I was not particularly looking forward to Thanksgiving this year because it was going to be the first Thanksgiving since my mom passed away. This first year without her has been rough but holidays so far this year have not been more difficult than any other day because we did not usually do much for them. But my mom always really enjoyed Thanksgiving and especially Christmas.
Rather than have a somber holiday at home, my brother, Holly, and I talked about taking a trip. After surprisingly little discussion, we decided to go to Montreal. It felt like the right choice because it is within driving distance, and they would not be celebrating U.S. Thanksgiving there so we would not have to worry about places being especially crowded or closed.
One concern I had was going somewhere farther north that late in the year, but I did some research and was relieved to see that normally Montreal would not be all that much colder than here in Philadelphia.
However, it turned out to be atypically cold. It was in the teens (Fahrenheit) when we arrived. It was as low as 3 one morning, and it never got above the low 20’s. It snowed the first night there (making for a rather tense drive for my poor brother). The weather kept us from doing as much as we might have done otherwise, but we still had a great time and were pleased with our choice. Holly had been to Montreal before, but neither my brother nor I had been. We drove up on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week and drove back Saturday.
We got to our hotel right around dinner time but wanted cocktails first to relieved the stress of the long drive. To keep things simple, we just went to the hotel bar, Le Cordial, which turned out to be an above average hotel bar. Holly and I ordered Negronis and my brother got a Manhattan.
Leading up to the trip, I had made a short list of restaurants close to our hotel. We chose Bar Furco, but when we arrived, it was packed. Luckily, we were able to get a table at Café Parvis right next door.
All three of us have some minimal knowledge of French but none of us are conversant. I was a little wary of navigating with our limited skills, but Montreal is a bi-lingual city and we were able to get around with no problem. But I definitely want to work on my French so I can be less of a typical American tourist next time.
Café Parvis’ main offerings were specialty pizzas which were just the right size for each of us to get our own, although we did share. We got a pizza with turkey, one with duck breast, and a spicy one with beef salami. They turned out to be the perfect comfort food we needed after a day of traveling.
We started our first full day by going to Universel Déjeuners et Grillades also close to our hotel. The cold weather really limited our walking radius but luckily we were downtown so still had plenty of options. Universel has an extensive menu but we all went with crepes. I got a crepe with apples, bacon, and cheddar, and my brother ordered the blueberry crepe. Holly went with the Déjeuner Universel, which included 2 eggs, ham, crepes, baked beans, and cretons.
After our tasty and filling breakfast, we went to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. They had a fascinating special exhibit: Alexander Calder Radical Inventor. I was familiar with Calder from my trips to the Guggenheim in New York and the National Gallery of Art East Building in Washington DC. But I was not aware of the wide breadth of his work. We spent a good part of the first day at the museum and, partly because of the weather, spent part of the next day there as well.
Of course, we needed lunch after our first visit to the museum. We searched Yelp for places nearby and were intrigued to try Bar George. We walked down the street where it was supposed to be but didn’t see it only to realize that it is in the Le Mount Stephen Hotel. Let me just say that Bar George was quite a find. The space was absolutely lovely and the food was fantastic.
Their focus is on British cuisine. I got the chicken pot pie, and Holly got the duck confit and black pudding cottage pie. My brother ordered the mushroom soup and a beet salad. When we looked it up, we thought it was going to be a run-of-the-mill pub so we were surprised and delighted that it was much more than that.
That evening, we went to Pullman which was a place Holly had scoped out. It was, thankfully, only about four blocks from the hotel. Pullman is a tapas restaurant so we ordered a variety of items: Cheddar and bacon gougères; charcuteries; cheeses from Québec; green beans with truffle oil and roasted almonds; shrimp with chorizo, garlic, and lemon; and probably other things that are escaping my memory. It was dark inside so we don’t have any pictures. Everything was wonderful, but the cheeses from Québec were certainly a highlight as was the diverse wine selection.
Not feeling adventurous the next morning due to the chilly temperatures (and the fact that, apparently, no one in Montreal owns a shovel), we went back to Bar George for breakfast. My brother and I each got the Omelette Forestiére and Holly had the smoked salmon with a St-Viateur bagel. Again, everything was delightful.
After a second round at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, we found lunch at Les Enfants Terribles which is associated with L’Observatoire which is an observation deck on the top of Place Ville Marie. Lunch was good but not spectacular. The main draw was the 360 degree view of the city.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A friend of mine who I know from my days as a media librarian now works there. When she saw me post something about going to Montreal, she contacted me to make arrangements to get together. She offered to give us a tour of the CBC located in the Maison Radio-Canada building constructed in 1973. They are in the process of constructing a new home down the street so it was fortunate to get a chance to see the CBC’s longtime home. I was too busy getting caught up with my friend to take any pictures, but Holly got a picture of their archives.
We wound up having small plates at Renard with my friend. I was too busy catching up with her to pay much attention to the food but came away with a good impression. Back at our hotel, we had a nightcap and shared an order of poutine, which was delicious. Again, we were impressed with our hotel bar.
Our last day felt the coldest as we made our way to Old Montreal. We had a simple but rather excellent breakfast of coffee and pastries at La Finca before heading to our main destination, Notre-Dame Basilica, which lived up to its reputation. It is a simply stunning building.
We tried wandering Old Montreal a little more but the cold was a deterrent. We ended up ducking into Centre d’histoire de Montréal. In addition to featuring a history of the city (which I found interesting since I didn’t know much), they had a special exhibition about the Expo of 1967 which was fascinating. I knew of the Expo but wasn’t all that familiar with the details. Perhaps it struck a chord with me since it commenced just the year before I was born. I was so engaged with the exhibit that I did not take any pictures.
We found lunch at Pizzeria No. 900 in Old Montreal. We weren’t planning on having pizza twice during our stay but that’s how things turned out. Their pizza were not as fancy as those at Café Parvis, but quite good. As with everywhere we went, the wine selection was excellent. We just had their house wines which were much better than what we usually get at home. Unfortunately, we didn’t note what the wines were, but we were impressed. Although Quebec has a liquor board, it seems less restrictive than the one in Philadelphia.
When we first started planning our Montreal trip, we tried to get reservations at Joe Beef, but even several months out, we had no luck. Instead, we decided to go to their sister spot, La Vin Papillon. Not a lot of time had passed since lunch, but we did sample a variety of smaller plates: smoked carrot eclairs, beef gravlax with caviar d’Abitibi, eggplant and caviar d’Abitibi, and jamon de la Petite Bourgogne. Overall, the service was excellent, although we were a little annoyed with our waiter because we asked for some recommendations and he brought us two dishes with caviar. We really did not need that much caviar and would have rather tried something else. And, of course, the wine was excellent.
After dinner, we went to the SAQ store near our hotel to bring home some Montreal treats: Neige Ice Cider; Rouge Gorge Cider Vermouth; Sortilége Canadian Whisky and Maple Syrup Liqueur; Ungava Dry Gin; and Coteay Rougemont Ice Wine.
Before we knew it, it was Saturday morning and time to wrap up our trip. For simplicity’s sake, since we wanted to hit the road early, we just went back to Universel Déjeuners et Grillades.
Considering the context of this being the first Thanksgiving without my mom, the trip was a positive and therapeutic way to deal with our loss.
Coincidentally, shortly after coming home, I came across this article from Psychology Today about the benefits of travel. Now that I am in my 50’s, I am hoping to make travel more of a regular routine and reap some of these benefits.