Un Petit Ramble
We love and appreciate Canada. Our brothers and sisters to the north. Not only is it beautiful and filled with lovely people, I just like to have it near at hand. In the unlikely event that a failed politician loses an election and say decides to orchestrate an insurrection against the government – that actually works – it’s just nice to have some options. So, I have a rule of thumb to never live more than about 100 miles south of the border. In the bonus category, this makes weekend getaways (as opposed to full-blown renegade immigration) rather easy, like the one we had this past weekend.
Take off to the Great White North
Montreal is less than a 2-hour drive for us, so on Saturday morning we threw our skis and a bottle of booze in the car and lit out for Quebec.
Our first port of call was Mont Royal. The Mountain, as it is known locally, is another Fredrick Law Olmsted masterpiece that with the St. Lawrence River defines the city visually and geographically. It is a lofty little peak, expertly landscaped with trails, trees, lookouts, and classic architecture that sits primly poised above the city skyline.
Montrealer’s are not whiny about winter. No matter the weather, the park fills every day (most arriving by city bus carrying their skis and sporting gear) with runners, skiers, sledders, tubers, fat tire bikers, and walkers. It was a lovely blue-sky day with little wind and mild temperatures. We hopped on our skis and did a 10km trail while soaking in the splendid views. Little puffs of steam escaped from the buildings and off the river into the cold blue sky. It's and oddly peaceful place for being smack in the middle of a major city.
Calories now thoroughly torched, we felt much entitled to a picnic, so we drove to the heart of Little Italy and the sumptuous Jean Talon Market. JTM is a classic European-style market brimming with butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Well maybe not those, but loads of grocers, florists, fishmongers, and assorted purveyors of gourmet delights. It is one of the largest open-air markets in North America, though mercifully walls are put up in winter to keep in some warmth. There are also terrific bars and restaurants on premise.
Our first stop was at a patisserie sporting a tiny hot oil conveyer belt that looked like it had been built with an erector set.
The little conveyer would dip down into a hot oil fryer and emerge, seemingly magically, with tiny beignets on the track, like something from Harry Potter. The beignets travel along a bit further and then fall into a small catch basin. Seconds later a kindly gentleman with a generous smile is scooping the warm wee nuggets into a paper sack and sprinkling powdered sugar over them before handing the warm package over to you. You can literally inhale these things; they are that good. I know this because I inhaled them.
From there we wandered the market stopping to buy mixed nuts (dipped in maple syrup), a freshly baked baguette, some cured Italian sausage, and some cheese with an impressive sounding French name. Merci Beaucoup!
Thus ladened (minus the long-gone beignets), we made our way to our hotel (the very European sounding Montreal Metropolitain) and set up our picnic. A nearly comatose and entirely blissful nap followed. Or for me it did at least. We were sharing the hotel with a youth water polo team (yes, apparently that's still a sport, at least in Canada) who were, I'm told, attempting to test the earthquake-proof building construction above us. Who needs sleeping pills when I've got Beignets?
One of us now fully refreshed, it was time for showers, room coffee, and chamber cocktails. Then down to the lobby bar to eyeball the locals and catch the 3rd period of the Habs (they lost).
Finally, it was out into the brisk night air for more wine, wife, and song. In the morning we enjoyed a hotel breakfast, an easy drive south, stopping at the border to see if the same government was still in charge, blippity blop, and no one is the wiser.