It’s amazing, yet true, that I grew up near the Canadian border, have traveled extensively, am about to turn 40, and just made my first trip to Montreal this year. And it was worth the wait because there’s a chemistry there, and I’m going back for more.
Like Paris, what sparked the trip to Montreal was an art exhibit, the Clark family Impressionism collection making its one and only stop to Canada at the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal. The exhibit was closing January 20 and we were there January 19, along with hundreds of other Impressionism fans. After a half hour of rubbing shoulders with people speaking every language under the sun, vying for a spot in front of Degas’s sculpture “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” and the 74 Monets, Manets, Pissaros and other Impressionism superstar paintings, we gave up and headed downstairs to the modern art world, which was fun, quiet, and delightfully on the whimsical and saucy side, with Italian artists making polyfoam beds that look like nests, and murals with eyes watching you walk by, as shown here:
Montreal on the outside, despite Arctic temperatures, was just as hot and saucy as Montreal museums on the inside. Stately churches share curb space with glass towers. True, you don’t see street vendors here in the middle of January, but step inside any bistro, restaurant or cafe, and there are plenty of hot treats to be had, from fondue and grilled salmon to poutine and spicy wings. On a Friday night, PoutineVille in downtown was packed, with diners filling out menus cards like sushi orders as they customized their toppings for their plates of poutine. We had such a great time there, Mike was inspired to make poutine for Superbowl Sunday. Everyone has written about the Montreal food scene, which rivals Paris and New York. I don’t have anything insightful to add to the din except as I said above, I’m going back for more. More macaroons, more poutine, more salmon, more fondue…more of all of it.
Delicious, fresh everything is found at Jean Talon Marche, where we bought some of our groceries for the week before heading home. We bought a pint of the strawberries shown here and they were gone in two days. Going back for more of those, too.
Also like Paris and New York, Montreal is a city best enjoyed on foot, whether you’re above ground braving the subzero cold or below in underground metro tunnels where city residents flowed like streams. We bundled up and walked around Vieux Montreal, enjoying cupcakes (because that’s just what we do no matter where we go), absorbing the silence and grace of Notre Dame (much needed after some parenting drama along the way), and window shopping (with some actual shopping mixed in).
Window shopping, literally…
Macaroons are available everywhere in Montreal and are so popular, someone turned them into miniature jewelry boxes.
Aside from hearing nonstop French, which is the sexiest language on the planet no matter who is speaking it (like those Montreal cops walking by), one of the most interesting cultural experiences was seeing ads for travel to Cuba, obviously not something you see in the United States. Caribbean beaches beckon during Canadian winters, and this mural in the Bonaventure subway station immediately caught my eye for both its bright orange hues as well as its positive positioning of Cuba. When we visited Cuba in 2003, there were many Canadians in Havana and at the beach resort. I’m envious of Canada’s relationship with Cuba, but here’s hoping things will change.
Montreal metro stations were immaculate. I may be partial to New York City’s bagels, but Montreal’s underground mass transit system was spotless, not scary, not filled with people wanting to mug me, and sometimes even felt like an art gallery with its many murals and mosaics. When I saw this one, I took it as a prelude to our upcoming trip to Japan.
And finally, what made Montreal the best first date vacation I had ever had–the outdoor rooftop swimming pool at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure in downtown. I don’t even recall how I stumbled upon this place except that it was through some random Googling, but thank goodness I did because I’m never letting go. Swimming in the snow is as meditative as it sounds. The pool is heated at 87 degrees and you enter the pool through an indoor annex so from the neck down, you are never exposed to the frigid air while wearing your bathing suit. Surrounded by snow and steam, this pool was enjoyed around-the-clock during our weekend, from parents tossing kids in the water (and into the freezing air…I didn’t get that) to older folks getting some laps in before dinner. This pool was the perfect way to loosen up and burn off some poutine, and felt fantastic after a day of sightseeing. Paddling through warm water while looking up at the stars, the half-moon sky and snowflakes hitting your nose felt dreamy and surreal, like a Dali painting. Montreal is now our family’s East Coast Los Angeles, a city we will visit again and again and again, exploring different neighborhoods and searching for new experiences while staying at the same place every time. Montreal is a city for the senses, even in winter when streets are muffled by snow. I need to see Montreal when the sun is hot, when the leaves turn orange, when the daffodils are saying hello. Time to book our next visit there because I’m in love.