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Montréal - Novembre 2023

Updated: Jul 6

Arrived Montréal from Toronto via VIA¹, the Canadian passenger rail transportation system, via first class carriage. As it was our 20th anniversary, I informed Madam (Mme) AAR that henceforth we would only travel first class . . . by rail . . . every 20 years. A very pleasant (French: agréable) way to enter the city. Our purser, Virgile (unpronounceable to those that do not parlez-vous), made our 4.5 hour journey delightful. He had a little Québécois edge to him which allowed us to gradually assimilate into the Montréal climate.

The Sights (Les Sites)

According to some, the interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica is amongst the most dramatic in the world, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture. The site of state funerals (Pierre Trudeau and Maurice Richard) and weddings (Céline Dion). And therefore I would have gladly paid the $43 CAD ($31 USD) entrance fee to see the glory and listen to the Casavant Frèrespipe organ, dated 1891, which comprises four keyboards, 92 stops using electromagnetic action and an adjustable combination system, 7,000 individual pipes and a pedal board. Instead I decided it would be even more dramatic to attend Mass the day after our arrival (after some five decades, being Catholic finally paid off). The mass was in Français, which made the homily only slightly more incomprehensible. The outside was undergoing renovation, but the inside is quite stunning, though with modest attendance.

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

We then went for café down the street at Crew Collective & Café, which is located in the great hall of the former Royal Bank of Canada. The place was much better attended, with a an interior only slightly less dramatic.

On the alter at this church parishioners will find an espresso machine

The Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (MBAM) has a Louvre-like collection of art, everything from Josef Albers to an Unguentarium. We were there for over four hours and only saw a third of the collection. Well worth the time and effort. This piece by Phillipe de Champaigne caught my eye, not necessarily due to its artistry, but due to its ability to vividly display a memorable biblical passage.

What is Jesus' reply to the Pharisees trick question?

I soloed Mont Royal and it enabled me to get my daily 20,000 steps and 58 floors. Google (Googlè) took me to the summit via a foot path that was blocked due to construction. Instead of taking a long detour (détour), I thought "What would Mme AAR do?" and then promptly went under, over and around various barriers and impediments, before making my way up a rather steep incline by pulling on tree limbs. I was then rewarded with fine views of the Montréal skyline.

Yes, that's a mural of Montréal's very own Leonard Cohen (right - middle)

At this point I was quite hungry so I pushed on to St-Viateur Bagel for what is generally regarded as the best Montréal bagel. It is fittingly located on the edge of the Jewish Quarter and on the eponymous street named after the patron saint of the Viatorians and bagels.

The most important thing to realize is that Montréal bagels are different from real (NY) bagels as they are unproven, sweeter, less tasty and most definitely smaller. They only come in poppy and sesame.

I served a poppy one back at the hotel, with a little Niagara Peninsula Cab Franc. After I optimistically remarked "Not bad," Mme AAR replied, "Not good either!" If you visit Montréal, try no more than one.

The Food (La Nourriture)

The chanteuse at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto recommend Bullion Bilk and its nouvelle cuisine. Mme AAR claims this was the best food we ate in Canada and, well . . . I really enjoyed the glass of the local 2021 Vivant Rosé (nothing says rosé . . . like Canada). They tried to overcharge us for the "veal, sea urchin, eggplant, artichoke, cashew nuts, lavash, chili" but the Missus wasn't putting up with that merde - not cool! I didn't feel any better when they thanked us for noticing. I always wonder, when something like this happens, does the price get updated in the system or is it just a case of c'est la vie.

On the way home we stopped off for a drink. Before overcharging us the bartender at Bullion Bilk recommended Philimon Bar but it was too dead and too loud. So we continued down Rue St. Paul W and stopped in Escondite Vieux-Port. The astute reader may ask "why would someone stop off at a Mexican joint in Old Montréal?" Cut to the chase: a terrible Mojito followed by two gratis shots of mezcal after the bartender somehow found out it was our 20th wedding anniversary. Though the highlight was chatting with two massage therapists, one of whom was a pole dancer instructor ("professeur de pole dance"). She shared with me her Instagram account, as I was not familiar with that style of dance.

I also soloed Les Enfants Terribles, for some Bière O'clock views of downtown Montréal. To replicate my experience, and save $9.78 CAD, you could walk to the top of Mont Royal with a friend and take some photos while your friend completely ignores you. The place should be renamed Les Service Terribles. The only place where I got a whiff of the superior Quebecois bitchiness.

Much like the French Quarter in New Orleans, Old Montréal is quite quaint and heavily touristed, and if possible I wanted to do my eating outside the confines of the long gone walls. But I had to declare force majeure: You see Mme AAR had just returned from a merveilleux 90 minute massage at the Hotel William Gray (by the aforementioned non pole dancing professeur) and therefore was in no condition to walk more than 100 meters. So we had some excellent Salmon tartare at Migon, which was adjacent to our hotel. They also overcharged us ($50 USD for a glass of Lambrusco frizzante - sacré bleu!), though their apology was much more sincere than Buillion Bilk. Afterward Mme AAR said that "in the future we need to check the bill extra carefully," to which I replied "that's the sexiest thing you've ever said to me."

Our last night in La Metropole, I wanted to get a real meal, not one that looked beautiful but afterwards left you wanting for a slice. I knew that Tony Bourdain could guide me and he did, directly to Joe Beef in the Little Burgundy neighborhood. I did what I always do to get a hard to get dinner reservation, I showed up at opening, and sat at the bar. If I were you I'd get the deconstructed bone marrow "Royale" for an entrées et hors d'oeuvres, followed by the "Nice Dish of Duck" for two (partager) and the market vegetables: squash with fruit & nut compote. Outstanding. The best meal I had in Canada.

If you followed my advice to the letter, you may find that your ordered just a little too much food. No worries, just get the balance wrapped and the following day make a duck sandwich using a croissant your wife hustled from the hotel kitchen.

I was never concerned about the Québécois/French "attitude" in Montréal, as you get what you give. A little "Bonjour,""Merci," and "L’addition, s’il vous plaît," goes a long way. Also I've previously visited a bilingual city where English was the secondary language, and my visit to Miami went just fine.

The Underground City (La ville souterraine)

Every city of a certain gravitas and latitude has underground (or above ground) passages to allow locals and commuters to avoid the elements and corresponding heat stroke or frostbite, though it just so happens that at 32 km., Montréal has the world's largest. If you happen upon it great, otherwise it's kind of a nothing burger ("rien de hamburger").

The Airport Transfer (Transfert de l'aéroport)

In Montréal you have two basic options (choix) to get from your lodgings to the Montréal–Trudeau International Airport (YUL). Uber or bus. An issue I've noticed with Uber is that it doesn't arrive to pick me up as fast as I would like, and on occasion never at all. So in this case I decided to go with the 747 express bus ($11 CAD/$8 USD) to the airport. Even after a 10 minute walk to the bus stop, as the bus has its own express lane for much of the journey, I was break even timewise and ahead $15 USD pocketwise. BTW: The bus ticket kiosk charged me twice.

The Lodgings (Les Gîtes)

If you are going to stay in Old Montréal (Vieux-Montréal) and want to do it with a little bit of style, class, and comfort than you need to stay at the Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel. The room was so nice that Mme AAR didn't believe I had booked it. Even though the tv said "Welcome Michael Flack," I think she may have thought it was for another Monsieur Flack.

In keeping with the aforementioned theme, when I reviewed my credit card statement I noticed the hotel overcharged me $5.22 USD. After politely letting them know that this was not the way I wanted to end my otherwise pleasurable stay, a credit was issued. I should have just let it go, but it was starting to feel a little personal.

The Flight Home (Le Vol Retour)

Booked my Canadian adventure via a series of one way tickets (MCI - YYZ, train from Toronto to Montréal, then YUL - MCI), with the last segment being the most frustrating.

I booked the Montréal to Kansas City (YUL - MCI) flight on 22 Sep for $273 USD, I was a little irritated as the price had increased ~$25 over the prior week. I specifically booked a flight departing at 3:25 pm so I could have a bonus half day in Montréal.

Then 20 hours later, Delta changed my flight, having me depart Montréal at 12:05 pm with a layover at JFK for 4.5 hours. I decided this could either be a screw-job or an offer to be accepted.

So I searched for a better flight, and found one for $224, departing Montréal at 5:00 pm and arriving back home at 9:14 pm. It had a very short 55 minute layover in Détroit ("Day twahhh"), but I figured what the hell, it's not like I had to be at work the next morning. It was booked and then I cancelled my original flight as it was booked less than 24 hours prior².

Then five days later Delta switched me to a 1:05 pm flight with a five hour layover. I called Expedia and inferred "WTF!?" as my 5:00 pm flight with Delta was still available but now for $100 more. After "working" with Expedia for over an hour, my itinerary was restored with no increase in price. I must admit I was feeling pretty good, and may have subsequently exuded a deservedly earned don't "eff" with me vibe.

Then it happened again three days later³.

Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.

¹ Via Rail Canada Inc. is a Canadian Crown corporation that operates intercity passenger rail service in Canada. The Great White North's version of Amtrak, except that it is cleaner, with better service and superior equipment.

² The Department of Transportation 24-hour flight cancellation rule requires that all airlines flying in the U.S., even international carriers, must issue a full refund if you cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking. There are some ins and outs to this rule which excludes online travel agencies (OTA) like Expedia. For this specific flight Expedia had its own 24 hour cancellation policy.

³ I left Montréal at 5:00 pm, as originally planned.

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