June 4-7, 2012: Two years ago I went north to Canada to escape the heat and humidity of a North Carolina summer, only to find that Quebec City and Montreal were suffering with their own heat wave. Fortunately, their heat wave was a good bit cooler than North Carolina’s (“only” in the high 80s), although the humidity was still bad. Not so bad that I didn’t do some serious sightseeing, after which I developed a definite preference for Montreal over QC. With a choice of trains to New York between the Maple Leaf from Toronto, or the Adirondack out of Montreal, I had no hesitation in picking the Adirondack, and booking myself into the same Montreal B&B, on the Rue St. Denis, I had used before.
The train from Ottawa to Montreal was a standard intercity, the only notable feature being the boarding process. Prospective passengers had to line up inside the station building, and then march out to the platform after the train arrived. I felt like I was back in school. Once in Montreal I bought a transport pass and took the metro over to the Latin Quarter. This time I knew to get off at Sherbrooke and walk down the hill, instead of at Berri-UQAM and slog up the hill.
I mostly stayed out of the cobbled streets of the old town, avoiding the major tourist sights. I did revisit the Museum of Fine Arts, but that was to see the decorative arts collection, which I had missed on my first visit. I enjoyed the docent’s tour, and spend a little time afterwards admiring some glass, but the collection was woefully short of Art Nouveau pieces. I was even happier the next day, visiting a house museum, the Chateau Dufresne. Built at the time of the First World War for two brothers, it was really two houses, as each brother occupied his own half, with no connecting door. I envied them the enclosed terraces at the back, and was amused by the lavish smoking room, with its racy frieze. The house made an interesting contrast to the Olympic Stadium, just across the avenue Jeanne d’Arc.
I had picked up thick guide to Montreal’s many museums and historic sites at the downtown Tourist Office, which led me to the rather obscure Musee des Maitres et Artisans du Quebec. This pilgrimage took me almost to the far end of the Orange metro line, to a former church, and I’m not sure it was really worth the effort. An exhibition of work, principally in leather, by students, and the building itself, interested me more than the permanent collection.
On my previous visit I had followed the crowds to the Jean-Talon market, where I had enjoyed lunch, in a cheese shop, as much as the market. When I went back, I was saddened to find that the cheese shop no longer operated a cafe, but then ate even better at the Restaurant Alep. I was delighted to find mouhamara on the menu, a spread I had enjoyed in Aleppo, and that didn’t appear in other Middle Eastern restaurants I had tried in the US. I was also amused to see Alep recommended in a New York Times article soon after I returned home. Their picks are usually out of my price range. This time I also visited Atwater market, further south. Although smaller, it seemed very similar to Jean-Talon, and had a much nicer location, on the banks of a canal. I was surprised by the profusion of flower stalls surrounding the main building.
Aside from the Alep, my best meals were at the Cafe Cherrier, just up the hill from my B&B. I had eaten there on my last visit, and wasn’t disappointed this time. I particularly remember a mussel appetizer, and a perfectly cooked steak frites. I ate mussels again for lunch in a restaurant near the Musee des Beaux Artes, and then found a Nespresso shop across the street. After my experience with the Nespresso machine in the apartment in Budapest I had bought my own, but I have to order my capsules over the internet. I had a double macchiato in one of my favorite flavors, before walking up to the Mount Royal Park for some exercise.
I was sorry to leave Montreal, but the coming weekend would feature the Grand Prix Montreal, and hotel prices were going up accordingly.