Charm­ing Mon­treal is full of fas­ci­na­tion

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - TRAVEL - By Sigal Rat­ner -Arias

MON­TREAL >> We were look­ing for a fun, short fam­ily va­ca­tion, close enough to home that we could drive there and far enough away that we could sa­vor a bit of a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. We de­cided to head for Mon­treal. I had vis­ited once be­fore and al­ways wanted to go back. Our two old­est sons (a sixth-grader and high school fresh­man) both learn­ing French in school made it an easy de­ci­sion, and our kinder­gart­ner was on­board, too. So we packed, grabbed pass­ports and drove north from New York. In a mat­ter of hours we saw the “Bien­v­enue” sign at the bor­der. Im­mi­gra­tion was easy, and soon we were at our ho­tel down­town with four days to en­joy the city. Vis­it­ing Canada is es­pe­cially af­ford­able right now for U.S. res­i­dents, with $1 Cana­dian worth just 73 cents U.S. With all the de­li­cious food, though — pou­tine and maple ev­ery­thing — I only wish I could have ap­plied the same math to the calo­ries.

Here are a few high­lights of our trip:

The Botan­i­cal Gar­den and In­sec­tar­ium: With its Chi­nese, Ja­panese and First Na­tion gar­dens, ar­bore­tum and green­houses, the Botan­i­cal Gar­den is a pop­u­lar stop. Even on a rainy day, you can visit crea­tures — alive and dead — at the In­sec­tar­ium. The kids were grossed out but loved it. “Cha­gall: Colour and Mu­sic”: This re­mark­able show through June 11 at the Mu­seum of Fine Arts fo­cuses on Marc Cha­gall’s con­nec­tion to mu­sic in his life and work, through 340 works of art that in­clude paint­ings, works on paper, sculp­tures, ce­ram­ics, stained glass and ta­pes­tries. We were fas­ci­nated by his work for the stage, in­clud­ing more than 100 cos­tumes, masks and sets for “The Magic Flute” and the bal­lets “Aleko,” “The Fire­bird” and “Daph­nis and Chloe.” The Science Cen­ter: A high­light for the kids. From work­ing to­gether to solve a crime at the “CSI: The Ex­pe­ri­ence” ex­hibit (through Sept. 4) to hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties at the per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tions and 3-D IMAX movies, the Science Cen­ter is a fun and cool place. Go early to make the most of it and then take the rest of the day to shop, stroll and eat in Old Mon­treal.

Old Mon­treal: Old Mon­treal (Vieux Mon­treal) is the old­est part of the city, with some rem­nants dat­ing back to New France. It’s charm­ing and full of life, with restau­rants, shops, cafes and art gal­leries along the Rue de la Com­mune and be­yond. A few places to visit are Place Jacques Cartier, in front of the Mon­treal city hall, and Place d’Armes, sur­rounded by build­ings that in­clude the Notre-Dame basil­ica. (Re­cent flood­ing in Quebec did not af­fect Old Mon­treal or most other ar­eas around the city fre­quented by tourists.) Din­ner and live jazz: We had a mem­o­rable din­ner at Jardin Nel­son, lo­cated at Place Jacques Cartier, where we sat in a beau­ti­ful court­yard sur­rounded by old stone build­ings lis­ten­ing to live jazz. The high­light of our de­li­cious meal was an amaz­ing dessert, a tra­di­tional Que­be­cois treat with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup called poud­ing chomeur.

Quebec City: Quebec City, the prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, is a three-hour drive from Mon­treal and a wor­thy side trip. Don’t miss the iconic land­mark Chateau Fron­tenac, and the Ter­rasse Duf­ferin that wraps around it. With can­nons spread along the walk­way, the ter­race of­fers beau­ti­ful views of the St. Lawrence River. The Euro­pean-look­ing streets boast restau­rants, cafes, lit­tle shops and bou­tiques. Other at­trac­tions in­clude a wa­ter­fall, Mont­morency Falls and a pic­turesque is­land, Ile d’Or­leans, ac­ces­si­ble by bridge.

Sea­sonal at­trac­tions: For those who can visit in late win­ter and early spring, con­sider a stop at a tra­di­tional maple sugar shack called Erabliere Char­bon­neau, where we had a fab­u­lous all-you-can-eat lunch of pea soup, coleslaw, baked omelette, maple sausages, baked beans, meat­ball stew and more, served with a bot­tle of maple syrup and desserts that in­cluded buck­wheat pan­cakes, maple taffy on snow and my fa­vorite, sugar pie. The venue has other at­trac­tions, like a zip line, that re­main open now. Other sea­sonal events in­clude the city’s fa­mous In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val, June 29-July 8. A se­ries of events are also tak­ing place this year for the city’s 375th an­niver­sary and mark­ing 50 years since Mon­treal hosted Expo ’67, while Canada is cel­e­brat­ing 150 years of the coun­try’s con­fed­er­a­tion.

Those fa­mous bagels: We couldn’t have left with­out try­ing Mon­treal’s fa­mous bagels. A Cana­dian friend liv­ing in the U.S. had told me about the St-Vi­a­teur and Fair­mount ri­valry, and since I wanted to bring her some of her fa­vorites, we stopped at St-Vi­a­teur be­fore head­ing back home. We or­dered a dozen as­sorted bagels — plain, se­same, onion, whole wheat, poppy — and they were de­li­cious. They felt lighter than Amer­i­can bagels and less salty. We’ll try Fair­mount’s on our next trip.


A vis­i­tor gets a hands-on treat when a worker lets him hold a bug at the Botan­i­cal Gar­den and In­sec­tar­ium in Mon­treal.

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