I was in need of a little break from my real world. To say I “ran away” may be a touch dramatic, but boarding that VIA Train from Toronto to Montréal with no kids, no husband, no real agenda gave me a hobo-rific excitement that seemed to instantly jettison all of the stress from my regular wife/mother/business-owner life.
This weekend escape to Montréal, Canada, was all about me reacquainting myself with a joy for living. So, for your sake, I didn’t invest much effort in capturing a traditional Montréal tourist experience; I didn’t order smoked meat from Schwartz’s Deli; eat poutine at La Banquise or even enjoy a scotch at The Cigar Lounge on this trip. I did, however, devour the fashion of the Mile End district, scale a freaking mountain and indulge in every meal like it was my last. Most importantly for me, I caught up with my great friend Thea. Somewhere between the gravy-soaked french fries and late night girl chats, I did indeed rediscover my joie de vivre on this Montréal getaway. These are my Top 5 revitalizing Montréal experiences from this trip:
5. Breakfast Poutine at Royal Phoenix Bar
Two words for you: Breakfast Poutine. As you dip your french fry soaked in gravy, wrapped in cheese curd into the warm, oozing egg yolk, you think, “this meal may very well stop my heart.” And you eat it anyhow. Because it’s just that good.
4. Climb the Mountain.
Mont Royal is a massive hill in the city of Montréal, with the highest points sitting approximately 700 feet above sea level. Walking mid-way up the hill using the man-made path, my dear Thea posed the question, “Easy way or hard way?” It was here that I learned to never underestimate Thea’s “hard way”. We abandoned the gravel path and started hiking upwards through the forest, then scaling across sharp boulders at a 60 degree angle. An hour, and many ‘I’m gonna die’ thoughts, later we made it to the top of the mountain. The view, with that underlying sense of physical accomplishment, was extraordinary. Nothing says FUN like not plummeting to your death, right?!
3. Sunday in the Park
Coming down the mountain, Thea and I joined the sea of people covering the mile-long mountain mass. ALL TYPES of people. Drum circles, jugglers, tight rope walkers, fire breathers, live action role players (LARPers), pirates… Sunday afternoon in Mont Royal Park is like peeking behind the curtain at the greatest circus ever imagined.
2. Being the Weird Anglophone at L’entrecote St. Jean
My 3 days of freedom were coming to an end as I packed up and confirmed my train’s departure time. Rather than take a taxi to the station, I decided to walk across the city and soak in a final dose of the culture. After an hour of walking ridiculously steep hills, pulling along an 80 lb suitcase, I was sweaty (and likely stinky!) and starving. A quaint bistro in the core of the downtown business district caught my eye so I wrangled my heavy bags up the concrete step, front door bouncing against my uncoordinated self. All eyes suddenly on me.
I slid across a bench, to the little table by the window, raised my hand to the server and ordered myself a ½ litre of red wine (in English, I discovered an hour into my trip that my grade school French training wasn’t going to cut it). All eyes still on me. The whispers and the stares led me to think that this fine dining establishment didn’t see many sweaty, tattooed anglophones drink a bottle of wine to themselves on a Monday at noon. Oh well. My pan-fried steak in cream sauce was a perfectly rich match for the wine and the quiet time, while watching the busy people with busy lives pass me by from my little table by the window, was outstanding. Ending my meal with a Poire Belle-Helene, just before boarding my train back to Toronto, was just the decadent finish this Montréal adventure required.
1. All Things L’Assommoir
You know you have something very special when your vegan friend takes you to a restaurant like L’Assommoir. This may have been one of the most meat-centric menus I have ever seen. Foie gras sliders, beef carpaccio, braised lamb shank, ouzo flambe shrimps with annobli cheese, each to be paired with a cocktail from the 300+ list before you. I was in drunk carnivorous heaven. Thea managed with a green salad, crispy plantain chips, bruschetta and a walnut tarator. While my options were so much more plentiful, I ordered as many smaller dishes as I could fit into my stomach. And although I was very happy with my choices, I’m still haunted by a few of the larger signature dishes described on their menu. Next time my meat-loving husband must join us.
My Montreal weekend getaway was most excellent. The people, the places, the rich French food all made it so easy (almost too easy) to forget about responsibilities at home. This trip was exactly what I needed. But to be perfectly honest, when it comes to Montreal, all I really need is time with my friend Thea.
Fight it as you may, when you become a parent you lose touch with many of your friends. At first, everyone makes the effort to keep friendships intact, but as the diapers pile up and you’re now ready for bed by 9pm, relationships naturally drift apart. At least that’s what happened to me. When our second daughter was born and we made the choice to move outside of the city, losing any common ground with most of our social circles, I felt like I had lost all of my friends – all except for Thea. Thea never gave up on me. She designed onesies for my babies and insisted on coffee dates when I felt my most exhausted. She visits us in the suburbs, even when a “raging party” is happening in the city. And she has never stopped calling just to check in, no matter how many times it goes to voicemail and how many weeks it takes for me to finally call her back. I love this girl very much and am forever grateful for her never giving up on me – especially through the thick of those distracted new mom years.
It has been six years since I first pulled up these mom pants, and I am just now managing three whole days of alone time with no kids, no husband, no real agenda. My first real opportunity to be alone and all I wanted to do with that time was spend it with the one person that continues to remind me that the greatest joy in life is having a great friend to explore it with.
With the taste of poutine and adventure still fresh on my palate, I vow it will be much less than six years before Montréal (and Thea) see my return. You should go too. Go adventure, rediscover your own joie de vivre. Report back.
What I am Drinking: Dieu du Ciel!’s Belgian IPA (very flavourful and smooth and now available in Ontario.)
What I am Listening to: The brand spankin’ new single from Montréal’s own Arcade Fire, Reflektor. Haunting and beautiful, just as an Arcade Fire, James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) and David Bowie collaboration should be. New Arcade Fire album is set to release in North America this October 29th and I am counting down the minutes. Enjoy.Add to favorites