Sometimes, regardless of the time spent in actual transit, one must jump on the chance to explore a new city. When I learned that I could go to Montreal for a lengthy day and a half, I had my bag packed in minutes and a passport in hand. I have wanted to see Montreal for as long as I remember. When I was little, Paris seemed so far away—resereved for my imagination and Madeline picture books. Montreal, its frenchy Canadian cousin, was more accessible and real.
Flying in, I revelled in the sight of water everywhere. I am from Wisconsin, originally, and although I am possibly more taken by immense mountains of Colorado, water is in my blood. That in combination with the cool, damp air had me feeling very much at home in Montreal. In fact, these two days sent me on a stream of nostalgia. Memories surfaced ’round ever corner and down every narrow street. It’s strange how some places have that affect, like I have without a doubt been here before. The only other place I felt this way was in Geneva. Both places have a hold on my senses so that I am in a constant state of confusion… yet calm.
After dropping our luggage at Le Petit Hotel, a very hip and clean hotel on the Rue Sainte-Paul in Vieux Montreal (old town), we headed to get a bite. A million places to choose from, we popped into a nondescript Italienne joint. The pizza was delicious and it afforded us time to get out and explore before dinnertime. With only a few hours to kill, we hit the cobblestone streets, strolled the Vieux Port, watched some frisbee tossing in the park and mosied all over the oldest part of the town. Vieux Montreal was not always so trendy. In 1642, when the French settled here, it was a port town for trading and commerce. Thankfully, they restored it before it was too late. Now, even the Ben & Jerry’s looks exquisite in its midieval outfit. Every gallery, every cremerie, every cafe looks adorable.
In the centre-village, we caught a few acts. Some tap dance, comedy and a man throwing fire to name a few. It felt like I had fallen into a Dickens novel. There was an energy that was difficult to compare to anywhere I had ever been. All ages, all kinds were out at all hours. Even at 11:30 that night, it felt like Barcelona. Perhaps they know the dead of winter is looming…
That evening, we checked out Chez Buvette de Simone. It was a charming, bohemian wine bar in a funky little pocket of Montreal. Massive chalkboards displayed countless options for half or full glass pours, orange electric wire hung lights around the room and the center was a wrap around communal bar. I knew we had found a genuine, tourist-free gem, and I savored each sip, the soft candlelight and youthful faces of the city as I muched on pommes frites.
After our aperitif, we had dinner at Bistro Cocagne–a French Bistro just a few miles from Chez Buvette. We began with some ’02 Domaine Oudin Chablis 1er Cru. It was singing right now and paired so well with my mesculin with sunlower seeds and onion-mustard dressing. I then had to try the ’08 Justina Francuska Vinarija from Serbia. Never having anything from this region, I was so curious. A bright ruby hue filled the glass. On the nose, it smelled of Morgon Cru Beaujolais. It was quite fruity yet had a serious mineral slant–like wet granite or something. On the palate, the tannins were soft and the acid fairly pronounced. It reminded me of possibly Barbera. But really, it was in a class of its own. By no means overly complex, it was friendly with food and felt lovely on the majority of our palates.
With dinner came an ’00 Chateaux Lagarette Cuvee Helios Premiere Cotes de Bordeaux–a possibly lesser known ‘basic’ Chateaux, but in a vintage like ’00, this puppy was barking a good tune. It really impressed us all, and had me convinced that a good year in Bordeaux affords any wine lover sensational values. One can really build an amateur cellar with wines of this caliber. It paired perfectly with the venison and risotto.
We finished with a dessert wine from the Jura. Only a few wines in Colorado exist from this famed region… and they’ll cost you. Excited to have a the opportunity to have one, I went for it. It smelled of oxidized spiced apples and elderflower. Tightly knit on the palate, its complexities unraveled citrus, minerals and day old golden delicious on the counter. It was a real treat with the selection of French cheeses we were served.
I passed on dessert, but looking around the table, I slightly regretted that choice. One person had what looked like and individual crock of a streusel with two large melty clumps of ice cream on top. Next time…
In the morning, we had breakfast at Marche de Villette on the Rue Sainte-Paul, just steps from our hotel. It was a perfect little cafe that served everything from crepes to quiche lorraine, french onion soup to omelletes with potato in duck fat and pate. We noticed they made European handmade sandwiches and was sure to grab some on our way out of town for the plane ride’s dinner.
Daytime was met with a bike race and a jaunt to the botanical gardens, insectarium and biodome. It was the perfect afternoon to spend with an eleven-year-old boy, staring at pirahnas and puffins for a few hours.
I want to go back already. I felt it was a tease to spend a mere 36 hours in this fascinating city. Montreal had the rare ability of exhibiting an edgy, metropolitain vibe while maintaining the quaint, aniquated pulse one would hope to glean in such an historic village. They truly have something for everyone: spas, boutique designers, art galleries, beautiful bike and running paths, high end restaurants, teeny tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries, pubs, parks, yachts, history and museums galore.
I can say with little hesitation, Montreal has found a fast place in my heart, and in my top 5 favorite cities in the world. Next time, I will have a few more hours and a longer list of places to visit.