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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Discovery à la Montréal



   One-Tank Trip for Nov. 9/13

   (c) By Jim and Barb Fox

   The neighbourhoods of Montreal are truly infused with a “je ne sais quoi,” making them a pleasure for tourists to explore.
   Whatever the weather, people are on the streets with friends in these distinctive “quartiers.”
   They’re browsing the chic boutiques on Sherbrooke, ice skating indoors at the 1000 De La Gauchetiere office tower and just plain having fun.
      Via Rail offers three-course meals and
 drinks in its business class service. (Jim Fox photo)

   While avoiding traffic hassles, Via’s business class afforded the luxury of reserved seats, tasty three-course meals and drinks, including wine, beer and liquor, en route.

   Discovery à la Montréal
   Arriving downtown, we make a short hike to Le Centre Sheraton Montreal and a suite overlooking Mount Royal.
  Le Centre Sheraton in downtown Montreal recently had a $40-million makeover that included its 825 guestrooms and suites. (Jim Fox photo)
   We wanted to reacquaint ourselves with this “multi-layered” city with its eclectic neighbourhoods on this trip.
   Ruby Roy, tour guide extraordinaire, took us first to the evolving Quartier des spectacles (Entertainment District).
   There’s an ongoing transformation in this neighbourhood located between Centre-Ville (downtown) and Old Montreal/Old Port.
   It’s the heart of the cultural metropolis and well-known headquarters of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, as within one square kilometre there are some 80 cultural venues, including 30 performance halls, and Place des Arts.
   The “Luminous Pathway” highlights the wealth of attractions by lighting the sidewalks with two rows of red dots and there’s architectural lighting and video projections on building facades.
   Heading south past the ornate entranceway and bustling activity of the Chinese quarter, there’s the International quarter and then the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal appear.
  Bagels hot out of the oven at a Montreal favourite, St-Viateur Bagel Shop. (Barbara Fox photo)
   Must-sees are the Notre-Dame Basilica, a neo-gothic architectural masterpiece, and Saint-Paul Street packed with galleries and historical buildings including the Marche Bonsecours, called one of the 10 most beautiful heritage sites in Canada.
   Nearby, the Old Port along the St. Lawrence River is a playground for walking, cycling and roller-blading and even has a beach and boardwalk.
   There are the Montreal Science Centre, IMAX Theatre and the Montreal Clock Tower and this is where the winter High Lights Festival and Igloofest, electronic music festival, are held.

Master carver Johnny Goncalves creates a smoked-meat sandwich at Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. (Jim Fox photo)
   Food to die for
   Our tour wouldn’t be complete without dropping by what are called the best bagel and smoked-meat sandwich shops in the city, if not the world.
   It’s before noon on a Sunday and the crowds have already formed outside Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen on St. Laurent.
   Johnny Goncalves, who has been hand cutting the famous kosher-style meat for 40 years, offers a sample.
   We then stop at St-Viateur Bagel Shop to sample some hot bagels right out of the wood-fired oven.
   A nearby rival is another Montreal favourite, Fairmount Bagel, with a slightly sweeter taste.
   Writer Jim Fox with tour guide Ruby Roy enjoying a bagel hot out of the oven at St-Viateur Bagel Shop. (Barbara Fox photo)
   Poutine at Frite Alors! on St. Catherine was a heaping helping of fries covered with pulled pork, chewy cheese curds and gravy served in what looked like a large metal dog food bowl.
   One of our best-ever meals and service were at the Gazette restaurant on Saint-Antoine West in the Westin Hotel, formerly the building that housed Montreal’s English daily newspaper.
Sous Chef Louis Gauthier of the Gazette restaurant at the Westin Montreal with a
grilled fillet of Angus beef with wild mushrooms, foie gras and fingerling potatoes. (Jim Fox photo)
   Chef Paul Little features “Quebec terroir,” including grilled fillet of Angus beef with wild mushrooms, foie gras and fingerling potatoes, green-tea grilled salmon and honey glazed rack of lamb among the mains.

   Travel deals and info
   Travel by Via Rail was a pleasure, with numerous Toronto-Montreal trains daily for the five hour or less trip.
All aboard! (Jim Fox photo)
   One-way fares are as low as $29, if bought on “Discount Tuesdays,” and $39 for Economy Class. www.viarail.ca; 1-888-842-7245
   Le Centre Sheraton on Rene Levesque Boulevard is near great shopping on St. Catherine and Place Ville Marie as well as dining and nightlife on Montagne and Crescent.
   The hotel completed a $40-million makeover last year to its 37th floor Club Lounge, with complimentary breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres, 825 guestrooms and suites, health club, restaurant and bar, and communications centre.
The sun sets over Mount Royal as seen from an upper floor at Le Centre Sheraton. (Barbara Fox photo)
   The Sheraton offers the Fall “Sweet Deal” package with a second night at half-price and discount coupon booklet, starting at $150 for the first night. montrealsweetdeal.com
   The Hockey Night special has rooms from $145 to ticketholders when games are played at the adjacent Bell Centre. sheratonmontreal.com; 1-888-627-7102
   Tourism Montreal offers trip planning information at tourisme-montreal.org; 1-877-266-5687

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Jim Fox can be reached at onetanktrips@hotmail.com
For more One-Tank Trips: http://1tanktrips.blogspot.ca

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