A November 2003 trip
to Montreal by su-lin
Quote: I spent a week in Montreal - half for a conference and half as a proper tourist. Hence, I got to live both the high life and the budget life!
We were lucky to be exposed to a range of traditional Quebecois food at the banquet of our conference (sugar baked hams, little meat pies called tourtieres, sugar pie, etc) and I would suggest hunting down some of the same. Otherwise there are many little cafes and restaurants that are absolute gems and they're waiting to be discovered! "Ethnic" food is also very good - I had delicious Vietnamese and Greek food on my visit. Careful, portions can be huge!
If you're from the UK, shop, shop your heart out! The rate of exchange is in your favour!
On our night of arrival, we asked the concierge at the Queen Elizabeth to recommend a restaurant. We chose a Greek restaurant not too far away from the hotel from the list provided and then announced our intent to walk there. She (the concierge) was appalled to hear this, "But it is very cold! I am from Montreal and I even think it is cold outside! Let me call you a taxi." We refused. Yes, we knew it was -10 degrees Celsius but we could handle it, couldn't we?! Actually, no. It was freezing outside and we ended up jogging most of the way to keep warm! The lesson learned: listen to your concierge when it comes to matters of weather!
Did you not read my description of the weather in the previous section? Bundle up in the winter!
Tourist Information in Montreal was manned by extremely helpful and kind people and the centre is located in downtown Montreal at 1001 Square Dorchester.
The main shopping areas downtown (along Rue St. Catherine and Rue St Denis) are all within walking distance and entering most shops along the way should occupy you for many days! As a general overview, Rue St. Catherine is mostly full of the large chains while the area around Rue St. Denis has a lot of little boutiques.
The standard rooms are just big enough for the two queen size beds, two nightstands, a desk and a large cabinet (acting as minibar, coffee tray holder and television holder). Robes and an iron were provided in the closet. The bathroom was very clean and was filled with all the usual toiletries - nothing special, just produced-for-them shampoo, conditioner, shower/bath gel and lotion. My neighbouring colleagues found a lot of dirt in their sink but their entire bathroom was scrubbed down when the situation was made known to reception.
I would not say there was anything particularly special about the rooms themselves but the location of the hotel was amazing for a tourist, especially in winter (more on that in a bit!). I think I read somewhere that this hotel was a purpose built conference hotel and that is made apparent by the many rooms that are available for hire. There are also a gym and a pool in the basement available for all guests of the hotel.
The best part of the hotel was the amount of shopping available to you without your even leaving the warmth of the building. This is extremely important in the winter when the weather dips below zero (Celsius) and the thought of going outside makes you cringe. The building is connected in the basement levels to the underground city of Montreal, a maze of corridors underground that are mostly lined by shops. It is possible to visit many buildings, both offices and shopping centres, via the underground city and without once stepping outside. Two lifts give you access from the ground floor to the two basement levels. Level 1B brings you to the gym and pool and the underground city. Level 2B brings you to a large food court and the main train station!
Booking and more information can be found on their website.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 6, 2004
Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth
900 RENE LEVESQUE BLVD W
Montreal, Quebec H3B4A5
Hotel | "Montreal YWCA"
This is a multi-story building with the top two floors reserved as a hotel. The top-most floor had ensuite rooms (where we stayed) while the next floor had rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens in the hallway (more like a hostel). Our room and adjoining bathroom was very clean; however, the rooms had only just been refurbished and televisions and Internet access was still being sorted out. Oh well, it wasn't like we were going to stay inside the whole day!
The rest of the building held a little cafe, a hairdressers, the gym/pool that are open to the public and a preschool/nursery. The cafe became our morning hangout for breakfast where bagels and muffins with egg and cheese were the norm. The gym and pool are also available free of charge to hotel guests. Internet access was available via booths in the lounge on the ground floor.
One day, we arrived back to the hotel to find that the door had not been closed properly - perhaps the cleaner had not shut it fully. Luckily for us, nothing valuable had been taken but one of my friends had a sweater missing. When we reported it to reception, they were quite blasé about it as we had mentioned that nothing important was gone but they took my friend's details should they find the sweater. We never heard from them.
Although the place was very clean and very affordable, this incident marred our entire stay with them.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on September 6, 2004
Montreal Y Hotel
1355 Blvd. Rene Levesque West
Montreal, Quebec H3G1T3
Restaurant | "Le Bambou Bleu"
All the meals include the a soup to start, an appetiser of the traditional Vietnamese imperial rolls, the main course, a dessert and coffee or tea to finish. I was with two friends - one ordered the set with a main of two skewers of grilled meats (and you had a choice of fish, pork, chicken or beef and you could mix and match) and battered prawns with rice vermicelli and salad - that was about $14 Canadian. The other friend and I split the Vietnamese fondue - about $35 for two people.
What amazing deals these were! We never expected to be presented with so much food! The soups came out first and these were clear soups chock full of seafood. The imperial rolls that followed turned out to be two fat monsters sitting on a thick bed of greens. The idea is that you wrap the deep fried roll in the lettuce and add herbs to taste - it tastes fresh and delicious. My friend's grilled meats and prawns arrived on a very large plate will lots of accompanying salad and rice vermicelli. The prawns were two large specimens butterflied and deep fried in a batter. She said it was good! The fondue, though, was amazing. A small black cauldron-like pot is placed in the middle of the table and is filled with hot water with chunks of tomato and lots of coriander floating around inside. We were equipped with a number of implements (just like in Chinese steamboat) and a variety of sauces (a traditional Vietnamese nuoc cham, a hoisin type of sauce and a peanut based sauce). A platter of sliced chicken, sliced beef, prawns and scallops then arrived accompanied by a platter of rice, rice vermicelli, beansprouts and lettuce.
One of the best parts of the meal is that at the end, your cooking pot will be filled with a richly flavoured stock, with all the flavours of the foods that you have cooked in it. I asked for some small bowls after our meal and we all partook in drinking the lovely broth.
After the meal, dessert arrived in the form of battered bananas and we all chose coffee to finish things off.
We ended up staying for three hours and never realised it! I wouldn't mind flying back to Montreal just to eat there again! The food was excellent and it really was a bargain. The lighting in the restaurant is a bit dark but this lends to an air of romance. I recommend bringing a date and sharing the fondue - what a great way to break the ice!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 7, 2004
3985 St-Denis St
Montreal, Quebec H2W 2M4
+1 514 845 1401
My photo shows a plastic knife as for some reason, they had run out of clean metal knives! That was the only quibble I have of the meal.
That day was the day of the annual Christmas parade and sitting by the window to enjoy our hot breakfast meals allowed us to watch the parade in the comfort of the cafe. I think it was about -5 degrees Celsius...and standing at the side of the road to watch the parade did not entice!
I remember that the cafe was open until night as another friend picked up a late night sandwich and salad combination one evening. I did have a taste...and it was very good!
I only visited one branch but there are definitely other Presse Cafes around Montreal.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 7, 2004
1370 Rue Sainte-Catherine O.
Attraction | "Insectarium de Montreal"
You will be bombarded by lots of insects, both dead and alive, when you enter. Dead ones are pinned and framed on the walls and live ones crawl around inside glass tanks. There is an impressive display of very large stick insects in one corner of the museum in tanks that reached up to the ceiling. There are also smaller tanks located around the exhibition space with spiders, cockroaches and other various bugs. It is quite informative but it was a little smaller than I imagined it would be.
The Insectarium is famous for holding their insect tastings every two years and one just happened to coincide with my trip. However, I would not have been able to make it there due to the metro strike! I missed the following menu (from their website):
Nachos with South American queen ants.
Truly all-dressed pizza
Pizza garnished with mealworms.
Galleria larvae and spinach dip on toast rounds.
Maki with crickets.
Banana birthday cake
Our birthday cake! Banana cake with vanilla icing and fruit fly sprinkles.
Cri-cri sucre à la crème
Not quite the way your mother makes it! We add grilled crickets to our fudge.
Having eaten crickets before, I was rather looking forward to tasting other creepy crawlies!
If you go, try to incorporate an insect tasting (next one in 2005, more information on their website) and then come back and write about it! I want to hear all! If bugs creep (haha) you out, best not to go. The prices I quoted above were for the high season and include admission to the Botanical Gardens.
4581 Rue Sherbrooke Est
Attraction | "Biodome"
You enter into a huge reception space leading to the ticket counter. We settled on one of the combination tickets for the Biodome, the Botanic Gardens, and the Insectarium. There is another ticket available that includes all of these attractions plus the Olympic Stadium.
The Biodome is divided into four main sections. We went through the sections in the following order, covering a circular route, but you're free to start with any section you desire.
The forest is accessed on raised wooden platforms that separate you from the animals. The birds are the most apparent of all the creatures, flying around above your head and making lots of noise! Clearings in the forest also make it easier for you to spot various mammals and reptiles on the ground. Between parts of the forest are also tunnels that are lined on the inside with fish tanks full of various tropical fish - like piranhas! Information about the various animals is posted on information boards along the route.
This forest was mostly what interested me. The Laurentian forest was an indoor version of what was available outside Montreal in the Quebec and Ontario region. As I would not be able to view the real forest, I was going to have to settle for an indoor approximation! Again, wooden platforms lead you around the area. The beavers were my favourite, with their own dam in the back. We wandered into one closed-off area and the general comment was that it smelled of cat pee. Well, it would - it housed a lynx!
St Lawrence Marine Ecosystem
The highlight of this area is the large seaside-like area where numerous seaside birds (seagulls, terns) are flying overhead. If not for the roof, it would feel like a real pier! All I can say is, close your mouth if you're looking overhead! A large aquarium also holds a number of fish found in the local waters.
This was the smallest region but one that seemed to be the most popular, judging by the length of time in which people lingered! A number of large glass enclosures housed various polar dwelling birds. Puffins (oh, they are adorable!), and many types of penguins are mostly what I remember. The enclosures were built such that their ground level was our eye level so it was possible to see them swim as the water was flush against the glass.
The Biodome is obviously very popular with children (there was a school group there during my visit), but adults curious about the fauna in the areas surrounding Montreal, will find it interesting. Expect a huge zoo and you'll be disappointed.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 10, 2004
4777 Pierre-de-Coubertin Avenue
Montreal H1V 1B3
We entered at the entrance closest to the Insectarium and made a visit there first (see separate entry on the Insectarium). After, we wandered around the park and as expected, in November, most trees have lost their leaves, and flowering plants aren't exactly looking their best either. We managed to find the Chinese garden which would have looked great in any weather, what with its pagodas and lake.
We had been walking around outside now for some time and needed some warmth. We hustled to the main exhibition greenhouses close to the main entrance. Ah, that was much better...lush greenery, full of life, and blissfully warm! This was divided into 10 parts and were laid out in a row and the entire lot could be traversed in a circular manner.
These 10 sections were:
The Arid Regiosn Conservatory full of cacti and succulents
The Begonias and Gesneriads Conservatory with lots of these brightly coloured flowers
The Economic Tropical Plants Conservatory, the one I consider most interesting, as I love to see how coffee and chocolate grow!
The Ferns Conservatory - yup, full of ferns and with an impressive water feature at the end
The Garden of Weedlessness a Chinese/Japanese themed exhibition with many bonsai plants
Hacienda, again, many cacti and succulents but this time with a Mexican theme. Oh, we had fun posing our Mexican friend next to a Mexican cactus!
The Main Exhibition Greenhouse
The Molson Hospitality Greenhouse, was next to the entrance and had many simple explanations of how plants lived
The Orchids and Aroids Conservatory - lots of gorgeous orchids and other plants now used as houseplants around the world
The Tropical Rainforests Conservatory - boy, was this one humid!
The greenhouses were impressive and I felt that just seeing these would have made the entrance fee worthwhile. We were unable to see the rest of the gardens by then as we had lingered for a long time in the greenhouses and it was time to go.
Overall, we must have seen only 1/5 of the entire botanic garden, but it was impressive. I would not mind returning again to see the rest of it...but in the spring!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 13, 2004
Montreal Botanical Garden
4101 rue Sherbrooke Est
Montreal, Quebec H1X 2B2
London, United Kingdom