Featured : Montreal | Quebec City | Toronto
“There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.” ― Sir Winston Churchill
Contents for Montreal : Trudeau International | Getting Around and the 747 Bus | The Metro System | Angela Pizzeria and Restaurant | Boulangerie Première Moisson | Downtown | Montréal’s Gare Station | Giorgio | Habitat 67 | À la Folie – Pâtisseries audacieuses | Le Chat Noir | Le Meridien Versailles | McGill University | The Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal Photo Series | Noël Eternel | Palais des Congrès de Montréal | Pharmacie Jean Coutu | Pointe-à-Callière Museum | SteakHouse | Université de Montréal | Vieux-Montréal
Contents for Quebec City : Fairmont Le Château Frontenac | Gare-du-Palais | The Côte du Palais & Rue Saint-Jean Photo Series | Hotches Chocolat Chaud & Cafe | Hotel du Parlement | Saint-Patrick de Québec
Contents for Toronto : Arriving in Pearson International Airport | Union-Pearson Express (UP) | Art Gallery of Ontario | Blue Banana | Cafe Crepe | Chihuly Exhibition | CN Tower | Downtown | En Route to the Royal Ontario Museum | Orange Alert | Queens Park | Rick’s Cafe | Royal Ontario Museum | Union Station | Westin Harbour Castle
Trudeau International is one of the best designed airports in the world. A bold statement, eh ? Perhaps, but it’s based on a simple yet effective litmus test :
― How efficiently can someone navigate it, clear customs, claim their luggage, and locate ground transportation ?
― Is the signage clear and easily understood to speakers of other languages ?
― How intuitive is the entire process ?
Trudeau easily passes this test and it has another winning aspect to it : the 747 Bus which travels to downtown Montreal. The service runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from Trudeau to the Gare d’autocars de Montréal terminal / Berri-UQAM métro station and back. Along the way, the buses stop at a dozen pre-determined locations, all of which are within short distances of the city’s major hotels. One-way tickets cost C$ 9.00, significantly less than a taxi, and can be obtained at automated kiosks at Ground Transportation. You may want to opt for the 3-day pass for C$ 18.00. It can be used on the 747 bus for your trip downtown, and it provides unlimited access on the city’s bus and subway system, a huge cost savings over purchasing tickets ad hoc every time you use the Metro.
If you’re planning on staying slightly longer than 3 days, purchase one of the above-mentioned 1-day passes, put it in a secure place, and then use it for your return trip to the airport. When I return to Trudeau for the flight home, for example, I hand the pass to a complete stranger since it can still be used for the next 24 hours before expiration. I am always greeted with enthusiastic gratitude from people (diplomacy is sometimes measured in the smallest and most random of gestures.) Finally, the city’s Métro System, composed of myriad bus lines and nearly 70 subway stations, is a marvel. Although extensive, the subway system is easily navigable and allows travel all over the city with minimal effort.
Located at 1662 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, near Guy Concordia’s metro station entrance on Rue Saint Mathieu, is Angela’s Pizzeria, a charming neighborhood restaurant with very good food at affordable prices. More importantly, it is a Montreal institution, having opened more than 40 years ago. We dine there each time we visit the city and are consistently impressed with the quality of their pasta dishes and pizzas which are made fresh and with exceptional ingredients. The sauce is very good and the crust is excellent. I also appreciate the infectious camaraderie among the staff members. Recently, we stopped by for dinner where my nephew sampled poutine for the very first time. This famous staple of Montreal cuisine―frites covered with gravy and cheese―is not for everyone and many places claim to serve the best in the city. My nephew ordered his topped with chicken and he loved it.
It was more than a brisk morning while walking near the Mont-Royal stop and I was immediately greeted by a large retriever with a pneumatically charged waving tail, always a welcomed sign. Dogs are usually this happy when a.) their owners are nearby; b.) when there’s food; and c.) when their owners are nearby―with food. Clearly, this was serendipitous as I needed coffee, something warm to eat and treats to bring home. This enthusiastic puppy was checking off all the proverbial boxes as she lead me to the entrance of Boulangerie Premiere Moisson, specializing in baked goods, gourmet specialties, pastries, and take-away. They have locations throughout the city, but this is no chain establishment. More importantly, what they serve is anything but chain food. I ordered a large vanilla cappuccino and jambon et fromage croissant, allowing me to check off the first 2 boxes.
It was also, for all intent and purposes, a museum of Easter confections, chocolate nirvana if you will. I bought white and dark chocolate bunnies and a half-dozen chocolate fruit eggs. The chocolate was the perfect thickness and the fruit inside was fresh without being overly sweet.
The Downtown area is in a constant stage of reinvention as the old and classic architecture of this city sits side-by-side with the new.
“Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because…I don’t know how to say it. A day is long and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station…when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.” – Pablo Neruda
As Winter slipped easily into Spring, what better way to enjoy the Canadian landscape, which still showed remnants of a recent snow storm, and immerse oneself into the charm that is Québec City, than to throw caution to the wind and hop on a train. Reservations on the country’s rail system are easily handled via Rail Canada’s website although tickets can be purchased in person at Montreal’s Gare Station, near the Metro’s Station Bonaventure, and the trip itself is only a couple of hours.
When you exit Station Bonaventure, follow the signs overhead for the train station. It may seem like a maze at first, as you pass through a number of meandering corridors and doors, but the signage is clear and it will only take a few minutes before you find yourself in the station’s waiting area. Thankfully, the Canadians approach train travel the way the Europeans do, i.e., the journey is as important as the destination. The trains, therefore, are more than just a means of transportation. VIA Rail Canada’s trains are comfortable, stylish and should you choose to upgrade to business class, packed with amenities. Meals and snacks, for example, are served on dinnerware and beverages are poured into glasses. Yes, glasses.
Giorgio Gruppo Roma (formerly Giorgio 1176) is located at 440 Rue Peel and as I walked past the small store front I was struck by the meticulously displayed men’s shirts in its windows. Someone took a great deal of time and even greater pride in arranging them. The store’s owner has a warm greeting and is clearly impassioned with his products. He didn’t simply grab an item off a rack or a shelf. He caressed the fabric with a gentle touch, similar to the way a furniture maker slides his or her hand over newly sanded wood. That experience cannot be matched by the generic, assembly line look of much of men’s clothing sold in larger stores. One is an example of craftmanship; the other, mere salesmanship.
Although it does not possess a skyline of iconic buildings–like New York’s Chrysler or Empire State buildings, or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge–Montreal has numerous architectural gems tucked into her city environs, some of which are the very definition of understated elegance, i.e., Palais des Congrès. Then there are those which are as blunt and forceful as a hockey player’s stick. Take, for example, Habitat 67. Designed by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, who brings a Middle Eastern design aesthetic to the challenge of a housing community, Habitat is the last building one expects to find near Montreal’s Saint Lawrence River. Therein likes its timeless brilliance.
Is it possible to love someone to death, or at minimum, to the point of madness ? Such a play on words, and within the context of desserts, is displayed brilliantly at À la Folie – Pâtisseries audacieuses. Located at 1126 Avenue du Mont-Royal E, near the Mont-Royal Metro station, À la Folie is not so much a pâtisserie as it is an immersive experience in the art and seduction of desserts, particularly cream puffs and macarons. The confections, beside being some of the best I have ever sampled, are displayed beautifully in a setting more suited to a gallery or a museum. The owners are clearly having fun with the notion of what a pâtisserie can be and it would seem like a joke that could easily backfire–but for the fact their creations are dazzling and delicious.
The floor is made from the original floor boards; stage lights hang from an industrial ceiling; the guard rail on the second level is made from metal forming dual peace signs; and Robert Doisneau photographs hang on walls of exposed brick. Welcome to Le Chat Noir, located at 39 Notre-Dame St W in Vieux-Montréal. The menu features a variety of well-made omelets, pizzas, sandwiches, soups and specials. I recommend the pizza Siciliana which has the right amount of spicy meats and cheese. On the weekends, they have an extended brunch menu and the mushroom and asparagus omelette is fantastic.
In Montreal, my hotel of choice is Le Meridien Versailles, located on Rue Sherbrooke, just a few blocks from Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the main commercial streets in the city. The hotel has easily become my home away from home with the credit belonging to the staff, from those who work at the front desk, to housekeeping, to the valet, Robert. The hotel’s location is ideal as it’s a few short blocks from one of the 747 Bus’ predetermined stops, although please note, the walk from that stop is uphill.
As you travel southeast from the hotel’s entrance, you will find yourself in a charming residential area, perfect for an early morning stroll; northeast along Sherbrooke, you will discover a number of cafes, retail stores, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and McGill University. And, one of Guy Concordia’s metro station’s two entrances is right around the corner from Le Meridien on Rue Saint Mathieu.
A major renovation has paid off handsomely at the city’s Le Meridien Versailles hotel. Contemporary carpeting, fabrics, furniture, lighting fixtures and wallpaper, along with a muted but sophisticated color palette, have given the hotel’s guest rooms a brand new look. One of the features I appreciated the most was the extra-large desk which nearly took up an entire wall. It had plenty of surface area for a laptop, multiple electrical outlets, and storage space. Although the desk featured ambient light from the large adjacent windows, it also had an LED desk lamp. Ridiculously slim, it gave off excellent but cool light. As you would expect from Le Meridien’s parent, Starwood, which also owns the Loft, Westin and W imprints, the new bed and bath linens are without equal.
The most significant change, however, is obvious as soon as you enter the hotel. The front desk has been repositioned and the wall behind its former location removed, making the newly designed restaurant, Branzino, stand out. The combined lobby and restaurant entrance feature sitting areas that invite relaxing and chatting with friends, all while enjoying the excellent food, drink and service the staff provide.
McGill University / Strolling Through the Campus :
Located in a historic section of Rue Sherbrooke known as the Golden Square Mile, the Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal, or Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is the city’s largest and one of the most famous and widely regarded in Canada. One of its most prominent exhibits was “Il était une fois … l’impressionnisme,” a collection of some of the world’s most revered impressionist paintings. Loaned by The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, original works by Monet, Caillebotte, Degas, Pissarro and Sisley were featured. The museum debuted the new “Splendore a Venezia : Art and Music from the Renaissance to the Baroque” exhibit. Five years in the making, it was a stunning collection of drawings, original handwritten scores, musical instruments, paintings, and prints from renowned artists Bassano, Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and more.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal Photo Series :
Although the front of the Noël Eternel Christmas Store in Vieux-Montréal gives the illusion of a small establishment, once you enter you will be surprised and enthralled with how much space there actually is. The collection of Christmas decorations, figurines, music boxes and ornaments is impressive. For fans of Department 56’s Christmas, Snow and Halloween village series, be prepared to be blown away as Noel’s inventory is almost unparalleled.
The Palais des Congres is Montreal’s convention center, located north of Vieux-Montréal in the borough of Ville-Marie.
Less like CVS stores, which seem to be literally on every block in urban areas throughout the United States, and instead more like mini versions of Target, Montreal’s very own Pharmacie Jean Coutu is the go-to place for–drum roll–cookies. Their own line of baked European cookies, known as PJC Delices, is affordable, impressively packaged and most importantly, delicious. My two favorites are the Le Framboisier, raspberry jelly cookies coated with dark chocolate, and the Le Sabayon, light biscuits topped with milk chocolate and filled with creamy zabaglione. The cookies are so good, and they’re priced between C$ 2.49 and C$ 4.49 / box, I bring back half a dozen boxes for family and friends. You heard it here first.
The Pointe-à-Callière Museum, located in Old Montreal, is the city’s museum of archaeology and history. It featured, for example, “Les Étrusques – Civilisation de l’Italie Ancienne.”
Located in The Village on Ste Catherine Est, Steakhouse is frequented almost exclusively by locals–always a good sign. The restaurant concept is simple but brilliant. All meals are accompanied by locally made bread, salad, vegetable of the day, and unlimited frites which are always brought to the table hot and freshly prepared. You simply choose a meat entrée. I have had the petits filets on a couple of occasions but the duck confit is my favorite as the meat is always tender and cooked to perfection. The restaurant does not serve alcohol, instead allowing you to bring your wine. It does not charge its patrons a corkage fee, however, which, in some establishments, can be anywhere from US$ 25 – 35.00. Your meal, therefore, can be extremely reasonable as there are a number of stores in the area where you can purchase wine and simply bring it with you into the restaurant. Fantastic.
Université de Montréal : A Photo Series
Vieux-Montréal, or Old Montreal, is the city’s oldest section, having been declared a historic district by the Ministère des Affaires Culturelle’s du Québec in the early 1960’s.
An incredibly difficult picture to stage as I had to ask several tour buses to move, and the restaurants on the right to try to keep patrons from leaving for a few moments. The goal was to create the illusion of desolation on a busy morning.
Quebec City, the capital of the Quebec province, is one of the oldest European settlements in North America.
Contents : Fairmont Le Château Frontenac | Gare-du-Palais | The Côte du Palais / Rue Saint-Jean Photo Series | Hotches Chocolat Chaud & Cafe | Hotel du Parlement | Saint-Patrick de Québec
“Quebec City is the most European of any city in North America; they speak French all the time. There is a part of town called Old Quebec which is really like being in France. The architecture is just gorgeous, food, shopping. I’d say Quebec City is the most beautiful city in North America I’ve seen.” ― Sebastian Bach
As foreboding as The Overlook in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “The Shining,” Québec City’s castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac sits atop a steep rock formation overlooking the Saint Lawrence River.
Recognized as the most photographed hotel in the world, its “château” style allows for nothing but great pictures.
Although small, Québec City’s Gare-du-Palais is proof that charm and beauty come in all sizes…
The Côte du Palais / Rue Saint-Jean Photo Gallery :
It was bitterly cold and since the city is located on the water, the wind was particularly biting. What better way to warm up then to duck into a cafe to with a hot beverage. The travel gods were clearly shining down on me. I walked into Hotches Chocolat Chaud & Cafe and experienced one of the best cups of hot chocolate I have ever tasted.
The Hôtel du Parlement, located at 1045, rue des Parlementaires, is not just home to the city’s parliament. The building itself is one of the largest in Québec City and it sits, in stately fashion, on a beautifully designed campus that is open to the public. There isn’t a bad view to be had.
The building, which dates back to 1886, features nearly two dozen statues around its perimeter, all of whom played an important part in the city’s history. From left to right :
– Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville was the founder of the French colony of Louisiana.
– Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye was a French Canadian military officer who, along with his sons, opened up the area near Lake Superior.
– Father Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit, founded Michigan’s first European settlement.
– Louis Jolliet was known for his discoveries in North America
Saint-Patrick de Québec. What a wonderful world it can be. The French-speaking city, which had been recently blanketed by snow, celebrates their version of St. Patrick’s day a couple of weeks after we do in the United States. In and of itself, this might not be noteworthy. What is, however, is the list of groups which march in the Irish parade. I traveled to Canada to a French-speaking province; attended an Irish parade; and it featured members of the police force from our very own New York City. When the Emerald Society’s bagpipes began playing, as the flag-bearers of Canada, Ireland, Irish-Americans, and the United States passed, the crowds on both sides of the street erupted into an almost-deafening round of cheers and applause.
“What is a Canadian? A Canadian is a fellow wearing English tweeds, a Hong Kong shirt and Spanish shoes, who sips Brazilian coffee sweetened with Philippine sugar from a Bavarian cup while nibbling Swiss cheese, sitting at a Danish desk over a Persian rug, after coming home in a German car from an Italian movie… and then writes his Member of Parliament with a Japanese ballpoint pen on French paper, demanding that he do something about foreigners taking away our Canadian jobs.”
If Montreal and Quebec City can best be described as charming with distinctive accents, then Toronto‘s most obvious attribute is bravado. In the past few years, the capital of the province of Ontario has seen its skyline transformed with non-stop construction in an attempt to surround its iconic CN Tower with slivers of bold architecture, glass and steel.
Contents : Arriving in Pearson International Airport | Union-Pearson Express (UP) | Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) | Blue Banana Market | Chihuly Exhibition | CN Tower | Downtown | En Route to the Royal Ontario Museum | OCAD University | Orange Alert | Queens Park | Rick’s Cafe | Royal Ontario Museum | Union Station | Westin Harbour Castle
Arriving in Toronto’s Pearson-International Airport. What will strike you is the stunning skyline Toronto has adopted and the magnificent view as you land. What will impress you is how easy it is to navigate the airport and travel downtown with relative ease and very little cost.
After you retrieve your luggage, follow the signs for the Union-Pearson Express (UP,) the city’s rail service from the airport to the downtown area’s Union Station. Tickets can be obtained either in person or from automated kiosks and the cost is C$ 12.00, or C$ 9.00 with the city’s Presto card which allows seamless travel across the city’s transportation systems. The trains punctually depart every 15 minutes and arrive at Union Station in under 30 minutes. The service is clean, efficient, features ample leg room, storage areas for your bags and wi-fi.
Making an architectural statement before one even enters its galleries, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), or Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario, is one of the largest in North America, featuring art from the Baroque and Renaissance eras, contemporary and modern pieces, drawings, photography and prints. The Frank Gehry-designed expansion resulted in transforming the building in an elegant, understated manner. The new gallery space (close to 500,000 sq. ft) is so extensive I barely scratched the proverbial surface and I was there 3 days in succession.
Quirkiness is completely redefined at Blue Banana Market, a Toronto institution that is equal parts food emporium, gifts, jewelry and cool clothing. Located at 250 Augusta Avenue, it should be on your must-see list. Walk in with no preconceived notions and be prepared to leave with bags full of items and gifts.
Cafe Crepe. On Queen Street, the nexus of Toronto’s dining and shopping districts, the weather was cold, the wind brisk and it was becoming increasingly apparent, it was time to warm up and grab a bite to eat. What better place than Cafe Crepe which caught my eye because of the large front window where you could watch the restaurant’s chefs prepare the delicate crepes. The place was crowded but not loud and it was clear the diners were enjoying their meals. I sat at a table near the back and was impressed with the menu which featured traditional crepes, both savory and sweet, as well as Cafe’s signature dishes. Based on the recommendations from the waitress, I ordered the Some Like it Hot, filled with feta, spinach, sweet onion aioli, tabasco, and tomato. It packed a necessary punch. The vegetables were crisp, the pastry was delicate and flavorful and the tabasco was exactly what I needed to warm up. The quality of the meal was matched by the excellence of the service. I returned a couple of days later to try their Montreal Smoked Beef which included Dijon mustard and mushrooms. It was as good…
The brilliant work of artist Dale Chihuly, known for his blown glass, was featured at the Royal Ontario Museum. The luminous, translucent quality of his sculptures was showcased in the Chihuly Exhibition, “From Sand, From Fire, Comes Beauty.”
New York City has its Empire State Building; San Francisco, its Transamerica Building. What singularly defines Toronto’s skyline is its CN Tower, a structure that becomes increasingly more impressive the closer you approach it. To fully appreciate the building, one of the tallest in the world, you only need to ride its elevators, which are located on the outside, and then tour the observation deck. It’s not for the faint of heart but the payoff is spectacular.
The tower was declared one of the modern “Seven Wonders of the World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Aside from its trademark feature, the now-iconic SkyPod which adorns the top, the building is characterized by the tripod supports surrounding its hexagonal center and her exterior elevators. The floors of those elevators are made of glass, allowing you to experience the ground dropping from under you as you travel to the top. And this is just the prelude to the observation deck which features unobstructed views for kilometers in all directions.
The Downtown Area. Canadians have the reputation of being extremely polite, diplomatic and understated. Caution is thrown to the wind, however, when it comes to the capital of Ontario. Toronto’s skyline is many things but understated. Full of bravado and swagger, the downtown area is a full-on assault of the senses with non-stop construction, architecture, color, glass, and steel.
En Route to the Royal Ontario Museum :
You may not know anything about OCAD University, or Ontario College of Art and Design, but you will instantly recognize it as an institution dedicated to design―and a striking one at that. The public university’s most noteworthy building is nicknamed “The Tabletop.” Located in Grange Park near the Art Gallery of Ontario, the structure sits atop multicolored supports…meant to resemble pencils randomly scattered, perhaps?
When you finished touring the Art Gallery of Ontario, and it will be a fulfilling if exhaustive experience, you will need respite, i.e., late afternoon coffee and pastries. Stop by Orange Alert, located on Dundas Street across from the museum. Characterized by an eclectic decor and laid back style, it features very good coffee beverages, take-away and pastries. If the weather outside is chilly, ask for the orange cider and relax in one of their large chairs.
Dating back to 1860, Queens Park is a gorgeous respite, located in the middle of the city.
The Kensington / Chinatown neighborhoods should be on your must-see list when visiting Toronto. Authentic Asian stores, cafes, food stalls, open air markets and restaurants characterize the area. Considered a historic site, the blocks are filled with unique shopping, too. No visit there would be complete without stopping by Rick’s Cafe for an afternoon coffee and pastry. The establishment is a local favorite, known for their espresso drinks and made-to-order smoothies. Even if you’re not hungry, order a BLT. An exhausting day of shopping and sightseeing can easily be recharged by bacon and the ones they make at Rick’s are not to be missed.
One of the largest museums in North America, the Royal Ontario Museum, or Musée royal de l’Ontario, makes a bold statement before one even enters her galleries. The Daniel Libeskind-designed entrance, nicknamed “The Crystal,” was part of a larger effort to upgrade the building and expand the exhibition spaces which are devoted to dinosaurs, Eastern and African art, European history, fossils, and minerals.
Union Station. Beaux-Art style defines Toronto’s Union Station, one of the most beautiful and busiest in North America. The centrally located station is the figurative and literal hub of transportation in the city, providing services for both Amtrak and Via Rail; the local rail service, Go; streetcar and subway systems; and the Union-Pearson Express. The building currently is a Rubik’s Cube of construction and renovation, making her interiors a maze of corridors and redirected hallways. Don’t let that stop you from taking pictures of both the exterior and interiors.