Six years of studying French and 6 sentences later…this is how my ability to speak French culminated: getting in and around Montreal and Quebec City. I knew that Quebec is the French speaking state of Canada; in fact I almost came here years ago for an exchange program at McGill University. I just did not anticipate the extent to which the Quebecois spoke French. It was surreal. It was almost as if I was in Paris. I heard more people speak French than English and when they did speak English it was with a French accent. I find this strange yet amusing at the same time. How on earth is this state still a part of Canada is all that I could think of. Quebec was certainly très très different from the likes of Vancouver and Toronto. Whilst I really enjoyed the old century feel to both Vieux-Montreal and Vieux-Quebec my admiration for Quebec would remain only at that tourist type of affection. If you ask me to live there I would probably hesitate.
So here is a run down of what went on in Quebec. Let’s start with Montreal.
Arrival by VIA Rail Canada. This was the only leg of our trip that wasn’t by plane. The ride from Toronto was only 5 hours and the price was cheaper than travelling by plane so we thought why not give VIA Rail a go. The train looked so much more worn out than the pictures on the website which was disappointing. But that wasn’t much big of a deal because once you’re tired no matter how bumpy the ride was you will get a good night’s sleep – which is exactly what happened to me. I slept like a baby on board the train, after checking out the view of course. They were only corn fields so I thought I could give that a pass. If the view were of mountains and lakes I would’ve stayed up.
Hiking up Mont Royal. They said high up Mont Royal gives the best view of Montreal. People who said that sure were right. It was a little but confusing getting to the peak of the park because our map was not of great help. But after asking around en français K and I managed to find our destination. Although the sky was gloomy when we got there the view was still spectacular. There wasn’t as many tourists as I thought there would be so there was ample space for everyone to enjoy the view. Even locals come here to unwind and enjoy the view.
L’Oratoire St Joseph. M, our friend from Toronto, gave us a list of places to visit in Montreal and this the Oratory of Saint Joseph was on top of his list. It was not a far trek from Mont Royal once you figure out which bus to take. Ask the locals if you need to – this was exactly how we got there. Now to get inside the church is a long trek. There were 3 flights of stairs and it was a very humid day so by the time K and I got there we were roasted. The oratory looks magnificent from the outside because it stands tall amongst everything else but I found it to be a bit too commercialised. If you are scared of scary things like ghosts I’d suggest you don’t go to the 4th floor. That was where I got the biggest shock of my life thinking I saw the “ghost” of Father Andre but that which turned out to be just an amazingly lifelike replica of him. It is super human like it’s creepy. It was a miracle I didn’t have nightmares that night.
Shopping & Dining at Saint Denis Street. M told us that Saint Denis Street was like Toronto’s Yorkville with boutique shops and chic places to eat. After much debate as to when we should do our shopping, we went to St Denis Street after visiting the L’Oratoire Saint Joseph, first, to get some bagels from St Viateur Bagels, then go shopping. Of course plans don’t usually happens the way they are supposed to. We went shopping straight away and did some damage. I must say that this is a pretty good place to shop. There are cafes and restaurants everywhere so after a tiring shopping spree you can find just about everything you want to eat in this street. K remembered a restaurant from Anthony Bordain’s show called Au Pied de Cochon (see below) so we had dinner there.
Dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. This restaurant is insanely packed on a Monday night. It’s just a little off St Denis Street and a little hard to find because there are no obvious indicators which tells you that this is Au Pied de Cochon. The whole street is full of restaurants but this and one other restaurant are the only places that you have to wait, or make reservations to get in. We were lucky enough to get seats at the bar area where you can watch the chefs cook. The bar was a bit too high for me so all I could see was this chef making mashed potatoes and I swear that the 2 hours we were there he did not cook much else but mashed potatoes. Anyway, we had a tuna tartare sushi style to start then a foie gras tart and then a duck maigret with mushroom sauce to finish. The tuna tartare was amazing! Explosion of flavours in every bite and the fish was very fresh. The foie gras was very tasty and buttery. It came with a pastry base and mashed potatoes in the middle with a ring of foie gras around the mashed potatoes. I loved it so much. K is weak and couldn’t finish her half because it was too rich for her. You know that feeling when you eat too much butter by itself that you just want to yak it out afterwards? Yeah that was what she felt about the foie gras. I guess there’s only so much foie gras one can eat, huh? As for me, I polished off my plate. Yes I’m a pig like that. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. It took the duck more than half an hour after we finished the foie gras to come out. I don’t know what took so long but when we asked the waitress to check on our order all she said was “it’s coming soon” without even asking the kitchen. And so we waited even more. Finally it came out and it was nothing but mediocre. The first bite was good but the rest after that was just not good enough. The duck breast was so rubbery even a streak knife couldn’t cut through it. I had to chew like mad so I can swallow it.
Let me just say this – food-wise, I think Au Pied de Cochon is worth trying. If you are expecting to be treated like a god or goddess, don’t get your hopes up because their customer service is as shitty as shit can be (for lack of better words to describe it). Service was rude and slow and it was almost impossible to flag down a waiter.
Dessert at Rockaberry. M’s girlfriend, who is a Montreal native, recommended Rockaberry to us just in case we needed something sweet after dinner. Well she wasn’t kidding when she told us they had a lot of pies. So many pies to choose from I couldn’t decide which one to get. There are over 12 pie flavours some with chocolate, fruit, or both. I ended up getting a Banana Split with Chocolate which I ate whilst watching trashy TV shows back in the hotel room. Overall taste was good but a little too sweet and the cake underneath was dry.
Notre Dame Basilica. K has been bugging me to go to Notre Dame Basilica even before our trip. I was indifferent because I do not appreciate church structures. I mean those century old churches are beautiful and all but that is all I can appreciate. I can probably appreciate more the historical significance behind the structures than the architectural style because I know nothing about architecture. But I once I stepped into the basilica I must admit that I was awestruck. Oh my. The interior was just amazing with intricate details, statues and colour. I haven’t been to any of the churches in Europe so I don’t know how this Notre Dame in Montreal compares. It was just wow.
Chinatown. Is it weird that I feel at home in Chinatown? If I’m craving for some soup then this is probably the best place to get it because I love Chinese/Asian soup. M advised that the Vietnamese food in Chinatown is close to authentic because of the large Vietnamese population in Montreal. I think it was Pho Saigon that we went into and I had one of the best lunches I’ve had for this trip. The pork chop was very fragrant and sweet and the pho soup with lemon leaf was the best way to warm up your tummy. I still dream about the pork chop.
Vieux-Montreal. Old Montreal is probably the reason why people visit Montreal. Old walls and structures with cobblestones and French speaking make you feel all the more like you are in Paris. It was a good change to see this area because it was nothing like Downtown. Loaded with tourists though. I wonder how many locals actually walk through the streets of Vieux Montreal? We stopped by this maple products gift shop to do our souvenir shopping and met the friendliest person ever in Canada. He was the owner of the shop and he sure knows how to take care of his customers. He made recommendations, gave us samples and really talked to us. He knew I love maple syrup so he spoilt me by giving me tasting of just about everything I wanted to taste and also some stuff he force fed me.
And we’re off to Quebec City.
Quebec City was not actually part of our planned itinerary but everyone we met, M and some other strangers and fellow tourists, told us that if they only had a day to spend in Quebec they would rather spend it in Quebec City. We did have a day to spare in Montreal so we made an off the plan decision and took a 3-hour train ride from Montreal to Quebec City. We left early morning and came back to Montreal with VIA Rail’s last train departure.
With about 5-6 hours in Quebec City, the only place we actually spent time in was Vieux-Quebec. Where else would we go? Okay, M and the strangers were right – Quebec City is indeed more beautiful than Montreal. I think the area of Vieux-Quebec is bigger than Vieux-Montreal so there was much more to see. It’s a bit more walk uphill and downhill compared to Montreal but it is worth it.