Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Thing 9 : A Summer Weekend in Montreal

Last year, in the flurry of thinking up New Things, my friend and colleague Paul came up with some great ideas, one of which was to take a day trip to Montreal to try two things I'd never done: visit a professional sports tournament (the Rogers Cup) and eat that classic Canadian Junk food, poutine. We had a great day last year, and I should have known that Paul would figure out a way to do it one better this summer. This year he rented a terrific apartment for the month of June in Montreal and invited friends to come see him, which Chris and I were happy to do.

Should you find yourself visiting a friend in Montreal for a summer weekend, here are some tips on how to make the most of it.

Go to Mount Royal Park and climb up to the top to take a look at the city.  That's what we did on the first day we were there and it was beautiful.  The park was designed in 1876 by Frederik Law Olmsted, the designer of New York City's Central Park and Tacoma's Wright Park (that's my favorite park in the world, only partly because it's where my awesome niece Tigist and I play when I go visit her).

Chris and I taking a look at Montreal from the top of Mount Royal.
Rent a bike. Montreal's bike system is spectacular.  This is true for two reasons.  First, they have an incredibly user-friendly (except for figuring out the weird system of using your credit card twice on the same account to get two bikes) rental system.  You use a credit card to get a bike out, and that gives you unlimited biking privileges for 24 hours.  You can drop off the bike anywhere there are stands (e.g. next to pretty much all metro stops and tourist sites) and get another just by inserting your credit card again on the same account you already opened for the day.  The second part of what makes the whole thing so great is separate two-line biking roads through much of the city.  You're rolling along right next to a major road with no fear that a car is going to come along from nowhere and run you down.  Awesome!
These are the bikes that are available all over the city.  They're pretty heavy-duty and even have lights for nighttime use.

Paul, of course, rode his own.  Here's he's locking it up so we could head down to the waterfront where Cirque de Soleil was setting up for a new show.

Go during the Fringe Festival and feel like an artsy person. One thing Montreal has in common with Burlington is that in the summer it's inhabitants and visitors feel a moral obligation to get outside.  After a long hard winter, everyone has earned the right to enjoy all the long days and sunshine they can cram in, so there's lots of festivals and city activities.  We were there during the Fringe Festival, which is a month-long set of theatre and performance art.  Friday night we went to How to Become Jayee, a somewhat confusing play that's about three people doing a play about J. Edgar Hoover.  Saturday night we caught a rising comedienne, Robby Hoffman, who also just happens to be the relative (niece, I think) of my colleague Robert Letovsky. One (small, of course) downside of living in the town of Burlington is sometimes remembering that it's just not a city. But if you need an urban feel, it's lovely to know that Montreal and all its festivals are just couple hours away.

Eat. A lot. We took this goal pretty seriously.  One of the best things about Paul's neighborhood-for-a-month is the bakeries -- tons of them.  There were three Montreal bagel shops within easy walking range, all of them open 24 hours a day, which I think is an uncommonly good idea.  We ate out at all kinds of yummy restaurants (though alas, no poutine on this trip), and my favorite was Robin des Bois (Robin Hood), a restaurant that not only served us a fabulous dinner (I had a really great vegetable stew and Chris and Paul both had mussels), but takes its name seriously.  Volunteers act as servers, and the money they and the restaurant make are donated to a number of charities listed on the menu.
This was my favorite bagel shop because the people inside were so nice.  When they heard that we were from out of town and wanted to take a picture they invited us behind the counter to pose in front of the wood-fired oven.

Be prepared for any kind of weather.  Another thing that Montreal has in common with Burlington is that the weather can change on a dime.  In three days we had hot sun, cold rains and everything in-between.  The worst of the rain came on Sunday afternoon, making the visit to the Fine Arts Museum to see the temporary exhibit of terra cotta warriors from China just the thing (except for the fact that much of the rest of Montreal had the same idea).  Paul's place is terrific, and loafing around reading weekend papers was a pretty good option when it was inclement as well.  But when the sun was shining (and even when it was drizzling), we were out on the bikes and on foot, exploring neighborhoods and seeing the sights.
Our gracious host, Paul, relaxing with the weekend paper while we waited out the rain.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful article I am also looking for suggestions to make my vacation joyful. Your tips are best and I will surely adopt them. I have chosen Montreal Furnished Apartment on rent for one week that my friend has suggested me and now I am hoping my vacation will be going awesome as I have chosen right place and your awesome joyful tips.