To be frank, one of the best things about living in the North Country is Canada.
Some of her nicest cities are within a relatively short drive across a friendly border; toll bridge, customs and immigration typically navigated within twenty minutes. Like the North Country, Canada tends to be green and clean and feels safe. Traffic, at least en route, is low volume. The people are friendly and culture is rich. Southern Canada is a particularly beautiful mix of farmlands, woodlands, lakes, and rivers. Even so, we’ve departed one of the least populated areas of the U.S. and entered the most populated swath of Canada, within 100 miles of her southern and our northern border. When it comes right down to it, convenience is just one factor driving our discretionary dollars northward.
As a historic francophone city, Montreal is an especially attractive destination. The moment you leave Ontario behind for Quebec, you know it. Signposts immediately switch to French, most people are speaking French, and there is no apology for it. In fact, there is some apology expected if you are not. Even though my high school French is woefully inadequate, I can get by. I actually enjoy the challenge.
But this trip started out a bit rough. I made our hotel arrangements for the Jazz Festival. I printed out point-by-point directions from GoogleMaps. I thought I had it covered. Someone else assumed we would be using the GPS. This someone would also be he who is (A) insufficiently experienced with unimaginable crappiness of our GPS because he is (B) unwilling to enter data and make use of device, being (C) somewhat tech averse. Regardless, he expects to be fully equipped when he (D) has a co-pilot. This is not a completely unreasonable expectation. Still, a rather animated conversation ensued, suggesting the GPS might soon be airborn!
Yet all of this tension turned out to be completely unnecessary because GoogleMaps directions were decent and someone also (E) has a great sense of direction. He has made this trip a time or two — often for the Montreal Expos, back in the day and, more recently, the Canadiens, les Habitants. That someone is, of course, also (F) a sports nut. And, for once, I was thankful for that, too.
Once we got to the hotel, all was well. From there it was just a hop, skip and jump to Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, the venue where James Taylor would play that evening. We met up with two of our chids for a fantabulous afternoon and evening in the Old City, chock full of fun cafés, fine art and architecture, including the beautiful basilica of Notre Dame. The jazz festival spilled out to fill the narrow, cobbled streets with music throughout our stay.
On the far south side of the Old City is the Old Port. The next morning we took a quick ferry ride to Ile Ste-Hélène. Then it was a long, circuitous walk to La Ronde, a somewhat dated theme park, by way of the Biosphere (’67 Expo) — not to be confused with the Biodome (originally a velodrome, for the ’76 Olympics). It was an entirely enjoyable day together, until the sun and the roller coasters got the best of us. Next time — as the purportedly “strong willed” one — I may insist upon the Complexe Aquatique (also ’76 Olympics) as our island destination. ;=)
The return trip was nicely extended by a brief stop, Port de Plaisance, Sainte-Marie, and offered expansive views of the St. Lawrence River bridge architecture and city skyline before pulling back into the Old Port. We concluded our stay with a pitcher of refreshing sangria and light Italian fare at Bella Vita on the plaza, back in the Old City. Sunburned, exhausted, and discretionary dollars depleted? Mais, oui. Ready to leave? Non!
Montréal était délicieux!