Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Montreal: a great roadtrip destination

If you’re around the northeast US and looking for a weekend trip, I have one word for you:  Montreal.  I just visited for the first time yesterday, and I was shocked to find such a cosmopolitan and genuinely European-feeling city so close to home.

I left Boston by car at 5:00am yesterday morning to arrive in Montreal (or, rather, the sleepy suburb of Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague) before noon.  My girlfriend and her father had chosen Montreal for their 100-mile charity ride, and I wanted to be waiting at the finish line when they crossed.  (Did I mention they were riding unicycles?)  It was a 5.5 hour drive on less than 4 hours of sleep, but it was absolutely spectacular.  Having grown up in Texas, I never saw upper New England in the summer.  If you’re free on a sunny afternoon, take I-93 North to I-89, through New Hampshire and Vermont, for some of the most beautiful scenery America has to offer.  You’ll notice a few interesting things: New Hampshire has more country radio stations than central Texas, I-89 has mad speed traps and several “Moose crossings”, and Subaru has like 50% market share in Vermont.

The drive through Canada was even more interesting.  I took a rural route west of Montreal, on mostly one-lane roads.  The streets are in total disrepair, there are construction zones every 5 miles, and not a single police officer (mounted or otherwise) in sight.  I’m pretty sure this is the status quo: several times I stopped for directions because the GPS wanted me to go on roads that were closed for repair.  Each time, though, the locals told me to ignore the signs and barricades and continue on my way, which I did without problems.  It turned into joy-riding at its finest - no rules, straight-shot streets screaming “speed!”, and an idyllic backdrop of green fields, red barns, and blue skies.  I’m telling you, make this drive soon, and with the sunroofs drawn.

I spent the afternoon exploring the small towns southwest of Montreal, by the island of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.  The people were very kind, but a bit intrigued as to why I was loitering in the area.  (I speak no French, aside from the line I picked up in that Moulin Rouge song, making it difficult to blend in.)  At 4pm I was waiting on the bike trail, very amused by its pristine condition (compared with the roads I had just seen).  But then Montreal is one of the top cycling cities in North America, with more than 300 miles of paved paths.  In any case, the riders crossed the finish line shortly thereafter, having traveled 100 miles by unicycle in less than 100 hours.  We celebrated over a bottle of champagne, and then drove the 25 miles into downtown Montreal for the night.

Montreal is actually an island, surrounded by rivers to the north and east and lakes to the southwest.  We stayed at the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal, named for its quaint cobblestone streets and original 18th and 19th century French and British architecture.  It’s a stunning part of town, right by the St. Lawrence river, with boutique shopping and restaurants rivaling any European city.  The historical landmarks (like the Notre-Dame Basilica and Bonsecours Market) are impressive.  As the global headquaters of Cirque du Soleil, the local skyline also features a mammoth yellow circus tent.  It falls just in front of the famous Biosphere, which looks a lot like Epicot’s Spaceship Earth, making the whole thing a bit Disney-esque.  We had a fantastic dinner at a local French restaurant (elk and buffalo with goat cheese and mixed vegetables - $27 USD) and went back to the hotel for 5 hours of sleep.

I had to leave early this morning for work (the gtrot website is coming along well!), and didn’t get to see that much of Montreal, but I loved the drive and my time in the city.  I definitely had one of those rare instant connections with the place and people -  a feeling I’ve had only a few times, in places like Buenos Aires and Rome.  I’ll be back soon, and recommend you check it out too!