One of the signs that the Spring Break trip is coming is my annual car washing. My car is getting professionally cleaned once a year, despite my husband’s pleas and demonstrating the dust accumulation with his index finger every time he drives it, which is not often. I am not proud of it, but not ready to put it on my priority list either. The car cleaner performed some old Dutch folk song along the antique vinyl record player displayed outside next to the conveyor. The amateur singer had a great voice, taking all the high and low notes equally well. Different singers, 10 yellow and green canaries, entertained the customers at the cash register. $13.95 and my car looked brand new. May be I should start washing my car after all?
We chose Montreal for this year’s Spring Break. I did not do any research; only took the Fodor’s Guide from the library the night before the trip. I expected the city to look French, have great food and lots of museums-everything I needed to be happy.
Montreal is the city of contrasts: modern skyscrapers and asphalt roads on one street turn into the paved streets and the stone building facades on the next. The street signs change the color from white to red indicating the entrance to the Old City.
Narrow alleys lead to the huge square with the monument in front of Notre Dame Basilica. The church, originated in 1600’s and finally finished in 1829, is absolutely magnificent. The craftsmanship is impeccable. “Not made in China” as my son noticed with admiration.
The gothic architecture is how majority of city’s churches are built. My biggest disappointment was that all of them were closed. They only open for public in some unknown visitor hours or never. One of the churches was even converted to a residential building. It contradicts my understanding of how religious institutions should operate or how they do in other countries, but that’s what it is here.
The biking tour took us across the canal, passing Old Port into the market. If you truly want to experience the French gastronomy, this is the place to go. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, chocolates, pastries and cheeses look very welcoming and ready to melt in your mouth. We bought a bucket of fresh strawberries, and ate it right there, dirty, on the bench next to the market. Montreal is the best place for biking with kilometers of pathways and bike stands available in every part of the city.
The downtown is yet another shade of Montreal with the “5th Avenue” look, Tiffany, upscale boutiques, art galleries, and Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal located on the both sides of the street. You go from one part to another underground.
Looking for parking made us feel at home. After circling Rue Sherbrook and all nearby streets for a while, we found a space on a meter parking. Tightly fitting into the spot, we celebrated our virtuoso “New York” parking skills; only to find out later that we were the second car parked in the space intended for one. At least, that explained why the meter would not take the money.
Montreal offers a unique combination of a big city with a large industrial and business areas and a modern infrastructure with the slower pace of living and the comfort and intimacy of the smaller town. It offers the blend of North American and French cultures with everybody speaking both languages and respecting each other’s traditions.
The food is always freshly cooked and delicious, whether it is an elaborate meal, or a quick soup and sandwich in the café. We did not miss fast food. We saw only one McDonald and one Subway in the heavy tourist area; maybe that was why there were no obese people anywhere to be seen. Mineral water with a slice of lemon was our preferred beverage.
During our last dinner in the Brassiere in the Old City I got seduced by the huge colorful menu of the self-brewed beers, and ordered a huge, 0.5 liter cup. Not a beer drinker, under the strict watchful eyes of my kids (they felt responsible for my sobriety, and were ready to stop me at the first signs of being drunk), I sipped the bubbly amber liquid while watching the Montreal Canadians Hokey game on a big screen TV. It was a new experience for me, but I liked it.
The weather did not cooperate, dumping snow and rain on us, trying to freeze us with sub-zero temperatures, while blowing us away with the gusty winds. But we were on a Break, so who cared about the weather? We explored the city, the museums, learned a little French, and, most importantly, joked and laughed. We shared food, and argued who was sleeping with whom in what bed. We debated history and took turns screaming at GPS for giving us the wrong directions. We had fun and made memories. Isn’t it what family trips are all about?