The February Escape to Montreal: 2 Days In Montreal Itself

Montreal & Blainville-Boisbriand, Quebec (Map)

Winter 2013-14


Montreal may seem like a silly destination for my annual winter's respite, but stick with me here. Sure I loved that Texas trip, but that was also quite a bit of money. In addition I had enough Air Miles to fly to Montreal, which right now was a much better option than paying for a Newfoundland to Dallas plane ticket.

I realize that it still sounds like a strange February escape since Montreal gets colder and has equally nasty storms. The thing is that they also have random sunny days, they have hope for the random warm day and they have a chance at snow actually being cleared because they don't get awful snowsqualls continuously blowing off of the ocean.

I will admit that I got a bit lucky for it to be above freezing and to have multiple sunny days in February, but that'll happen. You can wake up the odd day in February and there is a moderate chance of riding in the salty streets.

I only had to ride in the salty streets for a kilometer or so, after I amused myself by taking my ramshackle bike onto the subway towards Station Montmorency, putting myself within riding distance of Montreal's amazing indoor skatepark.

It was so nice to be riding an exciting skatepark instead of an unenclosed parking garage with slushy floors and 7 foot ceilings (oh hai Corner Brook!)

Returning from the skatepark on that first day, I finally managed to walk around Old Montreal on now my 4th visit to the city.

(The above picture might only show buildings bordering Old Montreal.)

I had driven through this area with Steve & Donnie at Christmastime two months before this, but that time was cold and at night, leading us to stay in the car and avoid meandering about.

City Hall.

Continuing to walk around, I noticed an intriguing entranceway into what seemed like a meagre college or high school...but with stained glass?

Would you look at that! They preserved the front of this beautiful church to use it as a walkway into the school behind it!

Anyway, afterwards we were off for Tibetan food, which was in one of those classical Montreal stone 3-story structures closing in on the road, with an interior of high ceilings, separate rooms and delicious food. The Tibetan meal stood out along with breakfast along Rue Saint-Denis as the two meals I remember from Montreal.

Then again, I suppose I also remember the late night poutine spot on the first night, if only for how many people gave me a hassle about going to a famous poutine spot, then getting a Michigander (tomato-like sauce and onions on a hot dog). This was followed by going to a neighbourhood bar where they were playing Joni Mitchell albums, lulling me into an angry slumber.

The Tibetan was much better than that first night.

Trying to steady my camera on a rail in the reeds to get a passable exterior.

The entertainment tonight would be out in Blainville-Boisbriand, a far-flung suburb that lured the Montreal QMJHL team away from the awesome Verdun Auditorium to the south of downtown.

After a trip that Google quotes as 1½ hours of public transit - which ended up being more like 2 hours with a trip all the way across Laval's Ile Jesus and a full convoluted ride through your standard Quebec suburb of Boisbriand - it was finally a brief walk across a now frigid parking lot to get to the game just as it started at 7pm.

The Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau was only built in 2010, but it still wasn't this overbearing monstrosity like you would have in the OHL. I can't say that the place was my favourite, but I also liked it much better than arenas of similar vintage in other places, simply because of the Quebec League atmosphere and uniqueness.

The fact that this was a matchup of the 2nd best and 4th best team in the QMJHL didn't hurt either. The game was back and forth, played at an incredible pace & complimented by a raucous and focused crowd. The atmosphere was so good that I'd put it up there with that of the Niagara Ice Dogs game I saw at the end of 2012.

Of course I had to have my customary poutine. QMJHL stadium #9, QMJHL poutine #8!

Blainville-Boisbriand's poutine was sort of weak for a Quebec offering though. I'd have a hard time putting their poutine ahead of any other Quebec rinks I've been to, and even Acadie-Bathurst would have to rank higher.

Waiting out in the cold after the game, there was a grand total of four of us at the bus stop, as the parking lot showed the consensus for mode of travel to those interested in the Armada. The four of us ended up feeling grateful, as the bus would quickly come and speed over the last bit of its route, where the arena and the local bus station are two of the last stops.

From there I knew that we needed to get on the #9 bus, but my inexperience with buses came into play as I boarded the next #9 bus that showed up. The dark bus would speed along, going in a straight line in what didn't seem like the right direction, but this was unfamiliar territory. As I was stubbornly unwilling to ask for help, we would come to almost the end of the #9 line before I would ask & learn that we were headed for Saint-Jerôme - which was only about 50km away from where we wanted to go in downtown Montreal.

Scared by costly thoughts of impending motels or taxis, I was elated to learn that even through this truly annoying mistake, things would be okay after a bit of patience. The last bus of the night was to come at midnight, even as I annoyingly sighed at having to spend 45 minutes in Saint-Jerôme waiting for that bus. Walking into the bus terminal, I immediately heard some French being spoken at me, eventually learning that the terminal building was closing & it was time to wait outside.

So with 45 minutes to burn in the cold of a February night, a small loop of Saint-Jerôme was made where I would have likely bought a beer at any local store, but the only thing open was a rough, busy bar.

Rounding back towards the station by going down Rue Elisabeth, the kilometer of Saint-Jerôme I saw was fairly forgettable, finding myself on a train-side path before scurrying up to the bus and sitting down for the long journey back.

Sunday morning was that great breakfast along Rue Saint-Denis, sitting at a tucked-in corner even though no one else was in the restaurant.

A belly full of fresh Montreal bagels and smoked salmon, it was then off to the cemeteries of Mont Royal, where I knew the history and wealth of this great French city would deliver elaborate tombstones.

The following afternoon it was back to the skatepark for a moderately sore session #2, then back and cleaned up to go out to this brewery, featuring a menu of strange concoctions using their brews mixed with select liquors. A wheat beer with vodka? The drink was something like that, but I sat astonished with its deliciousness.

The drinks also quickly got you where you wanted to go, so after only a few it was on to this live music venue where jazz was playing; but with poor drink selection, I'm not sure why I was sitting through live music (live music isn't my cup of tea unless it's someone I absolutely love).

So we skipped out on that place, although it was getting late by this time & we had to get up early the next day. There was one last stop at another bar that had far too many intriguing beer choices for being half in the bag. I decided to simply have one Shawinigan Handshake, something I remembered the history of from my friend Steve - not the exact history, but that he had told me the history & I had forgotten. Amazingly, the waitress was from Shawinigan and more than happy to talk about former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the Shawinigan Handshake of grabbing somebody by the throat.

Waking up the next day, the days seemed to fly by as it was suddenly time to get out of Montreal. Something should be said for the $42/night accommodations keeping the trip under budget though, even if the decor may have been a bit dated...

...or there were paper bath mats, as the online reviews warned.

(I have to admit that the wobbly door that clearly had been kicked in once did make me rethink my reservation.)

Thankfully everything was fine as I carried my bike down the stairs a 3rd time, this last time now into a waiting rental car.

It was time to head due south on Quebec highways and autoroutes towards New York State.

Continue to Part 2!


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Backcountry Snowshoeing to Bakers Brook Pond

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