After Melissa and I were married last May, we took a brief trip to Montreal as part of our honeymoon. It was her visit to this city I once called home. As for myself, I always enjoy returning to my old stomping grounds, whether on business or pleasure. It has an old world feel and a sense of history that is sorely lacking in Toronto. Other than Quebec City, it is as close as one can to a European style experience in North America.
I wanted to find a hotel right in the heart of the city, however, this time of the year choices are limited unless one is prepared to pay top dollar. I wanted to find a hotel that would come under $200 a night and avoid any bland and uninspired corporate accommodations such as Motel 6. After a bit of online research, I found the reasonably well reviewed Hotel Quartier des Spectacles on St. Catherine St. The price was right and there was only one room left, so I booked it. Before we arrived, Melissa did some research and discovered the hotel is situated right over a sex shop! As you can see, the plywood is far seedier than the actual merchandise. The sign says their business is growing (insert joke here).
One could easily ignore the sex shop, however, one could not ignore the unseasonably cold weather or soul crushing gridlock and omnipresent road construction. The weather felt more like March than the end of May. No matter where you went, there were road closures, lane restrictions, no access to street parking and traffic congestion. I am accustomed to a certain degree of traffic in Montreal, but this was out of the ordinary. I soon learned there was a general strike of construction workers and engineers. 58 job sites were abandoned and the city was left in a state of disrepair. Driving my car was an exercise in futility and frustration, so we relied on taxi cabs.
Our first night was spent in Old Montreal. After a decadent steak dinner, we took a few hours to walk the cobblestone streets. Melissa was smitten by the beauty and European flair of this old French settlement. No matter how many times I return to Montreal, I cannot tear myself away from the original city to explore its narrow streets, restaurants, bars and shops.
The following day, I wanted to take Melissa to see some of Montreal’s most famous landmarks, such as Notre Dame Cathedral, St. Joseph’s Oratory, Jarry Park, Schwartz’s Deli, Olympic Stadium as well as my Grandparent’s apartment in what used to be Little Italy. Gridlock made it difficult to get around, so we settled for Notre Dame Cathedral, the old Faucher homestead and Shwartz’s Deli.
Back in the 1960’s and 70’s Esplanade Ave. was predominantly Italian. I can still recall the pungent aroma of garlic when visiting Grandma Faucher. There were old men playing Bocce ball in the park, women gossiping on their porches and the street was full of Italian kids at play. Those days are long gone. Now it is tapestry of different ethnic groups, namely Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Chinese. The Bocce ball courts are crumbling away and life is eerily more silent as people remain indoors. What was one a tightly knit community bound by an old world heritage is now a loosely knit multicultural patchwork.
No visit to Montreal is complete without trying the best smoked meat in the world from Schwartz’s deli. I forewarned Melissa that one must be prepared to stand in line for at least 20 minutes, but patience will be rewarded. As luck would have it, we waited all but one minute and were promptly seated at the lunch counter. Melissa is now a convert and agrees it’s the best smoked meat anywhere.
If there is anything Catholicism has given to the world, it is spectacular cathedrals and breathtaking religious artwork. Perhaps the best representation of this tradition in North American is the Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica which is modelled on the larger and more fabled Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. However, the beauty of Montreal’s version speaks for itself.
After Notre Dame, went back to our hotel, rested a bit and then it was back to Old Montreal for dinner and another promenade. What a nice way to end the day.
We would love to visit Montreal again, but I am reticent to return until the city’s streets are repaired. I am hoping by summer 2017, the streets will be in much better condition.