We come from the San Francisco Bay Area, and are not foreigners to really good croissants. In the Mission, Tartine Patisserie makes killer croissants…that nonetheless cannot beat those from “Boulangerie Monsieur Maisson” in Montreal. No picture can capture the textured blend of “flake and pull”, and the buttery flavor. Is their a more perfect comfort food? Our neighborhood cafe in Montreal, ‘1880’ is across from the University of Quebec. We were so happy the 40,000 students were on Summer Break, as this place is mobbed otherwise. Had Steven not had his croissant and espresso each morning as planned…well, that is just not a good way to start a summery day in France, or at least French Canada’s version thereof.
After all you have to get fueled to climb some hills to explore the neighborhoods and charms of Montreal and the St. Laurence River. Basilica Notre Dame is the largest Cathedral in Canada, and it is like a gothic stage set with creepy lighting, candles, and stained glass. Even the ceiling, the pipe organ and pulpits are just aflame with color. The architect converted to Catholicism so he could be buried under the Basilica.
There is a large artistic population in the City and gallery support of local arts. Most neighborhood cafes spun good tunes and had some quirky art, like this 800 spoon chandelier.
On these too warm 80 degree evenings (especially for Spring, and especially as there are still snow drifts in the Foothills outside of town), the residents turned out to dine and drink on the cobblestone streets of Rue St. Paul in Old Montreal. Had to pass on the “Montreal Poutine”. French fries, smothered with beef gravy and cheese curds may taste great, but it looks regurgitated. “Dog food” would be a kind description. We found great East Indian and Asian food, which should not surprise, as Montreal is a wonderful international mix of citizenry. However, we were shocked at the dominance of smokers just outside the entrance to every public building. Staying in a hotel across from a hospital, we watched as orderlies wheeled their patients out in wheelchairs, while the ambulatory patients rolled their hanging medication bags outside… for the all important toke of tobacco. Ironique, oui?
On the other hand we saw lots of bikers and runners on the waterfront trails, and urban dog walkers handling 20 dogs at a time. We found French Canadians to be very dog oriented; Lety got lots of attention. Que chien jolie! Lots of citizens were out enjoying sculpture and parks on these first sunny days, seemingly chatty and accepting of tourists, as long as we began every sentence with our memorized phrase, “Je suis desole que je ne parle pas Francais bien. Parlez vous Inglais ou Espanol?” It was a pleasure to see so many elegant women of all ages showing off summer frocks and fabulous sandals. Needless to say, I was not one of them…
Mostly a town of monumental architecture, high-end shopping, dining and wonderful outdoor sculpture pocket parks, we also saw the seamy side. The junkies, gangs, and slovenly inebriated laying about on lawns strewn with needles in a downtown park where we walked Lety. It seemed as though being high in public is tolerated in Montreal, which surprised us after our border crossing experience. We must have met some drug mule, or terrorist profile, as they did a 25 minute long, very thorough search of the Roadtrek, even unrolling our aluminum foil(?), and scouring every little nook. The Canadian Border Authority employee never cracked a smile during the interview and the search, until he cleared us, then he became ‘tres charmante’, of course!
Within an hour of Montreal we camped (for free!) at a city park near this peaceful lake in Parc Gatineau. On the way to Quebec we camped (free again! Viva Canada!) along the Riviere Nicolet in Victoriaville, enjoying Steven’s Birthday in this lovely small town.