North of the border, up Canada way

We haven’t had an adventure in a while; it must be time to go somewhere.  I’ve certainly had enough of bridge politics to last a lifetime.

This time we’re taking a fall colors cruise, from Montreal to New York.  Bringing daughter Kate and son-in-law Brad. Taking one of the smaller cruise lines, with a smaller ship, the Silver Whisper, part of the Silverseas Line.  Capacity is 300 passengers, if they sold all the cabins.

First, we had to get to Montreal, and the only way to do that efficiently on American Air is to take the dreaded red eye flight from SFO to Chicago, then a regional jet to Montreal.  There is absolutely nothing fun or glamorous about this kind of travel–it’s just how you get from there to there.

We get into Montreal (airport identifier YUL, for some reason Mamula will probably explain) at 10:30 am.  Can’t board the ship until 2.  Have no intention of sitting in a terminal for 3 ½ hours.  Beth the Travel Goddess worked her magic, and there is a limo waiting for us with a nice electronic sign that says “Mr. Pisarra”.  I love that sort of thing.

The limo heads downtown, where we pick up a licensed guide to show us around for a while–we don’t absolutely have to be on the ship until 6 pm.

Our guide says to call her Stacy because she has a 7 syllable Greek first name no one can pronounce.  She had to go to school for a year to get her license, and she know just everything about Montreal, it’s history, people, building, parks, gardens and events.  We were happy to have her.

Mike has been after me for 3 years to go to the botanical gardens and see the magnificent topiary displays.  He has a thing for trees shaped like bunnies and horsies.  So that’s the one thing I tell the guide I don’t want to miss. Sadly,  it’s raining, it’s cold and windy, the botanical gardens are 30 minutes the wrong way and the topiary display was only temporary, the guide says, and there are only 3 or 4 pieces left standing.  Sorry Micky.

First thing, then, we need lunch.  And there is only one choice–when in Montreal you have to have smoked meat. Which would be called pastrami if you were anywhere else in the world.  And the place you are supposed to go is Schwartz’s Deli, which has been flogging ‘smoked meat’ here for the last 107 years.  it’s supposedly the oldest deli in Canada.

Schwartz's Deli, the most famous in town.

Schwartz’s Deli, the most famous in town.

Well, Schwartz’s is a great place, but it’s also packed to the gills, with very little seating and a line out into the cold. Gail doesn’t do lines. Directly across the street is the second oldest deli, Main Street.  More tables, more easy going atmosphere.  Damn good smoked meat, says the non-expert.  HUGE bottle of mustard on the table.

We all had a sandwich, and enjoyed it.  The others just had the standard fries, but I had to try something new and ordered poutine.

A little plate of Canadian heaven.

A little plate of Canadian heaven.

Poutine is almost a religion around here.  A dish of fries, drowned in brown gravy and cheese curds.  Sounds dreadful, tastes like angels dancing in your mouth.  It’s the ultimate Canadian comfort food, even if it is a heart attack on a plate. My friend Susan M can’t understand how Alabama didn’t discover it first.

Then we just drove.  Saw the downtown, went to the top of Mount Royal (hence Montreal) for the stunning view, saw the big houses in the rich neighborhood–which is still very British, so the stop signs say “STOP” instead of “ARRÊT”.

Drove around the site of the 1967 World’s Fair.  The impressive USA pavilion was a geodesic dome, which burned in 1976, leaving just the framework of the dome. Even without it’s covering, the design is stunning.  The US made a gift of the building to the Canadian people, who have put a museum inside.

The road around the site now is now know as Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and hosts a Formula 1 race annually in June.  The rest of the year the track is open, and so we slowly paraded around it in a Lincoln Navigator limo, not quite as exciting as a Mercedes F1 racecar but quieter.

Modular housing that was built for EXPO67 is now very upscale and high class–and we all agreed we’d like to live there:

Habitat67. Precast concrete modules were incredibly innovative for the time.

There was another sandwich joint the guide said we needed to see, Wilensky’s


This is a great place for a baloney sandwich.  Period.

Moe Wilensky founded this place in 1932.  It served baloney sandwiches.  That’s it.  Baloney sandwiches.  They come with mustard, whether you want it or not.  The do not come cut in half.  Ever.

They don't spend much on remodeling, either

They don’t spend much on remodeling, either

Within the last few years, Wilensky’s has eased up.  They serve egg sandwiches, too.  The guy who said the customer is always right never ate here.

Interior of St. Josephs

Interior of St. Josephs

Along the flank of Mont Royal sits the Oratoire St. Joseph du Mont Royal, and enormous limestone cathedral built over the course of 43 years with the donations of the many who came to pray for miraculous healing.  The dome is the third largest in the world, the place seats around 10,000 and is breathtaking and awe inspiring.  There is a wall covered with the crutches of the healed, miracles that eventually led to the beatification of Saint André Bessette, the only Canadian saint.

Regardless of how holy the site may be, the road in is owned by a man who insists on his $5 to pass–and he argues with limo drivers and guides who don’t want to pay his tribute.  Our driver got into a long and loud difference of opinion in Arabic before we got past him.  The driver was embarrassed, we were amused.

Driving through downtown, we encountered the hôtel de ville, which is how you say city hall in French.  There were interesting seasonal decorations in front, and now I can tell Micky I went to Montreal and saw the topiary:

You don’t get much sleep on a red-eye, and the four of us were falling asleep, so we called it quits and headed for the ship. With only 300 passengers, there are no crowds waiting to board so the process is quick and painless.  We got into our cabin, unpacked and stowed the mountains of clothes we brought, had a bite of dinner and hit the sack by 8:30.

So begins another adventure.  Stay tuned.


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