“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Montreal

My coastal cruise aboard the Viking Sea with my frequent traveling companion Jeanie is almost over and I’ll do a review of it next week. In the meantime, here are Jeanie’s impressions of our three days in Montreal.

 

Our flight from Minneapolis included a considerable layover in Philadelphia for some reason. We got into Montreal’s Trudeau Airport about twenty minutes early, but it was still after midnight when we got to our lodgings. The apartment is centrally located in “old Montreal” on a tree-lined street: two bedrooms and a bath with a spacious living area and kitchen, even a washer and dryer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday

We had a lovely walk to the Notre-Dame Basilica for Mass, past old and new buildings, parks, and a shopping area closed to traffic. The plaza in front of the Basilica had a huge statue and fountain where what looked to be a wedding photo shoot in progress. The church is just stunning and we both agreed it’s probably the most beautiful we’ve ever seen, and we’ve been in plenty of churches and cathedrals during our travels. The service was beautiful in a mixture of English and French and Spanish.

Once church was over, we were hungry so began looking for a place to get a bite and we came upon this darling old café called Tommy. It was tiny with tables on the first floor and an open staircase to an upper level that overlooked the lower one. We seated ourselves on a sofa and pulled up two round metal trays. We had a breakfast croissant and a salmon bagel.

 

We went to scout out the place where we’ll meet our walking tour tomorrow but took a bit of a detour at the Basilica shop to pick up a couple of small items. It was into the afternoon by now and getting hot, though fortunately not as humid as Minneapolis. Trying to avoid the sun as much as we could, we found our meeting point and then headed toward the waterfront to find where our ship would dock.

Along the way, we discovered the Rib Festival and just had to check it out. There were big signs advertising different concerns offering ribs and bar-b-que and all the fixings with food trucks on the periphery and stands selling all manner of drinks; alcoholic and non. Vendors were selling jewelry and other souvenirs and there were moon bounces for the kids. We didn’t linger too long (it was just so hot) but continued on our quest to find our ship’s dock. After about twenty minutes walking without seeing it, we decided to call it a day and started back for our apartment. It was uphill all the way.

In the evening, we walked towards the University of Quebec/Montreal in search of dinner. There were lots of young people and the occasional elder statesman on skate boards speeding down Sherbrooke, one of the main drags. The temperature had cooled down, thank goodness, and we ended up at Rotisserie St-Hubert just a couple of blocks from our apartment. Our table was on the second floor, not far from windows overlooking the street. It was a leisurely dinner, starting with wine followed by a full rack of ribs and Caesar salads. Another wine and we were totally sated and relaxed for the walk back to the apartment. Four days of “fun” with miles and miles of walking up and down hills (at least Minneapolis was pretty flat), heat, and wonderful meals and sights caught up with us and we both turned in early.

Monday

Come morning, we were refreshed and ready for our walking tour. The starting point was the Olimpico Café, located in the Hôtel William Gray, a trendy, ultra-modern hotel. We were a group of nine –a couple from Dallas, a retired couple from Arizona (who had been traveling for 2+ weeks), a young couple from Winnipeg, a single woman from Atlanta— and our tour guide Jeff. We began at the square in front of the restaurant, filled with vendors selling all manner of creative items from jewelry to drawings. It was just up the hill from the Rib Fest and also drew quite a crowd. Jeff was a great guide and really knew his history, but he maybe went a bit too in-depth with facts and dates for this kind of tour. We passed numerous other tour groups, many with a dozen or more people. We stopped at the Basilica again and got a chance to spend some time looking around the structure – again, absolutely gorgeous. We finished our tour at the Viking Cruise dock about 1:30.

Hot and tired, we began a quest for a nice quiet restaurant. Unfortunately, it took us a lot more walking because we wanted something closer to our apartment and all we saw were fast food or Chinese/Sushi offerings, not what we wanted. We finally found a little place called Cadet that offered a lunch special — mushroom leek soup and you could select four items from their “little plates.” We got tomato salads, cod croquets and a cheese and bread plate, among others. The meal was topped off with a small slice of lemon poppy pound cake topped with whipped white chocolate.

After packing and relaxing in our rooms until dark, we headed out to dinner. There were plenty of people out and about on the streets and sidewalks, enjoying the evening and a respite from the unseasonable heat. We walked four blocks to stroll along Rue St. Catherine, checking out menus and getting a peek at some of the food where there was outdoor seating. We decided on the Universel Déjeuners et Grillades with a very modern decor. We were seated by the window, so we could engage in one of our favorite activities – people watching!  We started with wine and escargot (which I had never had) and bread to dip in the garlic-butter sauce. We both opted for veal entrees – veal piccata with fettuccine Alfredo and Caesar salad for Jolynn and veal Normandy with tomato sauce spaghetti and garden salad for me. We both thought this was one of the best meals we’ve eaten on this trip. We walked the couple of blocks back to our apartment.

Tuesday

We couldn’t board the Viking Sea until 2:00, but could stow luggage at their lockers. We Ubered down to drop off the bags and then on to the Mile End neighborhood for our food tour of Montreal.

Mile End was originally a poorer area, home to several different ethnic groups from Irish to Italian to Greek to Polish and now still is populated by families who have lived there for generations as well as artists and hipsters. It is also home to Ubisoft the video game company. In the early 2000s, Montreal offered heavy inducements to attract businesses and Ubisoft moved in, growing from about fifty employees to over 2500.

Darren was our food tour guide and he started off with local history (including most of what I just related). Then we were off to the food. First stop was the Green Panther an all-natural/green restaurant where we were given falafel in a warm, soft pita bread topped with shredded cabbage, carrots and bean sprouts – delicious; it must have been because Jolynn ate most of hers and she doesn’t even like falafel. Next was a chocolatier where we had a scrumptious dark chocolate square that contained a creamy salted caramel filling, followed by a piece of frozen banana on a stick, covered with milk chocolate and topped with some crunchy bits. Our third stop was a bagel shop that’s open 365 days a year and closes around 2:00 a.m. to clean the vats and oven. We watched the bagels being made and then had a warm sesame seed bagel with cream cheese. I especially liked these because they were thinner than those you buy in the grocery AND they were less dense.

The next stop was the Rialto Theater. Built in 1924, it had closed in the 80s and fell into disrepair but was bought by Le Groupe Merveilles Inc in 2010. The owners Ezio Carosielli and Luisa Sassano have restored the structure and reopened it as an event and performance venue. Many different events are held there from school graduations to weddings to live music performances. The inside is just so grand. Movie posters from Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, and other classics can be seen in the entrance and along the stairways. No food here; just history and a bathroom stop.

After the theater, we went to a butcher shop where the offerings were several different meats, including fennel sausage, white ham, and a pate’ plus two very tasty cheeses. We liked the cheeses best and the fennel sausage least. From there we hit a place famous for its tomato sauce, but it failed to impress us, although the gnocchi (70% potato flour and 30% wheat flour) was delicious topped with Romano cheese. Unfortunately, it was so darned hot outside that the thought of leaning against a wall and eating a hot dish did not appeal, especially as we were stuffed from the previous samplings. The final place was right next door at an ice cream shop!  The sweet of the day was apple sorbet swirled with a creamy cinnamon flavored ice cream and it really was delicious and so refreshing.

By this time, the skies were darkening and rain was in the forecast so we asked Darren where we could get a cab (our Uber apps weren’t working). Luckily it was right at the corner. A cab arrived in moments and whisked us down to the dock where we checked onto the ship and went to our cabin. We unpacked and decided to explore.

 

The Viking Sea holds about 900 passengers and is lovely with all kinds of amenities. There’s a gorgeous indoor pool and a smaller outdoor one with a hot tub. On the top deck is exercise equipment and an exercise space for yoga and such.

We ate dinner in the main dining room and had talked with a couple from St. Paul, Minnesota – coincidence! There is also a buffet on the seventh deck that we’ll check out later. After dinner, we retired to our cabin to read and chill.

Wednesday

This morning we were up and out by 7:30 and decided to walk around the deck — unfortunately the temperature had dropped about 25 degrees and it was pretty windy. I had a rain jacket that protected me from the wind but Jolynn only had a long-sleeved top that wasn’t enough to keep her warm, so we abandoned that exercise after just two circuits.

It was the perfect time for breakfast and we headed to the buffet where there were too many options to list – something for any taste and appetite. We sat by the floor to ceiling windows and had quite a view of the harbor and surrounding city.

The ship has laundry facilities and we figured most people, having just arrived aboard, wouldn’t need to use the machines on the first day, so we seized our chance. The machines were free and quite easy to use, soap is also included, and we found two irons and ironing boards as well — most unusual. We’ve never seen irons available on a ship due to the fire hazard. Ordinarily you have to send out laundry and anything that requires pressing. So, this was a nice amenity.

Once our laundry was done, we went on a bus tour of Montreal. We got to see quite a bit of the city, but at first it was a bit boring to be cooped up on the bus and just listening to the guide’s lecture. She was obviously knowledgeable about current and past Montreal, but we like to get out and look firsthand to get the real experience, not just shuttled around a heavily trafficked downtown.

It got much better when we got out of all that hustle and bustle to St Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, the largest shrine dedicated to St. Joseph. The shrine was founded by a Brother Andre’ (now canonized). It sits high above the city and many people walk up the hundreds of steps in pilgrimage to St. Joseph, but our driver dropped us off near the very top. We visited the original tiny little church that was moved when construction began on a larger church in the 1920s, and finished in 1937 after Brother Andre’ had passed away,  When we arrived the organ was playing so we had an unexpected concert. The view was simply spectacular, and we took more than our share of pictures.

We walked on up to the summit of Mount Royal, led by Jeff, our walking tour guide. He related that a wooden cross was erected in 1643 by an early settler in thanks to God for sparing the new settlement from rising waters that had threatened to destroy it. A lighted metal cross was installed in 1924. When lit, it can be seen from 80 kilometers away; that’s nearly 50 miles.

After the tour, we came back to the ship and relaxed in our cabin, enjoying the view from our balcony. They offered a seafood buffet on the enclosed pool deck beginning at six o’clock. We grabbed a drink and a small plate of mussels, clams, calamari, and assorted vegetables and found some empty lounge chairs. The food was quite tasty and the view overlooking the harbor was grand.

After about an hour of noshing, we went down to the dining room on the 2nd deck. The place was full and the hostess asked if we would mind sharing a table? Of course not; we love meeting new people! We were seated with three other couples: Len and Barb from Minneapolis and Bonita Springs, Florida; Jean and David from Manchester in England; and Sandy and Bill from The Villages in Florida. We had a wonderful time with these couples; they were all very nice and we hope to see them again around the ship.

That night, as we slept, the ship departed Montreal, arriving in Quebec the next morning. Our sailing adventure had begun.