Vive Montréal!

I used to joke that Albany is a good place to get out of. While living in our tri-city area has its benefits, being within a three-hour drive of a big metropolis like New York City or Boston is a definite plus. Another great place, which people don’t always think of, is Montreal, just a short ride up the Northway (I-87). One proviso: it’s best to time your trip so that you don’t have to battle long lines at the border. So, leaving early in the morning and coming home at an off-time (like four p.m. on a Saturday, say) are strongly encouraged. Of course, in these post-9/11 days, you now need a passport to go anywhere in Canada, but it’s truly worth it to have French-speaking Québec province only four hours away. En route, it doesn’t take long before you realize that you’re heading for a foreign country. As early as Plattsburgh, New York, you start to notice highway signs that say Sortie as well as Exit. Then after crossing the border the distance markers are in kilometers instead of miles, which remind you that you’re “not in Albany anymore.”

There is so much for first-time visitors—young and old— to see and do in Montreal: Place Jacques Cartier with its street performers and restaurants; the winding streets, tourists shops, and la Basilique Notre-Dame of le Vieux Montréal; Mont-Royal, the mountain which gave the city its name, and its church, L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph; Olympic Park with the unique Biodôme museum and the beautiful garden, le Jardin botanique; La Ronde amusement park, operated by Six Flags, on an island in the Saint-Laurent. Montreal also offers many special events each year, like the summer’s Festival de Jazz, which attracts thousands who enjoy free, outdoor entertainment as well as the indoor paying variety.

Francophiles like us try to schedule a trip north at least once a year. Readers won’t be surprised that one of our favorite things is to have a good meal or two, which is not at all hard to do! One restaurant we’ve visited a few times is La Prunelle on Duluth Street in le Plateau area in the northern part of the city. The menu offers classic French dishes such as escargots and salade de chèvre chaud, as well as New World food items, displayed on Old World ardoises ("chalkboards"). Just this summer we went to O'Thym, a small place on Maisonneuve in le Village. We enjoyed speaking French with the guys at the next table as much as the dinner. I had tartare de saumon (a raw salmon appetizer) and a duck breast, magret de canard. My husband tried the foie gras and the bavette de bison. We’d definitely make a second trip there. Another great thing about dining in Montreal is that at many restaurants you can bring your own wine.

Another favorite of ours is to go to bookstores while we're in Montreal. Archambault and Renaud-Bray are large chains
along the lines of Border's or Barnes & Noble. They have lots of branches throughout French Canada and stock the most current reading materials and music. We really like exploring small, secondhand bookstores. If you take le métro to le Plateau, you’ll find loads of petites librairies lining Mont-Royal street. It’s fun searching for hidden treasures in the stacks of books and CDs.

Last, but not least, we try not to leave Montreal without a visit to one of their covered marchés. Downtown on a street of the same name is the upscale Atwater Market. Here you can get everything from Dijon mustard to some of the most delightful pastries in town. Yum! But our market of choice is le Marché Jean-Talon. There, you really get the feel of being where the world shops: African people in dashikis and kaftans, Muslim women in veils, ordinary white Canadians who look a lot like us. We try to stock up on maple syrup when we’re there and always go to a branch of la Fromagerie Hamel to drool over their selections of Canadian and French cheeses.

There’s so much to see and do in Montreal and at least three of four seasons to do it in very comfortably! Give it a try!

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