one that comes our way; let me tell you, we are not disappointed. These are by far the best crêpes I’ve ever eaten. Satiated, we go to the nearest bixi stand and hope to figure out the system. It ain’t no rocket science and soon we are on our way to Mont Royal Park. Mont Royal- Montreal..

DSC_0548We cycle through by-lanes and main roads, past what we assumed are the infamous  tam-tams and a short way up the hill. Somewhere near the hospital, we drop our bikes off, knowing that the system allows you to take a bike out for only 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the bike has to be returned and taken out again if you still want one. That, and the fact that the slope ahead is too steep. We walk the rest of the way and up the stairs in the park to the Belvédère Kondiaronk.  A refreshing breeze cools us down as we take in a panoramic view of downtown Montreal.   This scenic overview is named after the Petun chief Kondiaronk, whose influence led to a major peace accord between the French, Iroquois and other First Nations in 1701. There is a  small public piano in the semicircular plaza outside the chalet. Visitors take turns to play and pose.

DSC_0588We walk down to the cemetery, from where we need to take a bus to the Oratory of Saint Joseph. A kind fellow passenger helps us with directions, while the bus driver gives us free tickets that are valid on any public transport for the next two hours. I must have over-hyped the heart at the oratory, because everyone wants to see it. In my defense, it is kinda  creepy to preserve someone’s heart like that! On a side note, while B and J, the husband and I are cycling around the city, Anthea  of Anthea’s Chronicles and Rohan  are attending mass at the Basilica of Notre Dame. The plan is to catch up at some point.

2016-07-08-PHOTO-00001782We use our tickets to ride the subway, to get to Vieux Montreal. From the subway station, we take bikes again and cycle along the old port. We stop here for sunset drinks. We are, after all, on vacation. After wandering around the narrow cobble stoned  streets of Vieux Montreal for a while and picking up souvenirs, it is time head to the Jazz festival for dinner. What better way to work up an appetite than cycling there! We are able to get 3 bikes out, but when B and J try to pull out their second bike, the code doesn’t work. After some trial and error, a phone call to the Bixi people confirms our worst fears, one bike did not get logged back into the system when we returned it.To return a bike, you need to push the front wheel firmly into an empty bike dock and make sure the green light comes on after docking the bike. If not, you start getting fined after the stipulated loan time (30 minutes) is up.  After twenty four hours, the bike is considered stolen and a fee of $1,000 may be charged to your credit card. OUCH!!

We hurry back to the docking station we left our bikes at and frantically try pulling out every bike to find the improperly docked one. Luckily, we had docked close to the end of the line and find the bike in just a few tries.

2016-07-08-PHOTO-00001769While the others a pedaling furiously to beat the rain, I am merrily singing songs in my head and  reminiscing cycle rides in the rain in Rasayani ❤ At our destination, we all  make sure the green light comes on and then double check by pulling the bike. We’ve learnt our lesson. Once inside the Jazz festival, we need to find a place to eat. After some hemming and hawing, we settle on a Thai place. We go in and order. Anthea and Rohan join us. Wherever we go, we seem to find decent ( and occasionally exceptional)Thai food. Through dinner, I’ve also managed to dry my wet shoes with paper towels and the hand drier in the wash room. We are now all set for the Casino. I make a measly $27 profit this time and the husband gambles it ( and more) away. Hey, we are at a casino! The whole point is to gamble!

Montreal Again

2nd to 4th July, 2016

” Why are we going to Montreal when we have a house to set up?”

“..because YOU don’t get too many days off. The house can keep getting set up, we can’t waste the long weekend.”

(how do I love thee, let me count the ways)

Montreal in summer is a very different experience from Montreal in winter. Montreal with 20 friends ( and friends of friends) is an experience in itself. With B&J’s last minute visa and Anthea of antheaschronicles eleventh hour decision to get her own bathroom, our whole trip is balancing on a fine point. As always, everything works out and we are on our way.

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We are going to find you Canadians and give you Big Hugs

Once we reach Montreal, our first task is to find parking. Task 2 – find the Canadians; our Canadians. The bestie and troop are in Montreal too. We have a day’s overlap and are determined to make the most of it.  A few misses later we embarrass them outside a sports bar with our exuberant hugs and loud exclamations. Some might think it nearly impossible to find place for such a large group in the tiny bars of Old Montreal, but the menfolk manage that less than ten minutes. Where there is a game, there there is way!

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Let’s go for a Walk

Some are happy to watch the game; the rest of us are happy to get our drinks, only the drinks take forever to come. Midway through the game, the husband leaves with Rohan and Anthea to get our Air BnBs. The game goes past penalties and somebody finally wins. B & J and I make our way out.  The husband, Anthea and Rohan, with their terrible directions give us an opportunity to explore the city by foot. We walk through leafy lanes, cut through parks and saunter past hippie stores till we eventually find them.

Our Air BnB  is a lovely little apartment with 3 bedrooms, on the first floor of a walk up. Catnap; wake up; yawn; stretch. It’s party night!  We get dressed and head out to where the Canadians are, to pre-drink, and ahem! We are also supposed to meet SS and SM, who are in Montreal separately with their parents. They are at the Jazz festival, we need to cut through it to reach the hotel. We are not allowed to due to the capacious  amount of alcohol we are carry for the Canadians and end up having to walk around the block with it.

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BFFs

We’ll need a bus if all of us have to go to the club together. We don’t have one, so we call multiple Ubers. B & J, the husband and I and denied entry because the boys are in shorts; the husband in military shorts. No amount of pleading gets us in, and the others having paid to get in are in no mood to get out. The four of us hop into the pub next door and the head out grab so grub  close by. We were tired enough to contemplate heading back and would have  if our Canadian Sheth,  Rahul had not come out and coolly walked the husband into the club. Problem, now the bouncer wouldn’t let the rest of us in. Rahul to the rescue again. That is how we clubbed the last 15 minutes of the night in Montreal – boogieing away to 80’s music. Don’t you love it when you know the words ❤

Montreal

Photo Courtesy - Ganesh Sankaran a.k.a the husband

Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran a.k.a the husband

I’m a little miffed that the husband won’t let me use the only thing I can say in French, ” *Je ne parle pas Français. Parlez-vous Anglais?” Everytime someone speaks to us in French, which is everytime someone speaks to us here, he sums it up succinctly in a cheery “Hi!” They always get the point.

After leaving the Ice Hotel, our GPS helped us locate a delightful fondue place for dinner. Our waiter knows enough English to take our order, but is stumped when we ask questions. Not one to give up easily, he excuses himself and returns with a young boy who speaks, much to our astonishment, French, English and Hindi! Our hunger satiated with wonderfully warm and lightly flavoured fondue, we walk back to our car. Light powdery snows falls on our faces like a thousand kisses. We consider skiing the next day.

the old fashioned way

the old fashioned way

The next morning we wake up to pristine sheets of snow. It has stopped snowing but it is drizzling. Skiing is out of question. We enjoyed our self -tour  so much yesterday, that we decide to do the same today. We note down the names and addresses of the places we want to see and set out.

It's baking day! at St.Viateur Bagel Bakery

It’s baking day!
at St.Viateur Bagel Bakery

The husband is keen on having bagels for breakfast. He drops me outside  St. Viateur Bagel shop and goes to find parking in the narrow snowed filled streets. By the time he gets back, I have witnessed the entire process of bagel making, right from taking the flour out of the bin to bagel sales. While I chat up with the workers at the shop, I see the husband drive by the window. I run out on the streets and follow him, waving my hands wildly. I can tell we won’t get parking and it makes so much more sense that I just pick up the bagels, but I don’t have my wallet or any Canadian currency on me. Luckily, he finds a spot, and I don’t have to run too far.  Montrealers take their bagels rather seriously and we are about to find out why.

We came home with half a dozen bagels.

Oratory of Joseph

Lord hear our prayers! at the Oratory of Joseph

The first attraction on our list is the Oratory of Saint Joseph. We didn’t know it was a shrine till we entered. There is a certain amount of peace inside, adding to the beauty of the structure. There are more pilgrims than tourists, so it feels odd taking pictures. I am so sure that at any moment someone is going to walk up and admonish me for my sacrilegious behavior.

The brochure did say Level 4 had the Heart of Brother André  and display on his life, but I was not at all prepared to really see his heart in a glass case. It is fascinating in a very macabre  way. When we walk into the basilica on the top floor, mass is in progress. We stay for a bit and then creep out as unobtrusively as possible.

the innate beauty of nothingness

the unexplainable beauty of nothingness

Next on our list is Mount Royal Park. Vast expanse of smooth unbroken snow, bare trees, each twig covered in ice, softly reflecting the ambient light on this sunless day- this place is a veritable winter wonderland; a fairytale world. There is so much beauty in nothingness. I could stay forever, but my toes feel otherwise.

 Basilica of Notre Dame

Basilica of Notre Dame

We drive down to the Notre Dame Basilica. This place is not to be missed. Don’t take your pictures outside this imposing building and move on, step inside and be wowed.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus ..at the Notre Dame

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus ..at the Notre Dame

The rain puts a damper on  my plans of ice-skating at the Old Port. We decide to skip the science center and drive on to the Olympic Stadium. As a holiday special, they are offering free rides to the top of the tower. Normally this would costs $15. Ultimately, we don’t do it because of the poor visibility. This stadium was the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Sadly, there is no stadium tour. We go to the Bio Dome where we spot Canada’s  national animal – the beaver,  and do a quick walk through the Planetarium.

****Je t'aime toujours

***Je t’aime toujours

It’s time to go home, but we would love to come back for skiing. **Au revoir, Montreal. À bientôt.

P.S – more pictures can be seen on our FB page.

*Je ne parle pas français. Parlez-vous Anglais? – I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?

** Au revoir, Montreal. À bientôt – Goodbye Montreal! See you soon.

***Je t’aime toujours – I will always love you

Ice Hotel, Quebec – A Dream Come True

Last on our list was the Ice Hotel. We had seen signboards for it on the way to Wendake, so we knew we were not far away, but our GPS insisted otherwise and took on a wild goose chase. At one point, we just gave up and walked into a bar in the middle of nowhere to ask for directions. The bartenders and patrons, all looked at us most curiously before enquiring about the reason for strangers to walk into their bar in strongly accented French.

A few *merci beaucoups later we were on our way.

The Ice Hotel has been on my bucket list ever since the internet came to our home, way back in the 1990’s. Back then when everybody had  hotmail and yahoo e-mail addresses that they would now be too embarrassed to acknowledge, I received a forward with pictures of the most magical looking place ever. An unbelievable hotel made entirely of ice. Unlike the cramped and bare like the igloos we drew in geography, it was full size and glamourous, glinting and glimmering in blue and purple lights. Everything from the external structure to the internal furnishings were made of ice, even the cutlery. Beautiful ice sculptures graced the walls and corners. The moment I set my eyes on those pictures I knew I wanted to see that place someday. Back then, I didn’t even know where Quebec was. In my mind, I put it away as somewhere around the North Pole. Years later, I realized Quebec was in Canada, but I still thought it was far up North, in the Arctic Circle. Where else could this place of wonders be!

ganesh1

The icicles formed in my heart broke and stabbed my gut when I read that Hôtel de Glace would open on January 5th,(2015) one day after we leave the province. Sensing my disappointment, the husband asked the front desk at the Place Royale museum if they had any information on the opening of the hotel, and I was elated when they said,” Today. They open today.” When we reached we found that it was just the soft opening, and some work was still in progress, The grand opening was scheduled for January 16th (2015). I was a little disgruntled because it didn’t live up to the images I had carried in my mind for all these years, but nevertheless the place was marvelous. Each room had a different theme.  For a ridiculous sum of money, you can stay there overnight, sleeping on a bed made of ice, surrounded by objects made of ice,  in a room made of ice. I’m glad we don’t have that kind of money, I was freezing inside. I needed to step out into the snowy night just to feel my fingers again; my toes were beyond redemption, and my feet and slowly my ankles were turning into ice too. They had an outdoor Spa, and a Chapel in which you could get married, as well.

To Warmth!!

To Warmth!!

The bar was open, and we got our **drinks in ice glasses. I could barely hold my glass, and the bartender had no gloves on!

*merci beaucoup – Thank you very much

** I got the signature drink and the husband got the next one on the list, recommended to him by the bartender. Both were delicious.

Québéc City – Très Charmant!

Québéc City is a  two hour drive from Montreal. Since we have our car, we opt to skip the bus tour and instead drive in and about Québéc City. Using the free wifi and stationary provided by our hotel, we scour the internet and itineraries listed by various tour operators to  plan our day trip painstakingly. We had made sure we had a  GPS loaded with Canada maps, before we entered Canada this time, so finding our way around would be quite simple and hassle free.

old quebec

**Vieux-Québec – Très Charmant!

Our first stop is the Plains of Abraham. As we pull over, by the snow to park, we finally comprehended what the hotel manager meant when he said, “There is street parking, but you need to be able to read the signs and understand them correctly.” The signs are in French.  The big red P with a line across it and my rusty French tells me that it’s a no parking from Monday to … I can’t tell what day. All I can recall is, Ven is not Wednesday. Logic tells me it ought to be Friday, but  hey its French! It could be Thursday. Wednesday is Mercredi. There’s a Juedi (which I think is Friday) and a Merdi (Tuesday, I think) Which day is Ven?  I catch hold of some passing tourists, and after confirming they know some rudimentary French, get their help in interpreting the sign. ‘No Parking from Monday to Friday’. Yes! It all comes flooding back .. Lundi, Merdi, Mercredi, Juedi, Vendredi. Ha! I still can’t recall Saturday and Sunday, but a few signs later I know it’s Samedi and Dimanche. If you are visiting the Québéc province, brush up on your French. Almost everyone knows some English, but French is the first language.

At the Citadel

At the Citadel

The Seven Years’ War, between the British and the French in Quebec ended with  the defeat of the French General Montcalm in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759. It must have looked quite different then, but today the rolling plains were covered in snow. Inside my tall boots and woolen socks, I can feel my toes freezing, but outside there are people running for fitness. Mankind is truly unbelievable. We hurry back into the car and drive past the Parliament building. My toes begin to thaw and the burning sensation is excruciating.  We step out of the car at the Citadel, but scramble back in when we hear that the guided tour would be mostly outdoors and is usually an hour or so long. This fortress is located within the ‘Historic District of Old Québec’, which  has been  a  UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

Notre Dame des des Victoires

Notre Dame des Victoires

Narrow streets lined with stone houses no more than 2 stories tall, lovely old church – Old Québéc is as  pretty as a picture. Some may call it touristy, we decide it is – *charmant! Almost all the remaining attractions on our list  – Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, Notre Dame des Victoires, Place Royale, Quartier Petit Champlain and the Old Port, are in Old Québéc. We parked at Old Port and walked through this unmistakably quaint town. In the plaza bordered by the church of Notre Dame des Victoires and Place Royale (museum) there is a boy selling maple taffy. It’s a rip off at $2 a piece, but we just have to try it.

Maple Taffy

Maple Taffy

The people at the front desk of the Place Royale Museum are very sweet. When we tell them we would like to go to Wendake to experience the life and culture of the First Nations, they advise us on where to go to for an authentic experience. They even look up the details for us. We drive down to the Huron Traditional Site, but unfortunately we reach just as they closed. If we ever go to Quebec again, this is one I would like to do.

Quebec City Plans

the old fashioned way

 

 

*charmant! – charming!

**Vieux-Québec – Très Charmant! – Old Quebec City – Very Charming!

Lundi, Merdi, Mercredi, Juedi, Vendredi – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

Samedi and Dimanche – Saturday and Sunday

 

 

A Surprise Holiday to Quebec, Canada

They say, marry the one who sees your true potential and pushes you to achieve it.

I say, marry the one who surprises you – with holidays.

Anyone who knows me knows that it’s super hard to surprise me. I am the most curiousest cat ever. If I get the slightest wind of something, I will dig and dig until I know. The husband almost never comes home with flowers or chocolates or a bottle of wine, so when he springs a surprise, it’s really a surprise. Just when I am all set to hiss and spit at him for not having a single romantic bone in his body, he whisks me off on a long weekend trip to the Quebec Province of Canada.  Montreal and Quebec City.  It could very well be because he wants to ski and our slopes are not ready yet, but I’ll give him the benefit of doubt. He makes it so hard to stay mad at him.

I couldn’t believe this was happening even as I got ready to step out of the house. At 6:30 am I got out of the shower and confirmed,” Are we really going or should I wear my  night clothes get back into bed?” Long story short, we are on our way to Montreal.

after rolling in the chips at the casino

Quebec is a francophone province of Canada, with distinctive traditions, mannerisms and laws. It gets its name from a spot on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, that the Aboriginals called Kébec  The look and feel of this place is so different from the rest of North America and so similar to Europe that Hollywood regularly uses it as a pretend France. For almost 12,000 years this land was inhabited only by Native Americans, now known as the First Nations in Canada and the Inuit. Jacques Cartier arrived in 1534 and claimed the land in the name of the Francis I, King of France. The French lost the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and four years later, the King of France ceded to the British crown “Canada and all its dependencies.” Although Quebec has been a part of Anglophone Canada since Canada became Canada, it has had  French as its sole official language since 1969. Quebec sovereignty has been hotly debated over the years.   Parti Québécois governments has held referendums  in 1980 and 1995; both times majority voted no. Quebec has a kind of independence-lite, its own laws and  even controls its own immigration. In 2006, the House of Commons of Canada passed a symbolic motion recognizing the “Québécois” as a nation within a united Canada. I am not sure what that means, but make what you will of it.

trying to make sense of the menu at Les 3 Brasseurs

trying to make sense of the menu at Les 3 Brasseurs

We reached Montreal at around 5:30 in the evening. It was dark and freezing, but nothing could beat the warm fuzzy feeling inside me. We had learnt our lessons from our Toronto trip. The first thing we did once we checked in was change currency. We wanted to do it at the border, but that exchange was closed when we got there. We got a pretty good rate at a money changer on Rue St. Catherine. There are plenty of shops that facilitate currency exchange on this street. We were staying at Hotel Espresso which is walking distance from Rue St. Catherine. The hotel was clean and comfortable and the staff were courteous. They have free wifi, which helped us plan our days. Honestly, that’s all we needed. Maybe free breakfast would have been good. That and free parking.

We grabbed dinner at Les 3 Brasseurs (The 3 Brewers), a microbrewery on Rue St. Catherine. Decent food, decent beer, but the poutine simply does not match up to what we ate in Toronto.

growing icicles

Growing Icicles

It’s -9 degrees Celsius and we can feel icicles forming in our hearts. We decide the Casino would be a great place to stay warm. This is not Vegas, but it is to be seen.  Six floors; live music; restaurants; bars.  There are no skimpily clad waitresses bringing you drinks, but you can help yourself to free soft drinks, coffee and juices on every floor. Also, I think this is a non-smoking casino. This place is a slot machine mecca. They have  two entire floors dedicated to slot machines and more slot machines on every floor. This is where slot machine addicts go when they die. Since the blackjack tables were too expensive, I decided to play roulette. I love roulette. I can play roulette all night. I found a low minimum bet table. In what seemed like a very short while later, I had made 10 times what I put in. For the first time ever, the husband and I decided to cash out while we were still winning, and walk away.