À bientôt, Montréal!

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Taking a winter stroll on Île Sainte-Hélène, Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

It’s been quite a few months since the previous post, because life hit top gear once I began packing up in Montreal. I’m now back in Melbourne, still a way off from life on cruise control but, busy as I am, never a day goes by without thinking about my second hometown. Photos from Montreal friends showing off the autumn colour and now the first snow makes me really miss my old life: the quotidian pleasures, the rhythms of the seasons, time with mes amis. Of course it’s great to be back among everything that’s deeply familiar, including many dear friends, and rediscovering how wonderful Melbourne is, but I wish I could clone myself and live here and in Montreal simultaneously.

Forming such a strong bond was not what I expected when I arrived in Montreal. I departed Melbourne in love with the city of my birth, so it never occurred to me that I could also feel at home in and indeed truly love another town. Sure, as a tourist I had fallen for places, from Venice to New York, but I didn’t anticipate how a city can snuggle into your soul when you live there for years. Continue reading

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Free Montreal / Montréal gratuit

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Museum Day at Maison St Gabriel: crafty ladies make traditional ceintures fléchées. Photo: Patricia Maunder

History has been a lifelong interest of mine, so it didn’t take me long to discover Montreal’s annual free Museums Day when I moved here. While enjoying the 2016 edition the other day, I was reminded what a great gift to the city it is, and also thought about the many other free things on offer. From guided walks to park life, festivals to fireworks, there is so much to do and see in Montreal that doesn’t cost a bean, whether you’re a local or a visitor. Step this way to discover some of the best.

I’m happy to pay to see cultural artefacts, but May’s Museums Day is a great way to save money and also get motivated to check out places I haven’t yet made a beeline for. It couldn’t be easier as there are regular, free shuttle buses to all the venues, where there are often special things to experience on this already wonderful day. Continue reading

Weird and wonderful / Étrange et merveilleux

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Photo: La Presse/Olivier Pontbriand

It’s coming up to four years living in Montreal, and in that time I’ve encountered many aspects of life that I found, or in some cases continue to find, unusual if not downright weird. Some I’ve written about before, particularly about how the French language is sometimes enforced to farcical extremes by Québec’s Office de la langue française.

There’s so much more though, like police wearing colourful camo pants, the 20th century’s inexplicable persistence, and cats shaved to resemble little lions. Continue reading

Living in maple heaven / Vivre au paradis de l’érable

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Gathering maple sap the old-fashioned way. Photo: Patricia Maunder

March may as well be renamed Maple in Québec. In the province that produces three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup, it’s literally flavour of the month when the harvest of maple sap begins. It’s a sign that spring is here, and it’s time to eat even more maple goodness than usual, from the traditional meals at maple farms, to seasonal treats, including maple beer and latte.

In Australia I had a choice of two brands of maple syrup in nearly identical bottles. It’s fairly pricey there, so used sparingly, and limited to but a few dishes (particularly pancakes), or entirely absent no thanks to maple-flavoured syrup – urgh! Now I live in the sweet spot of the maple universe: it’s way cheaper; there are as many ‘brands’ as there are maple farms (so thousands); it’s available in different grades, from golden/delicate to dark/strong; it’s a pleasure not limited to syrup form; and, especially at this time of year, it’s everywhere – even on the Canadian flag! Continue reading

I love afternoon tea / J’adore le thé d’après-midi

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Afternoon tea at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. Photo: The Ritz-Carlton

Afternoon tea is one of my favourite things in life. I keep a lookout for exceptional examples of this time-honoured indulgence when travelling, so while I’ve never stayed at London’s Ritz or New York’s Plaza, I have enjoyed a few hours at these hotels, living the life of luxury without the massive bill. Beyond five-star hotels, distinctive tearooms can also deliver memorable moments, such as Angelina in Paris and Gunners Barracks on Sydney’s majestic harbour.

I love afternoon tea close to home, too, because above all it’s a chance to press pause on ordinary life and share some special time with friends. Back in Melbourne, I regularly indulged at the historic Windsor Hotel, or at one of many unique tearooms (State Parliament’s hushed, wood-panelled dining room is one the city’s best-kept afternoon tea secrets). So I was disappointed by the comparatively limited afternoon tea options when I arrived in Montreal, but lately things have been looking up. In fact, I’d say there’s a little afternoon tea renaissance going on here. Continue reading

Winter a la carte at Montebello /L’hiver à la carte à Montebello

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Dog-sledding at Montebello. Photo: Patricia Maunder

It’s been quite the dud winter so far, with little sign of improvement on the horizon. No snow to speak of until just after Christmas, and generally much warmer than usual so what snow there is keeps melting and, even worse, it sometimes rains! My plans for lots of winter fun, including skating, snowshoeing and tubing down snow slides, has been badly impacted. Fortunately, one keenly anticipated weekend of winter activities worked out perfectly, as a generous 40cm of snow fell in one day shortly before my beau and I checked into Le Château Montebello.

Fairmont’s luxurious, giant log cabin of a hotel set on extensive resort grounds has got to be one of the best places for travellers looking to tick off a bunch of Canadian winter pleasures: snow-and-ice-based sports, crackling fires, a huge Christmas tree, rustic-meets-luxurious vintage decor that’s the epitome of Canadiana (in my mind, but it might seem old-fashioned to locals?). After driving about 90 minutes’ west of Montreal, I was enchanted the moment we drove under the property’s big log entrance arch, across the snow-covered grounds, then checked in in the grand central foyer. Continue reading

Meat-free Montreal / Montréal sans viande

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Chu Chai’s amazing Miam Kram – one of my favourite dishes in Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

There’s a strange divide in Montreal’s dining scene: on one side a surprising number of vegetarian, even vegan, cafes and casual restos (the local, bilingual slang for restaurants), while with few exceptions anywhere that’s a bit fancy has almost nothing (or literally nothing) without meat, fish or seafood. There’s obviously a substantial population here that doesn’t eat animal products, but either few of them have much money, or most big time chefs have trouble conjuring interesting dishes not centred around flesh.

For most this divide is invisible, but for vegetarians (végétariens) and vegans (végétaliens) living in or visiting Montreal, here’s my take on the good food on offer – including a couple of fancy restaurants that not only cater to us, but also understand that we’re not birds limited to seeds and greens. Continue reading