I am traveling on business this week in Canada and Vermont. I decided to bring the family and, as in the past, I thought I would share some of what we saw and experienced from any of our blog regulars traveling in this direction. We began the journey by driving up to Montreal from Virginia (11 hours). While this is a working trip for me, we are packing in a lot of sight-seeing and, when I am working, Leslie and the kids are out and about with their iPhones at the ready.
The drive was pretty easy and we arrived in Montreal around 4 pm. This is a great city and relatively too few Americans venture up here despite its convenient location. It is clean, picturesque, and filled with extremely nice people. One of the reason I brought the family is that the kids were on spring break and they are all taking French. It gave them a great opportunity to practice and everyone in Quebec province is delighted to work with both kids and adults in trying to speak French. I am the worst of the family but literally everyone we have met moves effortlessly between English and French.
We stayed at the Hotel Le Daupine which is in cute renovated building near the convention center. I would recommend the hotel which is nothing fancy but very clean and very friendly. It is a great location and we were able to get two rooms next to each other to easily accommodate six people.
This weekend we bought day passes on the Metro, which made travel extremely easy. I have commented before that the Canadians truly know how to do mass transit. The metro is clean, fast, and convenient. It is a real deal at $8 a person (with young kids free). (Be careful the machines only take Canadian credit cards).
We ate at Le Bourlingueur, a very cute restaurant situated in an old building in the historical area. The ambience and the wait staff could not be better. However, I would not recommend it despite the fact that local hotels appear to favor the restaurant. The food was over-priced and really mediocre and disappointing. Our dishes were pretty bland and over-cooked — a disappointment in a city with some great restaurants. We may have caught it on a bad night (we were there on a Saturday night), but I had its signature pork and apples dish and was pretty underwhelmed. Indeed, everything from the seafood to the pork to the kid’s pasta was overcooked.
I would wholeheartedly recommend lunch at Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen a restaurant famous for its smoked meat. I love delis and this is one of the classic and best delis in the world. It is a tiny dive of a place, but serves the best corned beef (they call it smoked meat) that I have ever had. We are fans of Carnegie Deli in New York (which we go to religiously). However, Schwartz’s meat may top the New York Classic (we still preferred Carnegie’s mustard and pickles — as well as their desserts). Get the family platter (a pile of meat with bread on the side). It is a little cheaper and makes for a great family meal. They take U.S. dollars, which is also a convenience. Warning: there is always a line but it is worth the wait. You can then walk around the nearby park to work off the calories. Ominously, there is a gravestone business across the street if you can only make it a few feet without suffering a heart attack.
We walked all over Montreal and felt entirely safe. The highlight for the kids was the the Montréal Biodôme. It is a very cool location — the 1976 Olympic Games velodrome and housed both track cycling and judo events. It now contains four ecosystems: the Tropical Forest, the Laurentian Forest, the Saint Lawrence Marine Eco-system and a polar area. You get very close to the animals and we particularly liked watching the otters. We also listened to a woman give a lecture on the different poop of animals — a type of poopologist that the kids loved. Below are some of the pictures that Benjamin took.
We finished up with the Notre Dame Basilica. While I was surprised to see people charged to just walk in ($5 a head and $4 for any kid), it was spectacular. Designed by an Irish protestant, James O’Donnell, it is a national treasure featuring the Gothic Revival architectural movement. The kids have seen the giant Cathedrals of Europe but immediately proclaimed this as superior. It is truly dazzling. O’Donnell later converted, though our guide said it was to be buried below the Cathedral — his greatest work.
We left Montreal for the drive to Quebec city with a desire to come back again. Two days is too short to see everything in Montreal but it was enough to make us love the city. Here are Benjamin’s pictures: