Montreal, Canada

While working at Accenture in 2007, I launched a travel group for junior executives.  Our frist trip was to Montreal, Canada in September 2007.  Accompanying me on the trip were Linda Die, Jason Brown and Tina Hodge.  A great group of people who provided entertaining conversation and adventurous fun.  We also sampled french candian cuisine, cultural sights, street fairs, shopping and nightlife.

Thrilling Thursday

Once everyone finally made it through customs and arrived at the hotel in downtown Montreal, it was already late afternoon. Within an hour of our arrival, a heavy rainstorm started. Once the weather settled, we decided to have dinner at a highly recommended and historical Montreal eatery:  L’express Bistro.  It was definitely eclectic Cuisine.  I did not care for the service or the cuisine which seemed to be an elaborate array of pate and foie gras.

After dinner, we took a stroll along the St. Catherine shopping district. It’s similar to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile or New York’s Soho district.  I admit it’s a bit misleading to travel to a foreign country and stay within the tourist district. It is very rarely a true reflection of the local culture, so we strolled through the neighborhoods whenever possible and took public transportation on a couple of occasions.

I have been to Paris a couple of times and didn’t expect the language barrier to be an issue in Montreal.  Well, I was wrong in this case. We encountered some French speakers who were not very patient, and would curtly let you know that they did not speak English.  My most memorable moment is when Tina and I were planning a public transportation route to the St. Jean-Richelieu province for the balloon festival on Saturday.  I approached a bus driver for directions and as soon as I started to speak English, he seemed to tune out and said, “I don’t know where you are going, but I’m going here <insert something that sounds snooty and French>”.   He didn’t say anything else and I promptly walked away.

On the other hand, there were others who were extremely friendly and genuinely surprised and pleased that Americans would visit Montreal just to experience the city.

Fleeting Friday

We spent the better portion of Friday touring Montreal’s historical sites including:

  • St.Catherine Street – A shopping district reminiscent of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, New York’s Soho district, and London’s Chelsea area.
  • St. Joseph’s Oratory – Atop of Mount-Royal, it is one of the world’s most visited shrines.
  • Old Montreal – The historical part of the City and its OldPort.  It was the original portion of the City when Montreal was a truly provincial town which relied quite a bit on it’s ports for trading.   Over hundreds of years, the town as expanded out from the Port.
  • Notre Dame Basilica – A masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture.
  • Biodome – houses four ecosystems from the Americas have been realistically reproduced.  Features include lynx, penguins, palm trees and firs. 

In the evening, we visited another highly recommended restaurant: Au Pied De Cochon at 536 rue Duluth Est. The ambiance, service and cuisine was top notch.   Our waiter was engaging and attentive. The food was excellent, service was great and the restaurant had a very European flair. We were enjoying ourselves so much, that it was 11pm before we decided to leave.

We were not ready to call it a night, so we walked around the club district looking for an interesting place. We ended up at Stogies, a posh cigar bar. At Stogies, we enjoyed music and martinis, finally returning to the hotel at 2am.

Safe Saturday

We arranged to take public transportation to the St. Jean Richelieu region of Quebec where the annual balloon festival was held.  The town of Richelieu is one hour from Montreal.

Our balloon ride was scheduled for a 6pm take-off but our pilot chose not to fly because of the high-speed winds.  There were several pilots who chose to make the flight which resulted in several in-air collisions.  The collisions appeared minor from the ground but I’m sure the occupants in the balloons didn’t think so.  The balloon baskets are very small and there is not much room for jostling.

We enjoyed great conversation with our pilot, Pasqual who shares the same first name with his wife of two months. It was interesting to learn that Montreal does not allow women to take the name of their husbands upon marriage.  I wonder if it is to prevent the loss of family history?

We stayed at the festival throughout the evening to enjoy the amusement park.  There were several rides lit up like Las Vegas casinos. There were booths where you can find local Montreal cuisine such as Goutin which is a dish of French fries with cheese curd and beans. No one in our group was adventurous enough to give that dish a try.  We took a taxi back to our hotel at 10:30pm.  See the great photos and videos of the balloon festival.

Duty Free Sunday

Tina had the earliest flight and left for the airport first thing Sunday morning.   Linda and I had a later flight, so we met for brunch at a local diner before leaving for the airport.  Jason, enjoyed the rest of the afternoon in Montreal before returning to Atlanta.

While waiting for my flight at the airport, I spotted a very stylish woman with a group of other travelers.  They were asking her several questions about her unusual looking laptop.  She absolutely loved it and said it was launched at a Millionaire expo in Holland and worth every bit of the $10,000 she paid for it.  Despite being amazed by the laptop design, I think I was more shocked by the fact that someone in the world has decided to host Millionaire expos. Her laptop had an alligator skin casing, but it comes with many options, ostrich, crystal, patent leather and of course diamond accents.

The laptop brand is E-Go LifeStyle and was created by Dutch PC company Tulip Computers. The EgoLife concept is to have a notebook that you can carry like a hand bag. The idea was transformed into a full-scale and unique project and after years of research and development ‘ego’: the world’s most luxurious notebook and portable DVD player was born.

After having my mind blown by the elegant woman and her extravagant laptop, I decided to stroll on over to the duty-free shop to make a few purchases of my own.  My last adventure in Montreal included perfume, Inniskillin dessert wine, Maple Syrup and tea.

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