Southern Fried Quebec and Montreal! [classic article]

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q1There are countless important connections for Southerners to our friends in Canada. For instance, many people don’t realize that the Confederate States of America kept an intelligence network in Canada during the Civil War, to be kept abreast of doings in New York, etc. Acadia is the original home of Louisiana’s Cajuns. Plus, lots of Catholics in Kentucky, etc., can trace their roots to some of the French Canadian fur trappers of 400 years ago. Many Canadians are enamored of the music of the American South. In this PC world we live in, many Southerners thirst for celebrating their European heritage, which is well celebrated in Canada. And, it was in this spirit that I set off for Quebec and Montreal.

I started out the trip courtesy of Air Canada Jazz (www.aircanadajazz.ca ), which flies out of BWI airport, as well as many other US terminals. After sitting in comfy leather seats, in something less than 2 hours, I was in Canada! Well, my flight had a connection at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. At this point, you go through Canadian customs. While there, you can visit a number of nice shops, including a new place that does 10-minute manicures for $20 and also, Lush. Lush is a Canadian bath store that is just sticking its toes into the water of the US (how’s that for an obnoxious pun?). They make everything fresh, like a bakery, so you get the nutrients of the natural ingredients. Lush makes a soap called “Rock Star,” which I had to buy, and these little temple balms. You put them on stress points to cure what ails ya’. They also make a solid massage oil bar that promises to be an “anti-insanity” tonic. All I can say is, we’ll cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Then, I connected to Quebec, again on a well-run Air Canada plane. Air Canada offers all the regional papers to read complimentary, which is a nice touch.

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I stayed at the perfectly located and charming Hotel Champlain, in the Old Quebec neighborhood (www.champlainhotel.com); for reservations, call 1-800-567-2106. This hotel has been completely renovated in a funky yet nod to the historical, d�cor. If you live in Baltimore, I would describe it as being decorated by Nouveau. 24-hours a day, they have free coffee, espresso, cappuccino and hot chocolate! Isn’t that perfect, for before the shops open or after a late night, when you want a “little something”? The rooms are also set up for WiFi.

The hotel has beautiful, soft linens and comforters. Also, you get your choice of an early or later complimentary breakfast seating. This is a continental breakfast with some goodies added: cereals, croissants, hard-boiled eggs, sharp local cheddars and pate! This makes for a nice start to the morning and, since Quebec is very hilly, you will appreciate the sustenance.

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In Quebec, there are artists everywhere… but there is also a specific “artists’ alley”. There, you can buy paintings or sit for your own portrait. I’ve always wanted to get my portrait done in the alley, but when I’m on vacation, I’m a little too wound up thinking of all the sights I want to see to sit still long enough. When you’re traveling, are you constantly hungry? I am. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. So, I stopped for a little snack in the artists’ alley at “Le Petit Chateau”. Cider – not the dark kind, but the clear, wine-like alcoholic kind, is a staple in Quebec. Ice wine is prominent, too, but considered much more upscale. This little caf� featured house cider by the glass, quarter liter, half-liter or whole. So, this is what I did. I started out with a half liter and, before you know it, kept those whole liters coming. It was a hot summer day! You can also order Bloody Caesars there, Canada’s answer to the Bloody Mary. It has clamato juice in it and it’s very tasty. The caf� had an acoustic guitarist playing. While they don’t serve fondue outside, if you were inside, you could order fondue “Chasseur,” with cheese, beer, caribou and stag. That’s a pretty exotic snack, I’d say. This place was loaded with tall, dark and really handsome waiters, so I definitely recommend it.

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After resting up a bit, I headed over to one of my favorite restaurants on the planet, “Le Continental”. Check out the menus on http://www.restaurantlecontinental.com/en/menus.html. This is an old school place where happily enough, there’s no dress code. So, if you don’t feel like wearing a jacket and tie that night, that’s cool with them. They will start you with a classic cocktail – super 1950’s era – if you like: Rob Roys, Pink Ladies, the works. I had a Kir Royale, in the spirit of things. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary and serving special retro dishes, like an appetizer featuring fois gras, sweet breads with morels, shrimp scampi in fine champagne, edible flowers with a fruit and vegetable salsa and a piece of snow crab. It was so decadent! Le Continental’s specialty is doing flamb� entrees tableside. There are a lot of choices, too… but when in Canada, why not try the delicious duck a l’orange?
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In the morning, it was time to explore the SAQ New France Festival. SAQ (kinda like an ABC here in the States) regulates Quebec’s alcohol. But with a French tradition, they actually have the most exquisite liqueurs, wines and spirits in their stores! They will test your 1 liter per person US Customs resolve, to be sure. So, onto the festival…

Much like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, the whole city gets into the revelry. Quebec reports that there are 30,000 fest attendees who are dressed up in colonial French attire and I believe it! There are booths all over city, with vendors, genealogy assistance (you Cajun kids would be in hog heaven!), drinks. There are musicians, storytellers, jugglers. The whole town turns into one big party!

There are lots of murals painted all over Quebec.
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The Museum de Place de Royale even had an interactive exhibit where you can dress your own self up in colonial New France gear. Since there are things all over and the city is very hilly, wear your most comfortable walking gear.

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There are also huge effigies that appear in parades and in courtyards.
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Quebec is also home to some of the oldest churches in North America.

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At night, they had a concert in the courtyard of Laval University (a former seminary), with a cabaret type singer and then a band that played music from all of New France’s roots: Acadian, etc. One of the emcees was someone playing The Duke of Orleans back in the day, with several young ladies accompanying him — much like the rock stars of today. I actually once knew a young politician who acted in the same way, but since his career’s in the toilet, I won’t humiliate him further. The “Duke” was ever so charming, as they must have been. He said in French, “You should buy the bands’ CD’s.” The young ladies with him asked, “But Monsieur, what are CD’s?” He looked into the audience all deadpan and said, “I don’t know.”

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Things were really happening late at night during the festival, later than they normally would in the city of Quebec. There were lots of artists working past midnight, still doing sketches. The ferry, which takes commuters across the St. Laurence River, was packed. That’s a great way to see the city skyline and really understand the military importance of the cliffs!

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All too soon, it was time to leave Quebec and head to Montreal. I got to do it in absolute dazzling celebrity style: First Class tickets on http://www.viarail.ca Before you go on, there’s a lovely passenger waiting room completely stocked with beverages, the latest newspapers, a massage chair ($1 and part of the money goes to charity) and WiFi. There’s WiFi on the trains, too. There are even electrical ports on the chairs, so you don’t have to run off battery. There are carts to haul your luggage around and you can check baggage, too. You can check baggage even for short hauls.

http://www.viarail.ca even has a full menu for the First Class passengers. First, they give you a hot towel to refresh yourself with. Then, they offer cocktails, including the Bloody Caesar. Who doesn’t like a cocktail? They do a … generous pour and I was quickly feeling “Southern Fried”. These are some of the courses you could choose from on my trip: appetizer of forest mushrooms, pate’ with red currant sauce and gherkins. Entrees (BTW, “entrees” in Canada are what we call appetizers, after the original French.) included pork loin, roasted turbot or broiled chicken. There was Mocha mousse and chocolates for dessert, plus wine and coffee!

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So, after getting my luggage, I hopped a cab to my hotel: The Hotel Opus (what used to be known as the Hotel Godin). http://www.opushotel.com/montreal/english/index.html When you walk around a bit, you will see that it is centrally located between lots of interesting, popular neighborhoods, like the one that houses this building:
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Like many hotels in Montreal, it has a clean, modern feeling, world-class. In the lobby, they have free WiFi (they have high speed internet in the rooms for a fee), along with complementary coffee and cappuccino. It’s a 136 room boutique hotel, so you know they’re gonna take good care of you.
The rooms are very spacious with lots of special, non-corporate touches. The huge walk-in showers are black with little lights on the floor! That’s kinda hot. The linens are cool, white pique’. For breakfast in the morning, you can have the continental buffet or order off the menu. Inside the hotel is a very nice hair salon, Mood. My hair was starting to look, well… not worthy of walking around a first class city, so I decided to treat myself. I knew they’d do a good job, when I saw all those Kerastase products, y’know, like $45 shampoos. They fetched me a glass of wine and were very sweet to me. All kinds of Canadian television stars go there. It’s very chic. They did a great job and you can feel very confident going there. That’s good to know when you’re traveling, huh? This ain’t no Hair Cuttery joint. www.moodbypure.com

For tons of free concerts, I was able to check out “Les FrancoFolies de Montreal”, downtown at the Place des Arts. There were many stages set up outdoors, featuring all kinds of music from over a dozen French-speaking countries. It was definitely refreshing to hear some other stuff that’s not all over Clear Channel. Plus, there were companies giving out free sodas for people to try! There were people of all ages at the fest.
Walking past the festival, is the luxury Canadian department store, Holt-Renfew. They have great stuff that would be hard, if not impossible, to find in the U.S. Also, you can’t forget La Senza! I think they have stuff for men … well, isn’t it all for men??
On St. Laurent Street, there are all kinds of funky neighborhoods. I went into an antique store and got an incredible deal on silver cream soupspoons. I checked out ethnic delis from countries all of Europe – you can go in and get them to make you a HUGE sandwich for $3. If I lived there, I would definitely shop for groceries. I would even shop there if I were staying in a place with cooking facilities.
This guy, who owns a deli, looks EXACTLY like my late father did:
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I also checked out the Prison des Patriotes, where political protesters used to be warehoused. There are many similarities betwen the French-Canadians’ struggle for autonomy and the goals of the American South.
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At night, I took a cab to the glamorous http://www.casino-de-montreal.com/montreal/nav/en/home, where yachts can pull up to the casino doors. The casino is on an island that hosts NASCAR races, a restaurant, parks and other recreational activities. There are lots of stages with live music and it’s a full casino, with high stakes card games as well as slots. Did I win any money? Of course I did! One of their special features is the www.cabaretducasino.com, which is a dinner theater inside the casino. I saw “Summertime”, which was a musical collage of American and Canadian pop summertime themed songs. The audience was lovin’ it. The shows change every few weeks, so you’ll have to check out their schedule. One of the drinks they feature is kind of like a Windex and packs a punch!

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The next day, I walked along the river paths in Old Montreal. There are lots of museums, cafes, stores and outdoor vendors. Much of the architecture is from the original Colonial days. I checked out the History Center of Montreal on Place Youville had interesting exhibits showing the growth of the city. This is also clearly a place where Montrealers like to work out, bicycle, use all kinds of odd vehicles to get around on the Old Port Promenade. I went to a restaurant called Caberet de Roi where the gals dress in Medieval costumes, showing their wares. It also features historic recipes such as braised ox cheek, bison steak, venison sausage with cider sauce, homemade scones.
After walking around so much, it was a really great idea to take one of the hansom cabs around. I took an hour tour and it was wonderful! My driver took me to areas and streets I would never go, and I learned so much. I would highly recommend it.

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For a terrific bargain, yet authentic, fresh cuisine, go to Le Steak Frites on St. Paul! Well, that’s if you can get in. I got one of the last free tables that evening, it’s so popular. They serve their steaks with a house salad and all you can eat French fries.
People may not know it, but Montreal is home to a world-class Chinatown. There are streets of Chinese import stores and restaurants. It’s so intense, there’s a Holiday Inn that has a Chinese gym with spas and massage, as well as correct Feng Shui and a wonderfully authentic restaurant. You can get dim sum items like tripe, veal spareribs, and chrysanthemum tea. Chrysanthemum tea is naturally sweet, fragrant and full of vitamins. On the first floor, there’s a beauty salon where I SWEAR TO GOD, I got my eyelashes dyed.

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This says, “When I am empty, I am sad.”
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When you walk around downtown, you come across many music and used musical instrument shops… perfect for our Southern Fried readers!

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Extra special thanks to Bard Nordby at Quebec Tourism!
nordby.bard@tourisme.gouv.qc.ca And certainly, I can’t forget Yves Gentil, Air Canada, Via Rail, the Hotel Champlain or the Hotel Opus.

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