It’s a six hour transatlantic flight from New York City to get a French fix in Paris or, if you’re more Chevrolet set than jet set, you can hop in the car and drive six hours to get our Franco fill right here in North America.
Having seen much of the USA in a Chevrolet, we decided to swing by New York City to grab our daughters, The Piglet and Decibel, and head north for a whirlwind foreign adventure.
The plan — even though the plan is no plans — was to fly The Boy up from college to meet us for his 19th birthday celebration. It came off without a hitch.
Montreal is très French without being in France, in fact, it is the second largest French speaking city in the world following Paris.
After rescuing The Boy from the airport and a quick clean up from the drive, we ventured into the heart of the former capital of Canada. With the young ‘unstrailing behind, we walked a couple of blocks from our hotel to the clean, fast subway. When we popped up from underground we were surrounded by music.
What luck! To our delight we hit town during the 30th annual Jazz Fest.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is one of the world’s most renowned festivals, attracting two and a half million people.
The Guinness Book officially named it the world’s largest jazz festival back in 2004. This year’s fortnight of music featured 3,000 artists from thirty
countries performing more than 650 concerts.
Two thirds of the shows were free outdoor performances that completely filled the downtown streets with summertime revelers. We were swept along from stage to stage with the crowd that had become an organism unto itself.
After chasing the gleeful The Piglet, Decibel and The Boy from concert to concert, we ducked into a Vietnamese restaurant for a late dinner and decided to call it a night to rest up for the next day’s adventures.
On a beautiful sunny summer day, the waterfront is the place to be in Montreal. The Vieux-Port (Old Port) is alive with activity. Several attractions are there along the river… cruises, jet boats, The Science Center and the original Cirque du Soleil.
We opted to skip the famous circus but were treated to a free show by the acrobatic troupe 7 Fingers just outside at the Quays of the Old Port.
This troupe is comprised of clowns and acrobats trained at Montreal’s National Circus School that have performed with Cirque du Soleil, the Cirque Eloize, Teatro Zinzanni, the Pickle Family Circus and Cirque Knie.
They were performing their amazing feats of strength and agility combined with satire and humor thoughout the summer as part of the Circus Arts Promenade. We were all completely mesmerized by these guys!
After much walking and gawking, we needed some nourishment. The choices on the riverfront are endless. From elegant dining to casual walking around food.
We were looking for a quick bite that involved chairs to rest our tired dogs.
A British style pub fit the bill perfectly. It was here that we were introduced to the famous Québécois creation, poutine.
French fries, turkey gravy and fresh cheese curds layered upon each other in an artery clogging parfait of tastiness.
Bellies filled, we heard the call of the water. Montreal is and always has been a river city. The St. Lawrence is one of Canada’s busiest and most important port connections to the Atlantic for both passengers and cargo.
We wanted to see it up close and personal… which, according to The Piglet, called for a ride on a Duck. Guided tours are not normally part of our “low to the ground” travel style, but we had to admit that a Duck ride sounded pretty fun.
The Ducks are amphibious buses that begin by touring the historic downtown area, then drive into the river and with a splash become boats.
The tour took us by the Notre Dame Cathedral where Celine Dion was married. The tour guide was very excited about this fact, it must be a Montréalaise point of pride, so we smiled and nodded and told her we just LOVED Celine — especially with long hot baths and scented candles — lest we were unceremoniously kicked off the Duck.
We continued on past the old parliament building that now serves as a mall, The Champ de Mars and the City Hall where Charles De Gaulle made his controversial “Vive le Québéc libre!” (Long live free Quebec!) speech from the balcony.
Next thing we knew we were driving along tiny back streets among the warehouses and docks, then right off the edge into the St. Lawrence River.
As a boat, the duck feels unwieldy and awkward, like it might go down any minute, but it was worth the scare (and the goofy embarrassment) to be right next to the giant ships and see Montreal from the water’s perspective.
The short cruise took us along the shores of Ile Sainte-Hélène for a view of the La Ronde amusement park and the site of the 1967 World’s Fair, Expo 67, with the stunning Biosphere and Habitat 67. Habitat 67 is a series of cubes built as a master thesis project by Moshe Sofdie.
It was designed as a ’60s example of futuristic economical urban living but, ironically, now each cube goes for $250,000 and must be bought in groups of at least five consecutive cubes. Looks like it caught on!
Back on dry land, we decided to seek some more serious sustenance. Vieux Montreal, the old town along the port, is filled with fantastic restaurants, many featuring the finest French fare this side of Paris.
We stumbled upon Le Bourlingueur on Rue St-François Xavier and could not have been more pleased. The menu is la table d’hôte, so the incredible food is served without serious wallet destruction. Plenty of reasonably priced wonderful wines are also available to wash things down.
The great meal and relaxed atmosphere were an ideal segue to a night at the Casino de Montreal. The Boy, now of legal age to partake in gambling and drinking in Montreal, and The Piglet and Decibel wanted to be a part of these rites of passage.
Mom and Dad only had to wait about a half hour before all three kids lost their shirts. Ahhhh…teachable moments. No one got drunk and we were in bed by midnight.
The next morning we dropped The Boy at the airport and took in the more sublime St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. Towering over Montreal’s west side, this is Canada’s largest church and features the third largest domed basilica in the world. It didn’t begin that way, in 1904, Brother André Bessette built a small chapel that soon proved too modest.
A larger church was completed in 1917 to accommodate the ever growing number of pilgrims in search of miraculous healing. This was still not large enough so, to honor St. Joseph whom brother André credits for all of the healings, the basilica was constructed from 1924 through 1967.
Thousands of crutches line the walls as testimony to the cures. The believers can also garner new strength by viewing brother
Bessette’s disembodied heart on display upstairs or with one of the blessed bottles of cooking oil available for purchase in the gift shop. Small for $10.00 or the grande for 25.
Ever the uncouth one, Decibel decided to sneak a dab out of a bottle to rub on some dry skin. Nothing like some blessed Wesson to clear up the chapping.
Over 2 million visitors a year pass through this stunning structure, but to us perhaps the most striking thing about it was it’s
age, or lack thereof. The style is conspicuously modern when compared to the famous churches of Europe, especially on the
It seemed odd at first blush, but we all soon came to agreement that things need not be ancient to be very cool.
As we headed south and back to the English speaking world with a far better understanding of our uniquely French neighbors to the north.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com