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Posts Tagged ‘montreal’

Markets, Museums and Meals

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.

Metro station in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles

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.

Ceiling in the Chateau Dufresne

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.

Outside Atwater market

Inside the very tidy Atwater market

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.

Detail, Musee des Maitres et Artisans du Quebec

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Ready Or Not

Ever since I got back from Canada at the end of July I’ve been consumed with planning for my upcoming round-the-world trip. My blog post on Quebec City and Montreal didn’t make it past the first paragraph, in which I explained that to someone living in the Turkish-bath heat of North Carolina, 83 Fahrenheit was a pleasant change and in no way a heat wave. To make up for the missing post I’ll put some of my Canada photos into this post, which is otherwise all about getting ready to head out for six months travel.

Outside Quebec City's train station

I’m on my fourth things-to-do list, and I still don’t have the whole trip planned. But I’m mostly OK with that, because the piece I haven’t planned is south-east Asia, and I’m sure I can do that on the fly. I originally thought I could do India on the fly too, but soon realized that things had changed since I was there in 2001. Then, right after 9-11, there were hardly any tourists around, and I had no difficulty getting reservations a few days ahead, even over Christmas. Now both domestic and foreign tourism is flourishing, and I still haven’t found a place for the days right after New Year’s.

I have dealt with the most crucial pre-trip items. Medical – I have a pile of

Very small church on the Ile d'Orleans

Malarone tablets, a selection of vitamins, and, most important, medical evacuation insurance. The outfit – tenweb.com – that got me home after I broke my wrist in Switzerland in 2005 won’t cover me for more than 90 days. After a lot of fairly fruitless research I talked with a helpful guy at Seven Corners, which administers TEN, and he recommended Liaison Traveler, which is covering me, for a very reasonable fee, for six months after my current TEN policy expires.

Finance – now that Wachovia has been fully taken over by Wells Fargo its fees have risen to ridiculous heights ($2 for using a non-Wachovia ATM – for a balance inquiry???), and my Credit Union has reasonable fees but low daily withdrawal limits for several countries, including Japan. So, I now have a third checking account, with Capital One – NO fees of any kind. Maybe when I get back I’ll move my automatic deposits and bill payments to Capital One and abandon Wachovia for good.

French-speaking regiment inside Quebec City's castle

I also have four credit cards, as Capital One won’t issue me a new Visa card until two months before the old one expires – in the middle of my trip! My brand-new American Express Blue justified it’s existence this week when I got a killer deal on a splurge hotel in India.

Electronics – I very nearly bought a new camera for this trip, as my Panasonic Lumix is way out of date, but finally decided it could handle one more trip. I did buy a new, lighter netbook. I considered the iPad, but by the time I added the case, the camera connection kit (NO USB port!) and a wireless keyboard, it weighed as much as a netbook and was harder to use. I’m rather fond of my ASUS 1008HA.

Montreal's squeaky-clean market

Clothes – last year my doctor got concerned about my LDL cholesterol, even though all my other numbers were fine. Since I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on statins I changed my diet – no sat fats or bad carbs (well, not often). Besides dropping my LDL from 150 to 106, I also dropped some weight, and now my favorite travel pants are too big. And I hate clothes shopping. I’m taking some less favorite pants, but I did go shopping for new sandals, since my Birks proved too slippery last trip. I have some sturdy Eccos that feel great, but take up more room than I like in my pack.

I also bought new boots – I’d forgotten how messed up my old pair got in the Jordanian desert last year. Fortunately (since I only realized I had a problem two days ago), REI had the exact same style in the exact same size. I gave them a spin round the neighborhood yesterday, and everything seemed fine.

A pretty Victorian in Montreal

Planning – it will be a relief to get on the plane! And I do have an actual boarding pass for tomorrow’s flight to new York, although I had to spend nearly an hour on the phone to get it. (Most of it on hold.) Seems that when I changed the last flight on my itinerary back in July, the first flight somehow got dropped from the system, even though it still showed up on my online itinerary. Good thing I had checked!!! I’m giving New York a third chance, after the bad weather last time. Thanks to my lovely One World FF award, I’ll fly to LGA in first class, before taking the bus and the metro (thanks Hopstop) to my budget “cabin” at the Jane.

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