Our fifth and final stop on our Canadian roadtrip was the fair city of Montreal, as close to Europe as we could get in North America. We took some time during our drive from the Thousand Islands to Montreal to brush up on some basic French phrases. We didn’t do very well, which worked out fine because luckily most Montrealers we encountered didn’t mind our clumsy attempts and quickly switched to English.
We stayed at Le Westin Montreal, right on the edge of Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal). Luckily our check in process here was smooth (unlike Toronto), the staff was friendly and helpful, and we got two spacious and (finally) adjoining rooms. One interesting feature that you notice right away is the glass-bottomed pool, located just above the carport area. So yes, when you get out of your car and look up you will see people’s legs swimming around. Only 10 people at a time can swim in the pool but it makes for a fun break from touring.
After settling in, we set off to explore Old Montreal, starting with a stroll down Rue St. Paul and lunch in Place Jacques Cartier. This cobblestoned square is surrounded by outdoor cafes, small touristy shops, and filled with street performers and photo opportunities.
We had lunch in the back courtyard of the popular Jardin Nelson. The food is nothing to write home (or blog) about, but the atmosphere is fabulous, especially on a pleasant day. A jazz duo kept up a steady stream of background music and the walls are covered with flower planters. It was the perfect venue for a relaxing lunch and a glass of wine. Be prepared to take your time, because service isn’t speedy.
After strolling through the quarter and exploring the port area, someone’s little legs were tired after all the sightseeing and busyness of the previous week. So, instead of checking out the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum of Archeology and History, we took a horse and carriage ride around Old Montreal and learned about its less glamorous history.
That evening we decided to check out the Sound and Light show at the Notre Dame Basilica. I figured if we had to pay to visit this famous cathedral, we might as well see the show. I expected it to be a mixture of light and music, building to a spiritual crescendo. I was disappointed. We did get a good history of Montreal (although through some of the worst acted skits imaginable), as told through the lens of how the church was founded and built. The cathedral itself is beautiful, but skip the light and sound show and go during the day.
After dinner at the lovely Modavie, we strolled down to the port and topped off the evening with some dark chocolate brownie sorbet. If only I could have this shipped home!!
The next day, we checked in with the concierge to find the easiest way to get to the Biodome and Botanical Gardens. She was helpful in providing driving directions (although neglected to tell us how terrible the traffic is during the afternoon) and also sold us tickets at a discounts, letting us avoid the very long ticket queues on site.
We started at the Biodome, which covers five ecosystems and houses over 4500 animals. This was one of our favorite attractions in Montreal. Not only did we get to see some adorable Lynx cubs, but we spent plenty of time watching the frolicking penguins.
Our next stop was across the street at the Jardin Botanique, where a special exhibit of 50 living sculptures of the Mosaicultures Internationales event was taking place. The gardens themselves are immense and could easily take a half day at least to explore at leisure. We just hit the highlights in between rainclouds, but did manage to see most of the magnificent special exhibits. One recommendation I’d have would be to eat before you go. While there are two “restaurants” within the gardens, these are just cafeteria style and have a very limited menu.
We finally arrived back at our hotel in time for a swim before dinner at one of Montreal’s best steakhouses, Gibby’s. The little one started with escargot (didn’t like them as much as she did when she first tried them in NYC but got kudos from the waitress and neighboring tables for her bravery), while we sampled the house salad with Gibby’s famous dressing (good but had to be kept refrigerated so we didn’t bring any home.) The steaks were pricey but excellent and at least were not served a la carte, but came with a large baked potato (or Gibby’s twice baked) and veggies. We were too full for dessert, or even a walk over to get some more of that amazing gelato (bummer!) so we walked back to the Westin and our heavenly beds.
The next day we had to bid au revoir to Montreal and Canada, and begin our drive home to RI with a stop in Ben & Jerry’s in VT (by request.) Altogether, we logged about 1400 miles over eight days with stops in Howe’s Caverns, NY, Niagara Falls (NY & ON), Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto, Thousand Islands, Montreal, and Vermont. Months of planning, days of travel, then it was time to recover, regroup, and begin planning the next big trip.