The weather gods were smiling on us during our recent trip to Montréal, Québec, which made for a very pleasant five days and four nights (October 2 to 6, 2022). Though we’ve visited many times, we still found new things to do, along with revisiting favourites.
I’ve learned how to do anchor links in WordPress, in case you want to jump to a particular part…
- Montreal neighbourhoods: Le Plateau, Downtown, Old Montreal, Mount Royal…
- Seeing the sights: Musée des Beaux Arts, Barbie Expo, Biodome, Jardin Botanique, Notre Dame
- Staying at ApartHotel
- Flying on Flair Airlines
- Afterwards at Stratford
Covid precautions: Got my bivalent vaccine 10 days before leaving, which also happened to be six months since my fourth dose, so that worked out well. Also purchased 3M Aura masks, Enovid anti-viral nasal spray, Salinex Protect nasal spray, and a portable charger.
Montréal’s neigbourhoods are like the members of an extended family. They each have their personality, their qualities and their tastes. You need to take the time to get to know them and appreciate them for their uniqueness. All put together, they make Montréal the eclectic and charming city that it is.Tourisme Montréal
We stayed in the Plateau/Mile End neighbourhood, which was great, as it’s interesting and lively in itself, but also close to downtown, Old Montreal, and Mont Royal. We were quite literally a two-minute walk from any number of restaurants, covering both fast eats and leisurely dinners, and various shops. The street we stayed on was pedestrian-only, so the only night sounds was those of the neighbourhood singers. (I said it was colourful.)
We’d done a food tour in this area on a past Montreal visit, and had been thinking of repeating that (or one similar) on Monday, our first full day there—only it wasn’t being offered that day (except as a private tour, which was quite expensive). So we instead signed up for Mural Arts Tour (which started, literally, two minutes from where we were staying).
That tour was very interesting! I had no idea that Montreal hosted an annual Mural Festival, during which people can come and watch the artists at work. I didn’t previously know anything about the etiquette and meaning of street art. I hadn’t heard of any of these artists. But they are talented, and it was very cool to learn more about them.
The other Leonard Cohen mural is Downtown, where we also spent a good amount of time walking around each day, admiring the separated bike lanes, amazed at the number of downtown bike rentals, noting the extensive amount of construction going on, and visiting the old alma mater, McGill University. Downtown will be the host of the 2023 Mural Festival, taking over from the Plateau (as it’s running out of walls).
On Tuesday we spent some time in Old Montreal, noting mainly that it was quite crowded, maybe because of a docked cruise ship.
Wednesday we took a walk up Mount Royal. We got a bit turned around, but eventually found our way to the Belvedere, the cross, and finally down the steps to Peel Street.
Covid precautions: None in particular for these outdoor activities. (Tour group was small; Old Montreal was crowded but not “summer music festival” crowded.)
Seeing the sights
The Sunday we arrived being the first Sunday of the month, the Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) was free, so we spent some time there. We focused particularly on the Canadian collection, and the Diane Arbus photography exhibit. (But Jean took photos of statues.)
CO2 reading: Not measured myself, but 450 (excellent) per the Raven Clean Air app. Major art galleries usually have good ventilation, as it helps preserve the art.
Monday morning, before the afternoon mural tour, we went to the Barbie Expo, “The largest permanent exhibition of Barbie dolls in the world”. Boy, that was fun! They had celebrity Barbies, Barbies by country, Barbies by employment, Barbies by fashion designer, Barbies by activity…
Tuesday we took the métro (subway) to the Biodome, near Olympic Stadium. They keep animals here, but they try to mimic their environment as much as possible. So when you visit the sub-Antarctic section, it’s dry and cold! (Not sub-Antarctic cold, but cold.) And the tropical rainforest section… Immediate glasses fogging! And the animals are in amongst trees and rocks and such, so you sometimes have to work to spot them.
CO2 reading: Average of 574, which is very good, as it was quite crowded with school groups and such. I imagine that good ventilation is important for animal welfare here.
Afterwards we took a walk over to visit the Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden). Fall is likely not the primo time to be there, as not all plants flourish on cooler Fall days. But it was still nice to walk around the grounds there.
Tuesday evening we went to see the Aura Experience at Notre-Dame Basilica. This is a light and music show, offering a new way to experience the architecture of the church. I had assumed I could buy tickets at the door, but they had to be bought online. I was able to do this on my phone, but it was awkward!
The show was indeed really neat (though difficult to take pictures of).
CO2 reading: 1016 ppm average, rather poor—but the place was absolutely packed, and this was actually better than other equally crowded spaces I’ve been in.
Covid precautions: We wore N95 masks in all of these locations, except the outdoor Botanical Garden.
We weren’t sure what to do about breakfast the first morning, but we had spotted a bagel place (La Fabrique de Bagel) about 2 minutes away. We figured it would likely open early, and sell bagels and cream cheese, if nothing else. But it turned out to be a full cafe offering various bagel sandwiches, soup, salad, smoothies, coffee, espresso, dessert… So we got breakfast from here that day, and indeed every day of vacation, getting it as takeout and eating it in our spacious accommodations (that I’ll cover later).
Lunches I frequently find a problem when a vacation, in that I prefer to build a day around activities, but then when you need to eat, you can find yourself in a place without very inspiring dining options. So the lunch roll-call wasn’t much to write home about overall:
- Sunday: Starbucks patio, near hotel.
- Monday: Negasake takeout, near hotel. One of the two better lunches, from a interesting Japanese/Korean place.
- Tuesday: Just ate nutrition bars and fruit in the Jardin Botanique.
- Wednesday: Cafe Vasco da Gama takeout, downtown, eaten on bench at McGill campus . The cafe itself was crazy busy, and they forgot to give us the coffee part of our order, and the sandwiches were fine, but…
- Wednesday (continued): Lattes at Van Houtte, downtown. We didn’t feel like going back to Cafe Vasco Da Gama for the coffees we’d paid for, but still wanted coffee. We tried a Starbucks, but it was insanely busy. Then I spotted a Van Houtte. We were going to do takeout, but it was literally empty except for us and the one employee. So we sat in there and had our drinks, and it was quite nice.
- Thursday: Maynard patio, near hotel. We’d walked by Maynard a bunch of times and finally ate there the last day. It’s a vegan restaurant. Jean got a poutine, which was fine, and I got a Mac and Cheez—quite good and creamy, actually, despite the faux cheese.
Dinners we ate indoors. It was late for patio season (some where still open, but they tended to be not the most inspiring of restaurants), and I wasn’t going to do all takeout in such a fine food city, when I really love eating at good restaurants. But we did aim to eat early, when the places were less busy. (Not 3:30 early, though. More like 5:00 early.)
The first day I Googled a seafood place nearby that sounded promising: Maestro SVP. It turned out to be a great choice, as the food was really good, and suitably light for our first day when we felt more tired than hungry (early flight!). We started with a dozen oysters of varying provenance, then I had the seared tuna with balsamic and maple glaze, and Jean had the sauteed scallops. Payment had to be done by eTransfer (or cash) because their Internet was out, but they did warn us about that from the start.
CO2 reading: Average 643, which is pretty good. Restaurant about half full, I think.
Monday we went to a small French bistro up the street from our hotel, Les Deux Gamins. This was a very nice meal, too! We got a bottle of red from Southwest France. I started with a foie gras and squash soup that was amaze-balls. Jean had the foie gras pate. As mains, I had the lapin confit with a lovely salad, and Jean the deer osso bucco.
CO2 reading: Average 507, excellent, though only one other table was occupied, so…
Tuesday’s dinner was at another French bistro, this time in Old Montreal, called Modavie. We were warmly greeted on arrival, but also warned that the menu was more limited at the time (early dinner). But we were fine with the choices on offer. We were seated at a nice table by the window.
We shared a terrific cheese platter to start, a nice Québecois selection.
Jean then had poutine and escargot (this would be two separate appetizer selections, not one weird combo), while I had the lamb chop entree. Which was fantastic, both meat and veg.
CO2 reading: Average 573, quite good, as it was a pretty bustling place
Our final Montreal dinner, on Thursday, was possibly the best—at Pullman Wine Bar, on Parc Street. Quite a cool interior, with a chandelier made of wine glasses! They had an interesting list of wines by the glass here, all offered as either 2 or 4 oz pours—so interesting I had no idea what most of them would be like, so picked some 2 oz tastings a bit randomly.
Their menu is kind of tapas style, so we had oysters, shrimp & chorizo, gnocchi bolognese, quail & shishitos, foie gras… And desserts (which we hadn’t been doing a lot of), chocolate truffles and cinnamon churros. Everything was great.
CO2 reading: Average 597, again pretty good, as it was busy enough despite the earlier hour.
Covid precautions: Mainly the early dining, but we also tried the anti-viral nasal sprays (which might not do any good—they’re still being studied as possible Covid preventives—but options are limited when you have to be maskless). I also had portable mini HEPA filter with me (plugged into a portable battery pack).
Staying at ApartHotel
When booking our accommodations on Expedia, we liked the central location, the fact that the price was fairly reasonable, and also that it looked like we were booking a whole apartment. But as we were flying, we didn’t have much choice about arriving earlier than check-in time. And we weren’t sure about being able to leave our luggage there.
And indeed, ApartHotel has no lobby or reception. A guy cleaning the hall said we’d have to call. (None of this was clear from the booking.) We did, and were eventually texted instructions for leaving our luggage in the room ahead of check-in time (while the room was being cleaned). But that wasn’t til noon, and it was more like 11:00.
We tried an app called LuggageHero which was supposed to direct you to nearby locations where you could pay per hour to leave your luggage, but the place it directed us to… Looked sketchy, and at any rate, no one was there to let us in to leave luggage. LuggageHero was no hero at all! Hence we ended up sitting at the Starbucks patio with our luggage til noon rolled around.
The whole thing was leaving us a bit concerned about what this apartment would be like, but in fact… It was lovely. We had a full kitchen with dishes, a dining room, a living room, bedroom, and bathroom. All clean and in good repair. And with a smart TV with all the services. Quite a good place to relax between sights and meals.
Covid precautions: We opened a window on arrival. We were the only people in the space (no cleaning during the stay, which was fine with us), so not too worried.
Flying on Flair Airlines
At some point in August, I’d noticed that Flair Airlines were offering flights from Waterloo to Montreal for $30. Yes, thirty, three-zero. We guessed there might be some fine print somewhere, but still seemed worth checking out.
The main fine print? That base price doesn’t include any luggage, not even carry-on. Just one 7 kg personal bag. Maybe that’s enough for some people for four days, but it wasn’t for us.
Still, we figured it would be enough for just one of us to select the “luggage bundle”, which allowed for one checked bag, one carry-on, and the personal bag—whereupon we ran into the problem of the Flair Airlines website having… limitations. Like, if booking two travellers, you had to select the same luggage bundle for both.
So, we did separate bookings, one with luggage bundle, one without. And got to the seat selection part. Which of course you have to pay if you want to do (select a seat). (You also to pay to check in at the airport vs. online, etc.) We wanted seats together, and their interface was very clunky for trying to arrange that. I also noticed the strange phenomenon that having selected Jean’s seat, I could have selected the exact same seat that he had picked—there seemed to be some delay in “registering” that a seat had been purchased.
(Then Federal government decided in all their wisdom to end mask mandates on flights the day before our trip, which caused a certain amount of freaking out on my part, but moving on…)
The flight to Montreal itself was fine. Checking in online worked well. Their app was a bit finicky at the airport, but eventually managed to cough up my boarding pass. We got the seats we had selected. They ran the ventilation system during boarding and de-planing (which is good, as most people weren’t masked). The flight left on time and actually landed early.
Tip about Montreal airport transit: There will be a train soon, but for now it’s either a bus or taxi. Taxis charge a flat rate, and that makes them cheaper than Ubers.
CO2 reading: Waterloo Regional Airport, Average 472, excellent. This was past security, and it wasn’t at capacity.
For the return journey, the checkin process seemed to freeze on the seating page. When we finally moved past that anyway to get it done, we found that we weren’t sitting in the seats we’d selected and paid for. We were each in different rows. Jean got punted to a middle seat. (I was in an aisle.)
At the airport, it was evident the same had happened to numerous twosomes travelling together, resulting in a lot of seat trading once everyone was on board. Jean and I managed to get into the same row, but still across the aisle from each other. (Jean somehow got between two N95-wearing people, and I had no one right sitting beside me, so at least there was that.)
But again, the flight was on time, no drama. (Unlike Air Canada, which provided us the airport entertainment of people screaming at attendants about how many of their flights had been cancelled, etc.) And it’s really nice to have a 15-minute drive home from the airport.
Covid precautions: We wore masks the whole time, in airport, on plane (not so hard for a short flight where they don’t even serve drinks and snacks), and in taxi. I used the 3M Aura 9205; Jean found that one a bit small for his face, so switched to the Drager X-plore 1750. I also noticed that both our taxis kept the windows open a bit (not at our request; they just did), which provided better ventilation.
Afterwards at Stratford
On the Friday night after we got back, we had tickets to see The Miser at Stratford. We ended up not doing anything in Stratford before (it was a cool, gray day, for one thing) but just driving in for the play. Which was a fun one! They had adapted it to be set in present day. It was great to see Colm Feore again.
Covid precautions: Masks again, but this was the most I’d seen in months! Not everyone, but definitely a majority of the audience. I guess it helped that they handed out masks and had prominent “Please wear a mask” signs (though masks were still optional). Good, because the Festival Theatre is not well ventilated.