We recently visited Montreal for our wedding anniversary. I have a special love for that town since some of my first memories are from there. I lived there as an infant before moving to Toronto. I have not lived there since, but I have probably traveled there more than any other city in my entire life. So I know it quite well.
Lately, I was accused of being too critical of the country my friend lives in. He asked me (on Facebook of all places) ‘how would I like it if I came to your country and insulted it?’ I considered this question for about a day and then decided that if he came up here and criticized Stephen Harper, our Prime Minister, or our laughable new Mayor in Toronto, then I would gladly accept the criticism. Because he would be right to criticize those right wing jerks.
Can I make fun of Montreal even though I’m a Canadian? Some people think that Quebec should be a different country. So it is quite possible that a Montreal native will be offended when I say that possibly the worst drivers I have ever seen in Canada are from Montreal! I admire and love the free spirit of the city, but one place I like to follow the rules is the road. Enjoy your life – smoke your cigarettes and eat your smoked meat – but can’t you just stop at the red lights? Or try not to hit the pedestrians? That’s all I ask. They blindly ignore the rules of the road. Your life is seriously undervalued when you are a pedestrian in that city.
My wife and I took the train from Union Station in Toronto to the central station in Montreal. It was Remembrance Day. In the first class lounge we suddenly heard the bag pipes playing for Remembrance Day from the television set. An older gentleman suddenly stood up for a moment of silence. Slowly we all “remembered” that we should stand too and be silent too. A sombre moment. Yet it was still slightly amusing when someone from outside the lounge would suddenly barge into the room loudly and then realize that they have to take off their hat and stand quietly. I realized I was still wearing my hat halfway through the song.
The train ride has a boring landscape for the most part, but we had a blast riding the train and sampling the wines, chocolates and fancy first class cuisine. In Montreal we decided to stay in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (attached to the train station) where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their Bed Peace conference which resulted in the recording of the song Give Peace a Chance. We even considered taking that actual suite except, as extravagant as we can be sometimes, we thought maybe this was a little pricey. So instead we stayed on the President’s Club Floor.
The President’s Club is a posh floor with a separate glass elevator with a stunning view of Rene Levesque Blvd. There is a special reception/concierge and a lounge with another spectacular view. This lounge has a few small buffets throughout the day with delicious finger foods, croissants etc. There is also an honour bar. Our room was fairly large and had an old fashioned feel like other Fairmount hotels. However, the building does not have the majestic castle-like structure like The Banff Springs or The Chateau Frontenac.
The first night we ate at an Indian Restaurant called The Taj, which was still open for our late night dinner. We had our usual – butter chicken, samosas, olu gobi, red wine, bazmati rice, naan – not neccessarily in that order. Delicious!
The next day I allowed myself to have a smoked meat sandwich (only 25 points on weight watchers!) at the newly renovated Reuben’s on St. Catharines. It looks more like Earl’s now than an old fashioned Montreal Deli. I could only eat half of the sandwich since the whole thing was the size of my entire head. We then went for a long walk through the McGill Campus, past St. Laurent to St. Denis. I used to spend a lot of time here when several of my friends went to McGill.
We made it back to St. Catharines but were surprised to see that a massive portion of it was being dug up by the city for some reason. This was also the creepier part of the street. A man chased a thief at one point. The thief made eye contact with me as he ran quickly across the street yelling “MONSIEUR! MONSIEUR!” The french always sound polite, even when committing a crime!
We avoided St. Catharines and walked back to the hotel on Rene Levesque Blvd. and then used the pool area. Is there a pool somewhere in the world that is not ruined by children and their stupid parents? Can you let me know where the hell it is?
By happy coincidence several of our friends were doing a few nights of comedy at The Comedy Nest in the Old Forum which has been converted into an interesting mall. We hung out backstage with everyone. In fact, there were a few more people there that I knew. After the hilarious show we all went to another comedy club where I once performed with The Bad Dog Theatre Company. After more drinks and some games of Galaga and Ms. Pac Man (I am never going to grow up) we drunkenly stumbled into a late night restaurant to have steamies and poutine. Unfortunately, the poutine was disgusting. Be careful late at night on St. Catharines when you eat poutine.
The next day we decided to meet for breakfast at the famous deli Schwartz’s. When we arrived it had a massive line going down the street. So we went across to the Main Deli. My memory is that this is always what happens when I go to Schwartz’s. At some point I realize I do not live in Russia during the Communist era and I do not have to wait in line for a sandwich. The Main is just as good anyway, and a lot less crowded. And the poutine there made up for the disastrous poutine of the night before.
After another long walk through the city, which was remarkably warm for November, we headed back to our hotel and said goodbye to our fancy room. The first class lounge in the Montreal station was like a bad cafeteria, and we were packed like sardines. The train ride was fun though and soon we were back to boring old Toronto. I love you Montreal! Especially your smoked meat!