Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Montreal, Part 1

I've been back from vacation for a few days now -- back to my usual routine and an excess of laundry and errands. But I think the sign of a good vacation is that you come back feeling relaxed and refreshed, so doing those mundane tasks doesn't seem so tedious. And that's how I feel after my trip to lovely Montreal.

Montreal is in the Canadian province of Quebec, where French is the predominant language. I wondered if my grad school French studies would be enough to get by. It turned out I had nothing to worry about, since everyone spoke English to us. In fact, with most of our encounters, as soon as they even sensed that French wasn't our native language, they switched into English right away. The street signs are all in French, but most restaurant menus have English translations printed on the reverse side.

When we arrived Thursday evening after a five-hour drive, we were starving, so we checked into our hotel in the Latin Quarter and immediately went to a nearby vegetarian restaurant called Le Commensal . The food was on a buffet -- you pay by weight.  I filled up my plate with leek pie, ginger tofu, parsnip fries, tabouli, lentil salad, a Greek vegetable medley with tofu, and Thai seitan strips.

The ginger tofu was amazing; I wish I knew how they got it so chewy. The restaurant had a cozy atmosphere -- we ate in a downstairs area that was almost cavelike, but warmly lit.

The next day we were ready for some sightseeing. It was a cold, windy day, so we did a lot of our sightseeing from the car, which is unusual for us. We've always enjoyed walking around a new city, stopping in a coffee shop or bar to people-watch, and walking around some more. But, the babies are sensitive to cold, and we didn't want them to be uncomfortable. Traveling is different with little ones, but still manageable and fun.

One thing I immediately noticed is how chic everyone on the street appeared. It sort of felt like we were in Paris or something. Even the mamas pushing strollers were looking stylish, which I always like to see! Another thing I noticed was that all the homes have spiral staircases on the outside. I don't think I would enjoy carrying groceries up spiral stairs during an icy winter, but they look really cool!

Old Montreal is a very picturesque area, dating back to the French settlement in the 1600s. I don't think any of the current buildings date back quite that far, but there are some cobblestone streets with little shops and cafes, and an impressive church, Notre-Dame Basilica.

At lunchtime, we were craving Indian food, so we went to La Maharaja, which had the biggest buffet I've ever seen. It's like the Golden Corral of Indian restaurants, my goodness. The waiter brought hot, fluffy naan bread to our table and we started loading up our plates. I can't remember everything I tried, but the pakoras, saag (spinach), and curried chickpeas were standouts.

Would you believe, somehow, after all that, we were hungry again at dinnertime?

Tony enjoys Chinese buffets, but I'm usually grossed out by them. However, my guidebook listed a place called Jardin de Jade in Chinatown as offering a good selection of vegetarian items. Since Tony was being accomodating by letting me pick all the restaurants on our trip, I thought I would be nice and take him there for dinner. Where is the food pic? Well, one rule I try to live by these days is: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Let's just say I didn't want any photos to remind me of the experience.

We definitely made up for that one poor meal during the remainder of our trip! I'll have the rest of my write-up tomorrow. À bientôt, j'espère!


  1. So glad you had a great time! I wish I had known you were here, because I would have pointed you all the good vegan spots!!

  2. Carrying two kids plus groceries up a spiral staircase sounds like hard work, but what good exercise! Those Montreal moms must be in awesome shape!

    My mom, too, taught me to live by the same "don't say anything at all" rule. Sometimes it's hard to apply, but I try my best because I think it's probably the best rule right after "do unto others".

    Sorry about your meal at the Chinese buffet, but everything you ate up to that point looked great!

  3. Those spiral staircases look scary! I'd never want to come down! Some beautiful buildings though. :)

  4. I've never been to Canada - looks fun!