Albany, New York to Montreal, Quebec, Canada - July 7-10, 2014
My cousin Donna (the curly-haired one), has long been a fan of these roadtrips. So, I told her we would do one from her home-base near Albany, NY.
We back-and-forthed a little about the best place to go for two or three nights during one of my trips back East to visit my parents, but the choice was always pretty clear: the amazingly diverse, intense and creative city of Montreal, Quebec, a 4-hour drive from Albany, and just 45 minutes across the US-Canada border.
We spent three nights and two days in this magical city soaking up its food, fashion, art and history. Wow! Montreal in the summertime - go there, Americans. It’s cheaper than France - but yes, you’ll still need a passport.
Street art, public art. It seemed to be everywhere!
From Rue St. Catherine we doubled back to Boulevard Saint-Laurent after Donna chatted up two cowboys who told us they, too, were on vacation, visiting from “the Oklahoma of Canada”. (They claimed if they told us where they were from we wouldn’t have any idea of where it was anyway.)
On the Boulevard, we stumbled into one of the most eclectic thrift shops either of us has ever encountered (and that’s saying a lot since we both are pretty savvy with the second-hand finds).
Eva B, got a “six star” review on Yelp:
At first glance, a used clothing store with free lemonade.
On second glance, also the cheapest coffee shop in town. $1 including tax for a single espresso, prepared in a charming fashion. Add in huge homemade cookies for $1 and we’re already at 5*.
I walked to the back with my espresso and found the cutest dog lounging on the couch. He was happy to have a friend. Then a random girl sat down and played a bit at the piano. Awesome vibe to chill for a bit during a busy weekend.
Came back again and asked the older gentlemen that works there, perhaps the owner, when they close. ”Whenever… the fuck… I want!” Amazing.
Six stars for this place.
With that said - and after Donna scored a Roots backpack for a mere $5 CAD - we strolled the Boulevard a little more, trying to choose a place for dinner from among what seemed like an endless selection of restaurants. The Italian vibe, the open air eateries, the carloads of Argentinians celebrating their World Cup semi-final win made for a great way to end this short roadtrip. Tomorrow morning we’d be heading back to the States, but not without having been somewhere very magical that is remarkably close to home.
After a mandatory stop at Roots to get our Canadian fashion gear on, we strolled along Rue St. Catherine until we came to The Village, Montreal’s gayest ‘hood.
In the summer, the street is closed for several blocks to allow for open-air, casual strolling, which of course makes for endless hours of people-watching. Our hardest decision was which of the many outdoor cafes to stop at for lunch. To make things simpler, we stopped at one for food and drinks, and then another a little while later for coffee.
Flipping through Donna’s guidebook, we both saw the photo of the Raymond Mason Illuminated Crowd sculpture and knew we had to photograph it.
Easy-to-find, it was less than 10 minutes from our hotel, near McGill University.
But before we even got that far, we stopped just across the street from where we were staying to snap “Tenderness”, a sculpture by Paul Lancz.
Keeping cool in Montreal.
On our way out of the metro, we came across an underground ice rink. Part of Montreal’s vast underground city, this aspect of Montreal is not much utilized in the summer. But come winter (or, the last time I was here), staying below ground proves to be the best way to keep warm while getting from one part of the city to another.
In fact, it was hard to believe that when I last was here, the temperature hovered near zero most of my stay. This time around, the opposite was true. Heat and humidity sent us back to our hotel for a swim in the outdoor pool. A few hours later, though, a series of thunderstorms struck and things cooled down. The next day would be absolutely glorious! Perfect weather for heavy-duty photo-taking.
A quick trek around Old Montreal gave us a sense of history, as well as how easy it is to get around this city of 1.6 million. Our downtown hotel was walking distance one-way to most everything. And when we exhausted ourselves, we were easily able to figure out the city’s Metro system which is modeled after the Paris Metro (reinforcing again, that the city of Montreal - and the province of Quebec - makes every effort to distance itself from the rest of North America and embrace its European roots).
Ferreira Cafe is worth the splurge.
We started with a much needed cool gazpacho to temper the outdoor heat and humidity. Not able to do much thinking after the drive, we let our waiter recommend a red snapper for two and a bottle of Pinot Noir.
Upon serving, the waiter immediately noticed the snapper was not done to perfection and he quickly whisked it away. A manager swooped in with two complimentary seafood salads which rendered the fish miscue null and void.
When the fish returned, served with an exquisite side stew of potatoes and chorizo, we enjoyed as much of it as we could before I convinced Donna we could eat the leftovers cold with a famous Montreal bagel in the morning (thankfully, this was something we did not do).
After this first meal, we got the sense that Montreal was going to be a foodie paradise. And we were right! You cannot go hungry here and the pace is just a tad slower than in the States, another reminder that we were indeed someplace else.
Ah! Beautiful Montreal, we have arrived.
It is hard to believe that you can immediately be soaking up the international flair a mere 4 hours from Albany, New York and just 45 minutes from the US border, but it’s true.
On arrival, in the early evening, we were greeted with a flurry of bonsoirs when we pulled up to our hotel. After a quick unpack and a bit of jumping on the beds (joke), we regrouped in the hotel bar and got a dinner recommendation to a four-star Portuguese restaurant a block and half away.