a weekend trip to montreal
In January, Brad and I, along with our friends Mike and Carrie, drove up to Toronto for an adventure that all started because Brad wanted to try some delicious poutine. We found something tasty, but we have been informed by every Canadian we know (or don’t know!) that Montreal is the home of poutine, and they don’t do it right anywhere else.
Since I’m interning in the Boston area, that corner of Canada is closer than it’ll ever be. It was time for Brad and I to go on another Canada adventure.
Thursday, August 16
Driving through Vermont was absolutely gorgeous. Jim Dale narrated the Prisoner of Azkaban for us as we drove, and we had plenty of snacks and good company. The glorious winds of Fate also carried us to a gas station that served maple soft serve – “creamees” to Vermonters – but more on that later.
Finally, we were welcomed to Quebec, and after driving through scenic French-Canadian farmland, we reached Montreal.
Our first stop was the Oratoire Saint-Joseph. This place was amazing. It was absolutely enormous, with a huge green dome, and the whole thing was built into the side of the mountain. I loved all of it. There were two churches inside the building, and an outside walking path with big statues for the Stations of the Cross.
From the terrace, we could see half of Montreal and beyond.
The whole place was first envisioned by Brother Andre, a beloved priest in Montreal at the turn of the century. This charming little Disneyland-looking building was his original chapel, and it got full so he built the giant church. I’m thinking maybe he exaggerated a bit with how much more space he needed… but it was an amazing sight to see.
By the time we’d explored the entire oratory, we had worked up an appetite so we headed to ta for Australian meat pies and mashed potatoes. Mine was butter chicken, and Brad’s was steak, bacon, and cheese. His was better, but they both verified my belief that just about anything is better empanado: wrapped in bread or dough.
We did some exploring and found the most delightful orange spiral fire escape. It turns out they have spiral fire escapes everywhere, but this first one was a very exciting discovery.
Friday, August 17
We woke up bright and early for the big day: Poutine Day.
We had Tim Horton’s for breakfast, of course. Then we set out for the Basilique Notre-Dame to finish up our Montreal church tour. It was a gorgeous church, with ornate detailing and beautiful interior architecture. Not mind-blowing like the oratory, and there was an admission fee, but it was very pretty and worth visiting.
We set forth a “No Snacks Until Poutine” rule because poutine tastes even better in a really hungry belly… then we immediately broke the rule upon encountering a food truck that sold gourmet ice cream sandwiches. This led to a brutal seagull attack on poor Bradley, and the ice cream sandwich wasn’t even that great – but I guess that’s what happens when you break the rules!
We wandered the Old Port and found an art gallery filled with Inuit sculptures. They were, for lack of a better word, AWESOME. Dancing bears, wide-eyed owls… if I ever own expensive art, one of those will be first on my list.
I also saw a narwhal tusk. From a real narwhal. That someone had carved as art. I was sad. Moving on.
We ventured closer to our poutine destination, but first we took my typical detour and stopped in this fabric store: Plazatex.
It was “the good kind” – filled to the brim with fabrics so all sounds were damped. I love those stores because they always feel like they hold hidden treasures.
The fabrics were a little pricey, but they had some good ones. I bought some plaid wool to make a quick-and-easy scarf. The owner was friendly and chatted with Brad about antiques.
We also stopped by RixRax, a button store, and it had lots of buttons. It was a perfect store for anyone looking for buttons for a particular project, but we know I have plenty of buttons! So I bought a dollar’s worth of tiny plastic buckles and was on my way.
Finally, the time had arrived. Poutine time.
As advised by a trusted commenter (thank you stephanie!), we made La Banquise our official poutine destination. We were not disappointed.
We ordered a classic poutine out of necessity, as well as “la dan dan” – the standard french fries with gravy and cheese curds, further laden with onions, bacon, and pepperoni. Oh my. Just looking at that picture makes me want to drive back there. It was good.
With full, happy bellies we spent the rest of the late afternoon exploring. We had an unlimited day pass for the metro, so we took the long way home: we hopped off the train at multiple random stops, walked around a bit, then hopped back on.
Among the randomly encountered attractions was the Palais des congrès de Montréal, an event venue with the most brilliant colored windows.
The late afternoon sun filled the room with rainbows.
I like orange. He likes green.
We stopped by two microbreweries on the way back for little samples: Les 3 Brausseurs and Brutopia. Les 3 Brausseurs wasn’t anything special (perhaps even less than that), but Brutopia had some decent offerings.
After even more exploring, including a crazy Ford Racing street event, it was time to call an end to our busy, adventure-filled day.
Saturday, August 18
Day 3 began with more Tim Horton’s, as well as Brad’s other favorite Canadian breakfast treat: Yop drinkable yogurts. With a name like Yop, what’s not to love?
We also discovered the most incredible Canadian delicacy: maple sandwich cookies. Think Golden Oreo with a hint of heavenly maple flavor. You can bet that first pack was gone before we reached the US border.
Our main Saturday attraction, before heading back to the good ol’ United States, was le Parc Olympique. The 1976 Olympics were played in this giant mothership of a concrete building, and it serves as an athletic facility today. Earlier in the week, according to the signs, they had hosted an international women’s water polo championship.
Besides the crazy architecture, and the Olympic diving pool, there wasn’t much to see here… but I did love the orange chairs.
We stopped for lunch at a little strip mall in the suburbs, and this was the first time we encountered a non-anglophone. Throughout the trip, French was spoken everywhere, but most people were happy (or at least, civil) to speak English with us, even if it was their second choice.
Finally we began our return journey. And now it is time to tell you about maple creamees.
I don’t like maple syrup. I don’t like it on my pancakes or waffles or anything – pure maple syrup is just too strong. But apparently, as my time in Vermont and Canada has recently taught me, I love maple-enhanced things.
So when I tried a maple creamee on the way there, my life was changed forever. And on the return journey, we just had to find it again. But it had just been a random exit, a detour taken to an unknown gas station when it was time to get gas “somewhere in Vermont”. Who knew if we’d ever find the magical maple creamees again.
Oh, those glorious winds of fate.
Not far from Montpelier, we had the tingling sense of being close to that magical place. And yes, we found them.
Later, Brad looked at the above photo and said, regarding his photographed self, “oh, I am happy.”
We sat on the edge of the trunk, enjoying our creamees in the slanting sunlight. Then we continued through the mountain roads, having crossed another adventure off our ever-growing list.
(thank you so much to my Canadian readers for all your help and advice! your lists of things to do and see and places to go really helped me plan this adventure to a place i had never been, with a language i don’t know. it’s true what they say about Canadians, you guys are the nicest!)