Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today we departed Lake George, Driving from New York to Montreal, which is easily my favorite North American city, thanks to its vibrant neighborhoods, convenient metro system, and amazing food. I've said it before but visiting this place inspires the feeling that we've somehow transported ourselves to Paris, only without flying across the Atlantic. To get into Canada, we awoke early and hit the interstate heading north. I'd been stressed for a couple months about the hassles of getting my passport renewed through the mail, and even having my freshly minted document I dreaded the possibility that something somehow would go wrong at customs, worrying for nothing as I often do. After a short wait at the border we were greeted with an unsmiling guy asking typical questions. The seeming random nature of these sorts of queries and the brusque tone that typically conveys them always makes me feel suspect, but I managed to get us through, even though my response to his question about whether we were planning to leave anything in Canada -- "Nothing but good will!" -- actually seemed to diminish any hope of good will (while also earning some ribbing from Jenny and Vienna for some time afterward).

Jenny navigated us across bridges and through downtown alleys until we spotted our lodging for the next two days: Le Relais Lyonnais, a small affair with a handful of suites. In two and a half days, I think I saw another set of occupants only once. But, my goodness, what a deal: an immaculate room and separate sitting area with a comfy couch for Vienna, all with subdued yet elegant furnishings, a rain shower, a personal terrace, and (my favorite accoutrement) a high-end espresso machine. Our hotel was perfectly located too, right near a major metro stop (Berri-UQAM) in the Latin Quarter on Rue St. Denis. We parked in the library garage one block behind our room and promptly began exploring this marvelous city.

Right away we began an afternoon excursion, grabbing three-day tourist passes and hopping on the train. Our first stop brought us near enough for a leisurely stroll to the Notre-Dame Basilica to enjoy a presentation about the awe-inspiring monument. Jenny studied the details carefully, admiring the gold leaf and listening carefully to the docent's interpretations and explanations of various art pieces (along with a charming "eh" from time to time).

Afterward I developed a hankering for Moroccan tea. The hotel's wireless internet helped me find a place called L'Orienthé a few metro stops away. Even though I got us lost for a while we got helpful directions from a conveniently placed information kiosk. After arriving at our destination we ordered a package that included a chance to enjoy a shisha (sometimes called a hookah, with no funny stuff in this one), some drinks, and a plate of baklava. Naturally I was the only one in our group interested in the shisha, but I enjoyed it all the same, choosing the flavor of pomme (recalling the local word for apple from my middle school French class: Thanks, Miss Prince!). Jenny and Vienna followed up by finding us a nearby chocolatier, where we continued our culinary celebration.

We so enjoyed Rue St. Denis that we committed to walking back to our hotel, unconcerned about the number of blocks in our way. The balconies were filled with laughing people who drank and chatted as the sun began to set. I lost track of the time as we surveyed the jaunty nineteenth century architecture, the colorful and quirky murals, and the endless array of bursting flower arrangements that seemed to balance perfectly between wildness and cultivation. We then spied a splashing fountain and people relaxing in a leafy park, Square Saint-Louis, and we had to change our course to join them. Beyond, Rue Prince-Arthur beckoned with its boisterous pedestrian walk and throngs of locals and tourists searching for dinner. Vienna recalls that this road inspired the three of us to wish we could photograph everything in sight. We selected Les Deux Gamains and commenced to a two-hour meal, assisted by a server who genuinely cared that we balance the timing of courses and drink selections to ensure that our palates could enjoy the meal as intended. Even so, I threw things off a bit by starting with a Sazerac. No matter; the meal, even including some sort of "spicy fruit soup," was superb. As rain began to drizzle, transforming the streets into blurry streams of twinkling lights (I think the drinks contributed to this effect), we concluded our first night in Montreal with a relaxing walk back to our perfect room.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.