Tedious truck-filled drive to Montreal, nice little hotel, Dolcetto & Co bistro dinner, lovely carriage ride, gorgeous cathedral, nice people!
Yesterday, we headed out early from Toronto and decided to stop on the road for breakfast (skipping the very expensive fare at Trump Tower). We found our way out of town just fine, because it was Saturday. There was still a lot of traffic, but at least it moved well. The main route between Toronto and Montreal is Highway 401, AKA “Autoroute des Héroes”. We drove for a while and finally exited in the suburbs to find breakfast. Since Tim Horton’s are on virtually every street corner in Canada, we wanted to try one, but, alas, the exit we picked didn’t have one nearby, so we settled for McDonalds.
Our original plan was to take a detour and see the capital buildings in Ottawa, but we quickly realized how far we had to drive, so we scrapped that idea. Driving almost non-stop, it took more than seven hours to get to Montréal, which is also plagued with the construction virus. The countryside was scenic, but not very interesting from a freeway perspective. Steve drove and we probably passed over 500 semi trucks, which was quite tedious for me, the nervous passenger, and we had the occasional moments of alarm for both of us when one truck would suddenly pull into the left lane as we were trying to pass it so it could go around a slower truck or car. We also came across the horrific aftermath of an accident that had just happened, with a vehicle upside down in the center ditch on top of a concrete culvert; many bystanders and rescue workers were desperately trying to free people trapped in the car. We were glad to get finally get rid of the rental car in Downtown Montréal, especially after Neverlost likely suffered a apparent disabling stroke and let us get completely off the route near the end of the drive, and we found ourselves suddenly heading south towards the US before we realized what was going on and turned around and headed in the right direction.
We noticed something interesting in Quebec – all of the signs, company billboards, and even company names were in French, with absolutely no English translations allowed. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken — KFC in most of the world — is PFK here (Poulet Frites Kentucky). In the rest of Canada, the bilingualism is accommodated with English and French versions of most information, but this compromise is apparently unacceptable to the Québécois. This is an amazingly provincialist attitude, IMHO, and is one that we never encountered previously in other countries we have visited, including France.
After dropping the car off, we had a nice cab ride with a friendly driver to our hotel in Old Montréal. The subject turned to hockey. Ironically, last night the Avalanche were in town to play the Canadiens. We actually considered going, but realized that we would not be very energetic after the drive so we didn’t try to get tickets. Right before we turned in the car, we passed the Ritz Carlton hotel and saw a bunch of people standing outside with cameras. We realized they were hockey fans, and we saw several Av’s jerseys along with old Quebec Nordiques gear, so the Av’s apparently stay in this luxurious hotel (nice!).
For the two nights in Montréal, we booked a small boutique hotel on Rue St. Paul in the heart of the old city. The hotel, simply named Le Petit Hotel, is quite nice, with 28 rooms decorated in modern style tucked into an old building. They provide continental breakfast and were quite helpful with restaurant recommendations. We ended up crossing the street last night to an Italian Bistro named Dolcetto & Co and had a delightful dinner with delicious pizzettes and good Sicilian wine. The staff was quite nice and we ended up carrying a little extra corked wine with their permission back to the room, which apparently is a bozo no-no.
We had a very good night’s sleep, woke up late and had breakfast, and then set out to explore the area. It was very chilly today, with mostly overcast skies (no rain), with temps probably not getting out of the 40’s (brrrr). On Sundays, the gorgeous Notre-Dame Basilica, built in 1829, opens at 12:30 pm to the public; the church was a short walk from our hotel. To kill time before the opening (since we were early), we hired a horse drawn carriage for an hour to see the sites. Our guide was terrific and the beautiful grey Percheron mare (Cinderella) gamely dragged our big butts (or my big butt at least) through the streets of Montreal. This was so much fun!
After our carriage ride, we were dropped off right in front of the Basilica. This large cathedral was intended to rival Notre Dame in Paris and we believe it is more spectacular. We took dozens of pictures (Steve is working on uploading pictures, always a crapshoot with the idiotic WordPress application). Afterwards, we were ready for lunch and found a little bistro that looked very nice and seemed popular. It turned out this place, Modavie, is very highly rated and one of the favorite jazz clubs in Montreal. We split a lamb burger, which was superb and chatted with the extremely nice owner, Lorenzo. Two for two on restaurants!
To finish the afternoon, we walked further north on St. Paul into a pedestrian area. The scene abruptly changed from elegant bistros, boutique hotels and fine galleries to a couple of blocks of pure tourist cheesiness, with loud sports bars and crapola emporiums selling geegaws and Canadiens gear. We decided to go rest at the hotel for a while, then eat a light dinner. Our original plans included dinner at Europea, one of the top restaurants in Montreal, but we preferred to play it by ear so we canceled the reservation.
Dinner tonight completed the Trifecta of great little restaurants in Montréal. We walked a couple blocks south on St. Paul to eat at Barroca, a small wine bar that had good ratings. We shared a small cheese plate and charcuterie platter and it was perfect! We had a very nice day in Montreal and the people were just wonderful, all speaking perfect English. We can board Regatta tomorrow at noon and we are close enough to the pier that we will probably walk.
More tomorrow from the cruise ship!