Our second full day in Montreal (Saturday) began with pour over coffee to-go from Le Couteau and a long walk to the Mile End neighborhood so that we could hit up the original St-Viateur Bagel, who some say have the BEST Montreal bagels. (I never like to say that anyone does anything better than New York – especially bagels – but Montreal bagels are VERY good.) The walk was lovely despite some increasingly real pain in my ankles from walking up and down Mount Royal the previous day. It was sunny, windless and there were lots of people out and about with their kids, pulling them in little red wagons and such. (I forgot to mention that the previous day we saw at least three nursery school classes before 10 AM with all of the kids walking along hooked to a long leash and I felt much better the next day when I saw that most children were unleashed on the weekends, at least.)
When we got to St-Viateur it was more like a bagel factory. You had to buy bags of bagels. There were no seats. So, because I am very particular and had wanted to sit down while I ate my bagel, we walked all the way back to where we came from in order to go to the St-Viateur Bagel Café on Avenue Mont-Royal. The actual bagels were delicious but our waiter was unfriendly (probably the most unfriendly person we encountered and I wouldn’t call Montreal a friendly city) and I wasn’t super into the toppings that I got on my sandwich (seriously there must have been like four scrambled eggs).
Afterward, we took the Metro to Vieux-Montreal, the Old City. We didn’t have much of a game plan, but our first stop was the Notre-Dame Basilica, a 19th century Gothic church. We spent some time taking pictures of a monument with famous figures from Montreal’s history in a square in front of the church. (There is one Native American – though I don’t think they use that term in Canada – and one lady featured on the base of this monument. All of the other figures basically looked like fur trappers.) The church was fine. I mean, it looked like a big beautiful church. I don’t have much more to say about it than that.
It seemed like the Old City was built two hundred years ago especially for tourists today. The buildings were European and the streets were cobbled and there were lots of hotels and gift shops and even a store that only sold Christmas knick-knacks. But there were also a fair number of government and office buildings around so I’m guessing it just felt overwhelmingly touristy because it was a Saturday.
We walked along the quais and the Old Port on the St. Lawrence River, which were lovely as it was a lovely day, but otherwise not super remarkable. EXCEPT for this weird housing complex across the river that from far away looked like the underground city in The Matrix trilogy, the sight of which provoked a lot of imaginative conversation. I feel like a lot of the “attractions” in Montreal are underwhelming, but as long as you can find some interesting/weird aspect, they’re worth seeing
On our way back to the apartment, I tried to find some postcards to send to my grandmas and my great-aunt but every one I saw was ugly and I decided to hold out for some pretty ones. (Obviously, I did not purchase any postcards until we were at the train station on Monday morning on our way home.) Every souvenir shop was filled to the brim with the most wonderfully lame shit. Faux fur hats? Check. Sweatshirt with a list “You Know You’re From Canada If…” phrases? Check. T-shirt detailing things that you can find in Canada as iPhone app icons? Check.
After that, we obviously needed to rest so we hung out at the apartment for a little bit before we ventured out for an early dinner. We tried Le Chien Fumant again and were successful! Which I’m very happy about because I had one of the best meals, if not in my life, then in recent memory. Vincent and I both ordered delicious gin cocktails to start and had a Chinese fried calamari appetizer. For dinner, I ordered “pintade” without knowing what it was because it came with “creme de bacon”. After a bit of Googling, I found out that it was guinea fowl, which was a big relief. The pintade was, I am pretty sure, perfectly cooked and it sat on top of the creme de bacon, which was something like pureed cauliflower with the essence of bacon somehow magicked into it. And then there were these truly amazing Brussels sprouts on top of that so I really couldn’t have asked for anything better to eat. The only bad thing was the second drink I got, which was a Gibson infused with garlic? Don’t ask me why I ordered it. On top of the fact that it really was just alcohol mixed with more alcohol, there was also a clove of roasted garlic floating in it. So, between all of the food and a drink that tasted like a forest fire-flavored antifreeze, I’m not sure how I didn’t barf. BUT the food was so good that I’m not going to take of points for the drink. It was my fault for ordering it anyway.
With kind of disgustingly full bellies, we took a trip to the neighborhood west of us to see King Tuff play at Il Motore. We got there about forty minutes after doors opened and were the first people there. I was worried until about a half hour later, when the club started steadily filling up. The opener – whose name I forget – played like ten songs. One of them was good.
I’ve been a fan of King Tuff for a long while now, so I was psyched that I finally got out to see him. It was interesting being in a non-New York crowd for the first time in almost four years. Once the band went on, a mosh pit almost immediately began. Why? I wondered. Is it because the drinking age in Montreal is 18? This is assuming that everyone under 21 is really into moshing. (Sidenote: I can’t believe I just typed the word “moshing”.) Is it because I only go to low-energy shows? Honestly, I have no idea. I danced and sweated and had a ton of fun, but I was also pretty consistently worried that some kid was going to kick me in the eye as he flailed his way over the top of the crowd.
I was truly exhausted after a day full of walking and eating and dancing. Really, I wore my body out. So much so that I could barely walk the next morning. Walking up and down stairs was particularly excruciating. Elderly people navigated the stairs in the Metro stations better than I on Sunday. Once we got off the train, we moved slowly, painstakingly through some futuristicky tunnels and then through the misty rain, toward the Montreal Musee d’Art Contemporain. We saw exhibits on Abstraction in Quebec/Canada and the work of Pierre Dorion. I was especially impressed with the Dorion exhibit. We also saw a preview of sorts of the Brooklyn / Montreal contemporary art event that is currently happening in Montreal and will happen here in Brooklyn in January.
We then made our way – through the pouring rain – to the Musee des Beaux-Arts. There was a large exhibit on Impressionism opening there that day. Since Impressionism is for sentimental idiots, we skipped the line and headed for the museum’s permanent collection, which was pretty underwhelming for anyone who has been to – uh, I hate to say this because it sounds really dramatic – any other museum of fine arts. One thing they do have going on though is a wing full of Napoleon-related art and artifacts which I frankly found bizarre, but which people who are into Napoleon – are their people who are into Napoleon – might like. So, if busts of Napoleon are your thing, get thee to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts!
Both Vincent and I were very cranky after our rainy museum visits, so we went back to the apartment to nap. Well, first we got bagels. Then Vincent napped. I read and took selfies on my phone in the living room.
Once we were fully rejuvenated, we went back to the Old City – which is really beautiful and kind of creepy at night – for our Last Supper in Montreal. We ate at Garde-Manger, one of Chuck Hughes’ restaurants. I have been fascinated by Chuck Hughes ever since I saw his show, Chuck’s Day Off, on the Cooking Channel a few years ago. It’s not really that I’m fascinated by him so much. It’s more or less his accent, which is INSANE. (See here for an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfe7-1OkiwY ).
Anyway, Vincent had very nicely procured us a reservation and I was really excited. The meal I had fully lived up to expectations. First, we had Campari cocktails. And then some bread with this flavored cream cheese which sounds not that great I guess, but let me assure you – it was so good that I ate more than one piece of bread. THEN I had a tomato salad with cucumbers and avocado which seems normal EXCEPT that it had fried cubes of cheddar cheese in it! (Everyone should be frying cubes of cheddar cheese and putting them in every salad.) And then I had lobster risotto, which was great. Seafood is kind of their thing at Garde-Manger, so Vincent had lobster poutine followed by dorade, both of which were excellent. We left very satisfied, drunk and empty-pocketed, as we had spent ALL of the Canadian cash we had left on dinner.
In the morning, we got to the train station just in time to be almost last in line to check in. I ran around the train station just before the line started moving to collect some bagels and coffee for our trip back. Once we were settled in on the train, we swiftly realized that we were sitting in the worst possible spot – without a window and directly in front of the loudest and most Russian couple of senior citizens to have ever ridden a train.
This became very troublesome about an hour into the ride, when we crossed the border and the woman in this couple started freaking out about how long we were sitting there. (Not that long.) And it became even more troublesome when, about thirty miles down the track, we were stopped for over an hour while the train crew was trying to figure out a broken signal or something. This woman acted like there was no greater injustice in the world than being held in a train car on the fall foliaged shores of Lake Champlain for an indefinite amount of time. She continued to yell (really, SHRIEK) at every Amtrak employee who passed us by, even after we had started moving again, for the remainder of the twelve-hour journey.
And that is how I came to spend almost a full day with extremely high blood pressure, reading A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, which is really one of the greatest travel books I’ve ever read. I finished it on the train. So, I guess one good thing came out of that train ride.
As all good things do, this trip came to a real end around 11:30 on a Monday night. I entered my apartment with two wounded ankles, four unsent Canadian postcards, at least one blog post to write and a constant craving for smoked meat sandwiches and guinea fowl. At this time, one of my ankles still hurts, the postcards remain unsent, I am just now finishing the second of two blog posts about this trip, and I’m lamely fighting off my Montreal cuisine cravings with a strict diet of salads.
Things I may have forgotten to mention:
– The toilet in the apartment we were staying in was manufactured by a company called CRANADA.
– I’m pretty terrible at speaking French now.
– I have a bunch of Canadian money (coins) in my coat pockets so holler at me if you’d like to use it.