I enjoyed my first and short visit in New Orleans and it’s sad to leave the city’s perfect weather thinking that I am bound to freezing and cold Montreal. But I was so looking forward to spending time with newfound friends whom I met during my trip in Cuba.
On early morning of 17 December, I was in a panic as I wait and stand in line at the check in counter of the Delta Airlines in New Orleans Airport. I was crossing my fingers that the ground flight attendant will say the magic word, “Yes, you are good to go.” And there was the word of relief when the check-in clerk called my attention. It certainly put a smile on my face.
Airlines use the same system as agents do. And according to Timatic, when traveling to Canada; a return ticket must be provided as a proof of exit. Thankfully, I managed to convince the check-in clerk to confirm with his supervisor about the ticket situation. During my Toronto trip from New York, via train, I didn’t encounter this situation. My mind was thinking ahead with a plan to make sure that I will get on this flight. I had to call my cousin Mark at 4.25 am (San Francisco time) in case I need help to book my ticket online to New York as an option. Sorry cuz to have to wake you up!
I always have a good experience traveling with Delta so far. And during holiday season, they also offer free Wifi access. DL 2146 was a full flight. On board was a group of tall and sturdy guys who happen to be the Tulane basketball team. I was certainly feeling like the sole David surrounded by Goliaths. My connecting flight, DL5240, was delayed for almost an hour. It eventually took off from Atlanta at 12.45pm. I arrived Montreal-Trudeau Airport at 3.30pm.
It was only when I arrived in Montreal that I realized that I have gone through 4 cities in 7 days, from Columbus, the American Midwest in the state of Ohio to Washington DC, the nation’s capital, to New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz music and finally to Montreal, the second largest city in Canada. That’s a lot of mileage in diverse weather conditions!
From the airport, I hopped on the 747 Express Bus to meet my friend Nancy (whom I met in Santa Lucia, Cuba) at Berri-UQAM Terminal. Taking the express bus to downtown was the most practical way, especially during rush hour traffic times. The bus operates between Montreal-Trudeau and downtown for $7 ($ 8 effective 1 Jan 2011). Tickets can either be purchased from the ticket machine inside the airport terminal or outside from a ticket officer. The only inconvenience you may have is to look for an exact change in coins (in case you don’t have one). 747 Express buses are equipped with luggage racks.
As the bus headed to the city, I can feel the cold and icy air outside just by merely looking the thick snow covering the city. A snowstorm just hit the city over a week ago. The roads are wet, side streets are clogged with mountains of snow and a number of cars were still covered with snow.
I finally met up with Nancy at around 5 pm. She drove me down to my hotel and had my first meal with her at Peel Pub, wildly popular hang out place among university students because of its cheap meal and drinks. It was the most accessible place for a quick bite. I was apparently hungry as I finished a real big meal enough to feed two people. It was certainly a very busy night, being Friday, and packed with young sports enthusiasts cheering for a local team. We finished our meal and stay at the Peel Pub with a glass of Sangria. We were quick to get in and quick to leave.
My Australian winter boots was definitely only geared for 0ºC and certainly not for minus ºC. I admired the locals who can endure this kind of weather. Thankfully, Nancy got me some thick socks and a scarf, sweater, and a leg warmer. Nancy was indeed my savior that night! Although I know that my shoes will be ruined from the snow salt, I intentionally didn’t buy a proper winter boots geared for snow simply of space issues in my suitcase.
After the pub meal, I got back in to the comfort of Nancy’s car for a moonlight scenic tour of the city. We drove along Cote-des-Neiges Street from Peel Street where Residence Inn by Marriott is located, my hub during my stay. This is the first time I stayed in a Residence Inn & and would highly recommend my fellow travelers to stay at any Residence Inn at any time over Courtyard because of its extra-featured spacious entertainment area and fully equipped kitchen. If all room types have a big walk in wardrobe just like this place, all you need to do is to stock in all your mess inside and close the door.
We continued our city tour driving towards Belevedere on Mount Royal to capture the stunning and perfect moonlight panoramic view of Montreal. From here, we followed the illuminated Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal then onto the outdoor Skating Rink at Beaver Lake, We took the Montroyal Street and St-Denis on the way back to the hotel. The City drive at night was not only the perfect way to wind down from the busy day travel. It was absolutely the perfect way to capture great pictures with the moonlight adding perfection to the images.
Saturday 18 December 10 was an easy day for me but took the opportunity to have the must try Montreal ‘Poutine’ for lunch at La Belle Province on Peel Street. The place was highly recommended by Nancy. Poutine is a bowl of French fries served with fresh cheese curds and brown gravy. Definitely not my choice of junk food but I had to try it!
At dinner, I reunited with Brian, Vinnie, Rob and Len (another group of new friends that I met in Cuba) for dinner at Restaurant Yuukai (Japanese fusion), located in the heart of the popular and busy Avenue du Parc. The night was enjoyed with a selection of delectable sushi, sashimi and other tasty dishes and some BYO wine. One distinct and notable feature of this restaurant is that each table has a usable menu (along with a pencil) for you to pick and choose your food orders. The night was eventful as Nancy; friend of Brian was also at the restaurant to celebrate her birthday.
Few of us culminated the evening at a bar in Casino de Montreal, a multi storey building, where Expo 67 was housed. Casino de Montreal is not Vegas but it also offers you endless gaming area, restaurants and bars. Securities are pretty strict when taking pictures, even at the bar area and especially if you have an SLR camera. I was on the watch all night after I got caught and have been reported for taking many pictures in the bar area.
The next morning, Sunday 19 December 10 was another cold day for Montreal. With my all-time only winter footwear, and winter clothing to keep me warm, I bravely went out for a quick stroll at Dorchester Square and onto Marie-Reine du Monde Cathedrale. On my way back to the hotel, I took a short break and entered through the shops at St. Catherine Street offer perfect protection from weather extremes. It was indeed an excellent way to avoid freezing winter days and do something fun. St Catherine Street is Montreal’s busiest shopping street.
Alex, whom I met at Atlanta airport, whilst waiting for my delayed connecting flight, suggested that I go to Schwartz. Schwarz is an institution for the well-known and delectable smoked meat. Schwartz was located on St Laurent, which is the residence of Montreal nightlife of bars/restaurants & cafes. Although I was warned that I may experience long wait to get in, Schwartz that night at 8.30pm was the perfect timing – no waits what so ever! Schwartz, which has been visited by famous celebrities and rock stars, is a meat lover’s paradise – very much like the Carnegie Deli in New York. Since I love steak, I gave myself a steak and smoked meat combo treat served with a whole large size pickle, French fries, and a coleslaw on the side and a couple of mini Frankfurter. It was simply a place to sit, devour, pay and leave!
Monday, 20 December, was my last day in Montreal. I went through my “must go list” to see if I ever missed some places.
Although, summer is the best time to visit Montreal, I cannot leave Montreal without seeing Old Montreal. As adventurous as I intend to be, I took the $7 day pass bus ride to get to my last destination for the day. The bus goes around a circle and it was the best route to go than taking a subway (as you have to change stations). I got off at China Town and walked towards Place Jacques Cartier, which seemed to be the corridor to get to and from the museums and the many landmarks and heritage buildings, like the Waterfront, Old Port Montreal and the fun outdoor skating rink at Bassin Bonsecours. I strolled around the area and got close to see the skating rink with full of ice skater enthusiasts – it looked absolutely fun! I would have loved to skate myself but I know it is going to be a hard performance and might end up having multiple bruises from falling into the hard ice. Old Montreal, at summer is apparently much more fun and better time to visit and watch the street performers and the fireworks during festival events.
While walking along the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, I stumbled into an interesting microbrewery restaurant, the Les 3 Brasseurs, and enjoyed my last lunch here. I was also impressed by the friendly and attentive services of the staff.
To sum up my travel in Montreal, I honestly agree with the famous novelist Mark Twain when he said, “I may remark that my stay in Montreal has been exceedingly pleasant, but the weather has been a good deal of a disappointment.”
Finally, on Tuesday, 21 December, at 9.30am, I boarded on my last and long 11 hours and 10 minute train ride to NYC via Amtrak Service 68 Adirondak for $71 – an absolute bargain especially during Christmas time when all travel fares are ridiculously high! We crossed the border after 1hour.30mins. Customs checks went for nearly 2hours. Clearing Canadian Customs is as bad as clearing US Customs especially if you plan to travel and stay for a long duration. They asked you gazillions of questions. But I have to say that having worked in the travel industry made it easier for me. And it goes with my favorite question “What work do you do?” Voila! This became my ticket to obtain immediate clearance (following with less interrogative questions) the moment I uttered, “I am in the travel industry, Sir,”
The most interesting sights of the Adirondak route to NY was along the long stretched lake view and the rugged country side of NY State, combined with the views of the beautiful mountains coated in snow and ice cones.
Amtrak Service 68 Adirondak finally arrived to NY Penn Station at 9.30pm, which was 50 minutes late. I then quickly proceeded to 10 West Platform to get to Maplewood Station, NJ where my Uncle Pol lives, without realizing that I could not get a ticket on the train. But thankfully, the ticket inspector was kind enough to let me get on the train without a ticket. It has been 7 years since I last saw my uncle.
After a long day of traveling, at midnight, I finally made it to my uncle’s house doorstep.
© 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.