Imagine! Six hours to Europe, and no jet lag!
As part of Christopher’s spring vacation he and I decided to travel to Montreal for the weekend to watch the Bruins take on the Canadiens. What we got was great father/son time and a new appreciation for a slice of Europe closer than most people realize.
I was lucky to snag a great rate at the Hotel Gault in Old Montreal back in January, so on Friday afternoon I picked up Christopher with the bags packed and headed north! A mid-afternoon departure made the first leg of our trip (to Burlington, VT) a breeze. We were in Burlington before dinner, and I got to revisit some of the old haunts I remember from back in college oh so long ago when both my cousin and my best friend attended UVM. The city is still a great college town with a very accessible downtown. Our resident travel agent found us a super rate on a hotel right next to the highway, and the Church Street section of town was a worthwhile stop for two hungry boys. A few things have moved since I was last there, including the Ben and Jerry’s headquarters, but otherwise Burlington is still a great place I’d love to visit again. Next time!
We were up bright and early the following morning, and found that we had a very easy 90-minute drive to Montreal. We were checking into the Hotel Gault by 10:00 a.m., and very quickly learned our first lesson about Montreal, or any new city for that matter: Always, Always get a recommendation on where to eat from the hotel staff!
In this case, the very friendly and accommodating staff pointed us to a local patisserie named Olive. Literally from the moment we walked in, the sounds, sights and smells brought to mind a trip to Europe. Like just about everyone in Montreal we met, the wait staff greeted us in French, but quickly switched to English when my poorly remembered high school French made it clear that I was not a native speaker. A very tempting assortment of brioche, brownies, eggs, and strong coffee filled our bellies while conversations in French, English and Spanish swirled around us. The staff was most friendly, and the food and atmosphere were outstanding. This was to be the theme for the remainder of our trip.
After this enjoyable introduction to Montreal, we walked to the Montreal Science Center, located right on the water. Christopher had researched this online and though it would be interesting to visit. I have to say that it was a perfect stop for someone his age (13). Lots and lots of hands on exhibits clearly labeled in both French and English kept us busy. We spent quite a bit of the morning exploring the Science Center, and even made our own TV spot on youth sports at their Media Center. I can easily recommend the Science Center to anyone traveling to Montreal with elementary or preteen children.
Once we had completed our time at the museum, Christopher humored my interest in history by “Ok”ing a trip to Notre Dame Cathedral. Both he and I were really glad he did. It’s not very often that you find a teenage boy describing an old church as “awesome” and “amazing” but hopefully the picture below will do some justice to what a breathtaking place it truly is. While I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the great cathedrals of Europe, my visit to Notre Dame certainly made me feel that I had crossed one of the “must see” houses of worship off my to do list. Simply breathtaking.
By the time our tour of the cathedral was done, our room was ready and we decided to walk back to the hotel and check in. I was excited about our room when I had booked it back in January, and once we were let in, I was not disappointed.
Our room was spacious yet cozy, and the couch and bed got a double thumbs up from both Christopher and I.
After dropping our bags, it was time to head out for lunch. Once again a quick trip to the front desk pointed us in the right direction, in this case Louigi’s, just a short walk from the hotel. Christopher had been dying to try “poutine” (French fries covered with a thick gravy and cheese) since I first told him about it after a trip to Canada earlier this fall, and as you can see from the below, Louigi’s did not disappoint!
After eating probably more than was healthy (no girls, so who’s to say?!), we needed a walk to work off our lunch and took another amble around Old Montreal, this time sightseeing and stopping into the galleries along the way. Old Montreal really does have it all, from trendy restaurants that I know I would love to try with my wife next time I go (no doubt I’m going back), to art galleries and clothing boutiques. None of these were really tempting for my companion on this trip, but Montreal really is a beautiful city, and clearly a couple looking for a great getaway would find more than enough to see and do.
After exhausting Christopher’s patience for my wandering around, we walked back to the hotel for a power nap before the game at the Bell Center. I can tell you that both the bed and the couch were very comfortable indeed, and we were lucky to wake up in time to make the game!
On our way out to the game, we realized what it means to stay at a truly outstanding hotel. When we had checked in, I had mentioned that we were in town to see the hockey game; when we came downstairs and stopped at the desk to ask for directions, there was already a printed map waiting for me with my name on it plotting out directions. Double A+ to Hotel Gault and its staff!
The walk to the game was about 15 minutes, and as easy as could be. The Bell Center is a relatively new facility, and the staff was again bilingual and quite friendly. A lifelong Bruins fan, I had been tortured growing up by the great Canadiens teams of the 70’s and early 80’s who consistently sent my beloved Bruins home from the playoffs too early. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to visit their home arena, but it was more than a pleasant surprise.
As we all know from the recent Olympics, Canadians treat hockey not as the national pastime, but as the national passion. Montreal takes this a step further, and I want to come back in another lifetime as a player for the Canadiens of French Canadian decent. Think Tom Brady if he had grown up in Massachusetts, and gone to Boston College before joining the Patriots. The fans are truly passionate and it really is considered an honor and an obligation to play for them. Any franchise that scrolls the name of the 700+ players who have ever worn the “bleu, blanc and rouge” on the ice before every home game is no doubt a civic institution, and I could not help but admire both the history of the franchise and the passion of its fans. The game ended up as too many Bruins – Canadiens games do, with the Habs winning by a goal, 3-2.
The walk home was uneventful, and impressed me that much more with the city. Walking around any city, either here or abroad, after 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night can sometimes leave you apprehensive, but I never felt anything but safe walking around Montreal.
A rainy morning altered our plans to find another breakfast spot, so we settled for the hotel breakfast before departing. Like the rest of our visit to the hotel, the complimentary brunch was far better than I would have expected, and included quiches, croissants, breads (zucchini bread at a free hotel brunch??) and muffins.
With regret, we packed up and headed home. We decided to do a little sightseeing along the way, and took the indirect route south through the Adirondacks. It added almost an hour to our trip, but it was another easy drive and the scenery absolutely was worth it.
Thoughts and impressions:
Hotel Gault: This may have been the most accommodating hotel staff I’ve ever dealt with. I had a few concerns staying at such a modern and chic hotel with 13 year old boy, but in addition to being a beautiful facility, the staff could not have been more accommodating in every way possible. Probably my best experience ever with a hotel staff.
Driving to Montreal: Why haven’t I done this before? Just about a six hour ride from our home in Rhode Island, and once you get past Boston, it couldn’t be easier. Very possible to do in one shot or in an evening and morning as we did on our way up. For those of us used to driving through Boston or Connecticut on a Friday to get somewhere, this couldn’t be more of a breeze.
Old Montreal: My title caption says it all, the closest thing to Europe without changing time zones. I’ve always been embarrassed by how easily Europeans switch between their native tongue and English, but the Canadians were more accommodating than anyone I’ve ever come across. (Imagine landing in Boston and speaking in French to the cab driver?! Not going to end well!) Wonderful shops, restaurants and architecture, when can I go back?!
Food: From perhaps not the healthiest poutine to absolutely marvelous bakery foods, Montreal was a hit.
For a gallery of my photos from this trip, click : http://eapjr.smugmug.com/Other/Montreal-3-13-10/11517569_VFK3c#810731012_kd72u
– Everett Petronio