Trip Details: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Duration: 3 days (Thursday - Saturday)
Transportation: Car (5-6 hour drive)
Kids ages: 6 and 8
Time of year: End of September
The kids got two days off from school at the end of September and we decided it would be fun to take the kids on a mini road trip somewhere. We gave the kids the choice of New York City or Montreal and they choose Montreal.. So Canada here we come!
Day One: Thursday
When ever we have a long road trip ahead of us I make sure the kids have plenty of activities and junk food for the car. We estimated the trip to take us about 5-6 hours and I wanted to delay the "are we there yet" for as long as possible. Each kid had a back pack full of DVDs, electronic devices (iPads, and nintendo DSs), a zip lock bag of a couple cookies, a couple bags of chips, and a bottle of water. I was taking a risk with the bottle of water because Izzy is notorious for downing the entire bottle during our first five minutes and having to pee every 20 minutes after. We did pretty good and only had to stop twice before we got to our lunch destination just outside Burlington, VT. Jeff found a great little breakfast/lunch shop called Sneakers. Pancakes, waffles, omelets and other hipster diner type food. Both kids christened their bathrooms and Izzy had a quote for the ages. As she is dropping her load she says, "I think someone might have gotten hurt with that one".
Back on the road, the weather was beautiful and the drive though the mountains of Vermont was breathtaking. We made it to the border which was pretty uneventful. I was disappointed that they didn't stamp our passports since I think that is one reason why the kids wanted to go to Canada (they wanted to use their passports). Once we crossed the border we got an unexpected notice on our cellphones.. Roaming charges!! Oh no, how did I not plan for this one. No Internet, no phones we had only been in the country for 20 minutes and had already accrued $50 in roaming charges!
We got to our hotel around 3PM , parked the car, checked in, and went up to our room. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in the size of the room, it was small.. really small and the windows looking out to the city were really dirty. The rest of the hotel was pretty neat, it was on top of an underground mall, had an indoor pool surrounded by an upper deck that had huge slider doors that opened to an outdoor terrace that over looked the city. When the doors were open it felt like the pool was outside, and the downtown location on the corner of Jean-Mance and St. Catherine, couldn't be beat. After we took a little hotel tour and part of the mall, we decided to walk around the city. First stop Notre-Dame.
Kids were a little hungry and wanted a snack so I let them grab a snack pack of Pringles each but quickly regretted my decision after seeing all the crumbs they left around. They both looked like Hansel and Gretel. I made the kids eat at a table in the lobby after we got out of the elevator but lost patience with Izzy after it took her 10 minutes to get her chair in the right spot. At this point Jake is covered in chip grease and I'm so stressed that I took Izzy's chips and said here, I'm going to carry these since you can't stop making a mess. And just as I finished the sentence I dropped the whole box of Pringles on the ground. Kids and Jeff couldn't stop laughing, and I also had quite a smile on my face and could help but laugh at myself.
Finally out of the hotel we followed the directions of the concierge to the old city of Montreal and to Notre-Dame. The directions were pretty easy and it wasn't too long of a walk before we hit a nice square with a fountain and a big church. I wasn't sure if it was the Notre-Dame we were looking for (not sure why I was so confused, I am blaming the Pringles) and since I didn't have my phone to help guide me and I left my Montreal Travel Guide book at home, I pulled out the map of the city that the hotel gave me. I am not really sure why I felt the need to pull out the map when it was obvious it was the church we were looking for. Jeff yelled at me for looking like a tourist, and there's no doubt about it, I really did (not sure why I was so confused, I am blaming the Pringles)
The kids really wanted to take a tour of the church. They looked at all the paintings, the alter, the architecture, the place was really quite beautiful, I think they were in awe of it's beauty. I was pretty impressed with how well behaved the kids were.
After the church we took a walk down to the port. By now it was 5:00 and the kids were getting quite hungry. I really had no idea where we could eat so we just walked around a little and headed down towards the Science Center where we thought there we some restaurants. We were only able to find a food court that we really didn't want to eat at so we caved and turned on the roaming feature on the phone to help us find a place to eat. $50 in roaming charges later we found an Italian place on rue St. Paul Ouest that looked pretty good and we headed out in search of it.(I forgot to turn off the roaming app after we found our restaurant).
We headed back towards the Old City and found a place call Mechant Boeuf on rue St-Paul Ouest. The menu was burgers, steaks and such and the interior was very urban and modern. The place was pretty empty except for a group of people by the bar having some drinks after work. They didn't have a kids menu but I knew our kids liked many of the things on their menu. They had a DJ, the music was loud and we were there early enough that we had our choice of tables (right by the window). The kids split a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, I had the braised beef poutine (braised beef, gravy, french fries and cheese curd) and Jeff grabbed a burger. We ordered an appetizer of burrata and fresh fruit was delish and the kids filled up on bread and butter so splitting their order was perfect. It was Happy Hour so drinks were half priced the beer was tasty, Jeff was able to order rum, Jake said it was the best Shirley Temple of his life. Izzy couldn't get a chocolate milk but was pleased with the apple juice. It was a great place to eat! I love it when we find random places to eat and it works out perfect.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel for a night swim but Izzy wanted to stop and do a little window shopping first, we went into a cute Christmas ornament store but had to head back after only one stop because she had to pee.
We met the boys back at the hotel, Jeff and I made a drink and we headed down to the pool. The pool is the highlight of the hotel! They have really comfy loungers lining the upper pool deck. The night was beautiful, warm with a slight breeze.
The kids had a good time in the pool but was short lived because they were so curious about the steam room and sauna. So after about a 30 minute swim Jeff took the kids into the steam room which quickly became one of the highlights of their trip (not ours).
Since the kids didn't swim for as long as I hopped they would we took a night walk down St. Catherine street looking for some ice cream. It wasn't that late at night but it was dark. We played in the fountains, listened to an amazing street band playing Beetles covers, were panhandled by the homeless more times that I can count and passed a few strip club which Jake had many questions about (the answer was always I'll tell you later). We found a Ben and Jerry's after about a 30 minute walk, got a couple dishes of ice cream and headed back. By this point the kids were exhausted from the drive and all of our walking. We got back to the hotel and we all just fell asleep.
Day 2: Friday
Rise and shine wasn't too early (about 7:30ish). Izzy was the first one up but played with her DS under the covers with her headphones. She was trying to take pictures but it was making quite a noise that within 30 minutes the rest of us were up. Time to get ready and find some breakfast and COFFEE. We decided to try a crepes place a few blocks up the road. La Crepes to Go on rue de Bluery is now Jake's new favorite restaurant. Both kids got Nutella and strawberry crepes and Jeff and I got eggs and spinach. The restaurant was small place located in a building set just below sidewalk level (kind of the basement of the building), it had just a few tables and a counter that overlooked the sidewalk. We followed breakfast by a coffee and croissant at the coffee shop across the street.
Next up a choice between walking down to the port to see the Science Center or a ride on the Metro out to the Bio dome and Olympic Park. Jeff wasn't too thrilled with the idea of riding the subway and would of rather taken a cab but the kids voted for the Metro and the kids won. The metro was a short walk down the street from our breakfast place, we went in and checked the map, showing the kids how to read the subway maps. Montreal uses color lines just like Boston so it was rather easy to read. Under the map were a list of tourist attractions and the coordinating metro stops. The Bio dome would be about 9 stops away and on the line we were on. Easy.. Then we had to buy the tickets. They use the same ticketing system as Boston but we had to navigate through the menu in French. Finally found the English button and we were on our way.. Not quite. We couldn't really figure out how to get the machine to read our credit card. We kept trying and trying but it just wouldn't work. A long with a long line was forming behind us and the kids asking to push every button on the machine, I could feel Jeff's patience shrinking by the second. He finally gave up and I could read his face... We should just take a taxi.. So I told him to just take the kids over to the map and I'd wait in line again and figure it out.. Sure enough we just didn't leave the credit card in the machine long enough for it to read it.. You don't swipe the card you have to leave the card in the machine during the whole transaction. So now we are on our way..
The subway system is nice. Its' clean and not nearly as noisy as Boston. The trains were not very crowded but we did have to stand up. Of course Jake loves this part, he thinks of it more as an amusement park ride than a transportation device.
The Metro didn't take very long and we finally made it to the Olympic Park. A few years back Montreal decided to turn the old cycling arena into a natural history museum (aka the BIO DOME). There was a lot of construction going on in this area, many parts of this area looked really run down and probably not used since the 76 Olympics. I think when they are finished it's going to look great and a really fun place to visit. Jake really liked the idea that we were visiting the Olympic site and found it odd that the summer Olympics were here and not the winter.
There are actually a few things to do here, the bio dome, the planetarium, a tram up the Olympic torch, the insectatarium, and the botanical gardens. You could spend all day here, but we just wanted to stay a couple hours so we decided to just visit the insectatarium along with the bio dome.
First stop, the bio-dome. I was really impressed with this place. When you first enter you go into a tropical rain forest with monkeys, waterfalls, tropical birds and even a gator. The kids weren't that impressed with the gator after being to the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine but they really enjoyed the rest of it. We had fun trying to find the really small monkeys in the trees.
Next, they had a typical maple forest you'd find in Canada with beavers, otters, and a really cool bat cave, then they had the St. Lawrence River Estuary with fish, crabs, seagulls, puffins. and finally the Arctic with really great penguin exhibit.
At the end of the tour they had a special exhibit of a sloth, some turtles and a lizard. The exhibit was really neat they had these pillow type couches you could lay on looking at the sloth - that never moved.
It probably took us a little more than an hour to go through the bio dome and next up the insectatrium. Finding this place was almost impossible and was quite a walk. It was hot, there were a ton of detours because of the construction, and not the best signage directing us to where we wanted to go. We were getting a little grumpy but we finally made it up to our next stop. The insectatrium is inside the botanical gardens and we could of done both with our tickets but we really didn't think the kids would be that impressed with the gardens.
This museum is small, much smaller than I expected, they had a really cool ant exhibit showing their nests and the worker ants gathering food, there were probably 500000 ants at least. They had some neat stick bugs but Jeff said that they were dead and were glued to the floor of the individual aquariums they were in, one of the stick bugs had tipped over and looked pretty dead. We had to tell Izzy it was sleeping. For the most part the museum was just a bunch of dead bugs pinned to a few boards. It only took us about 30 minutes to go through the whole museum. Jeff loved the ants and thought it was one of the coolest things we saw in all of Montreal, but I wish we had done the planetarium instead.
Now we are hungry, hot, and tired. Jeff and I had originally planned to eat an early lunch because we had dinner reservations at a french cafe for 5:30 but at this point it was at least 1PM and no where to eat except fast food in site. We started following signs to another Metro stop but spotted a note on one sign that said about a 8-10 minute walk so we back tracked to our old stop that we had come in on.
Here is where I didn't plan accordingly. I'm not the best at estimating time and it took us a lot longer to walk between museums than I thought so the kids are super grumps now, and really really hungry and thirsty. My bright idea is to go into the new movie theater for a drink, snack, and to cool off. Of course Jeff new right away that this was going to cost a fortune and a bad idea but I don't think like that. Both Jake and Izzy wanted pop corn and Jake wanted a sprite, Izzy wanted a chocolate milk. Chocolate milk is not easy to find in Canada. I don't think they drink it and it's all Izzy wanted throughout our whole trip, so Jeff bought the 2 bags of popcorn and a soda ($30!!) and I waited in line at Burger King to ask if they had chocolate milk since the popcorn stand did not.
I always forget that we don't like to wait for anything in the Northeast, Life is very fast pace, everything and everyone is in a rush, we have absolutely no patience for waiting in lines.. but it isn't like that anywhere else.. and hence my 15 minute wait in line at Burger King (with only 2 people in front of me) just to ask if they have chocolate milk. The lady takes your order then makes your order then bags it, then to the next person in line .. so much for the idea of fast food. I finally get up to the counter and no chocolate milk, Izzy says she wants orange soda and the very kind counter lady told me it would be cheaper if I go over to the vending machine. So I waited 20 minutes just to buy soda at the vending machine. $4.25 later for an orange soda and the kids are happy. But by now Jeff and I are starving and grumpy. Time to get back on the metro.
When we entered the metro station we saw a nice convenient store that sells drinks for much cheaper than the movie theatre. Jeff said he tried to tell me that but I kind of snapped at him. Personally I don't remember doing that but I don't doubt I did.. We all went through the turntables with our tickets without a hitch... except for Izzy. She decided it would be more fun to go through a different one than everyone else and it didn't work. We tried to help her get through but couldn't figure it out either. Now the subway attendant was trying to help us but she was speaking French. I am sure we looked at her funny, trying to understand what she was saying. Then she asked if we spoke English, yes we said but she continued her lecture in French. She said something about a sensor but not really sure what, finally the gates opened for Izzy and we were back on our way.
By the time we got out of the subway and back to the downtown area Jeff and I were starving and stopped at one of the first restaurants we found that didn't look too fancy. The place really wasn't all that great and I can't remember the name, but it worked. The kids weren't hungry after eating 5 gallons of popcorn and a 32 oz soda so they did't eat much. Jeff and I each ordered a salad, after all the meat we had the night before I really needed some greens. After lunch Izzy really wanted to go to the mall to do some shopping and Jake wanted a corn dog from the food court.. I know I just said he wasn't hungry but the kid will eat a corn dog in any situation and when he had seen the corn dogs in the mall when we took our tour of the hotel, he hadn't stopped hounding us about eating one. The mall/our hotel was across the street from the restaurant. In Montreal they have a whole underground city of shopping and restaurants. Pretty neat especially in the winter.
Izzy found a toy store and bought her friend Mia a couple presents for her birthday then hung out at the fountain for a while (Montreal has many fountains and the kids stopped and played at everyone we saw). Jake got his corn dog and Jeff bought a bottle of Havanah Rum (can't get the Cuban stuff in the states).
After the shopping trip we headed back to the room for a little R&R and a swim. But first Jeff and I decided to cancel our dinner reservations since we desperately needed to relax for a bit. One of Jeff's work colleagues had recommended a pizza place near our hotel, but I had left the name of the place at home. I figured I would most likely find it using the internet once we got back to the room. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, about 80 and tons of sunshine. I don't think we can underestimate how lucky we were with the weather. You never know what the weather will do in Montreal in late September, there is always the chance of snow.
The kids only swam for less than 20 minutes before they started in with wanting to go to the sauna. When can we go, when can we go... I told them to swim for about 10 more minutes then Jeff took the kids to the steam room. I don't like to swim and not the biggest fan of sitting in a hot steamy room sweating to death. They were gone for about 10-15 minutes before they came back saying they were bored. The dreaded B word.. How can they possibly be bored! Jeff and I really needed a little more down time so we let the kids play their video games down at the pool. Jeff was able to read some of his book and I was able to find the pizza place I was looking for and even got to take a little nap.
Once our down time was over it was time to get ready for dinner. Jake and Izzy took showers and I was able to get about 10 minutes of me time to freshen myself up. One of the most frustrating things about traveling with kids is how little time I have to get myself ready. Lots of ponytails and interchangeable outfits.
Our destination, Il Focolaio Pizza Resto in Phillips Square, only a couple blocks away from our hotel. The place was packed! Outdoor seating completely full and a line out the door. We didn't have reservations and it was just before 6PM so we were hoping for the best. We made our way up to the host station and luckily there was a table for four that just opened. We had a great table close to the open windows. The place is known for their many options of wood fired thin crust pizzas and the menus written on the place mats showed about 65 options to choose from. The only problem was the menu was only in French. Our kids will eat many things but they are still kids and if a pizza with aritichokes and mushrooms show up at the table they won't eat it. In a slight panic we were able to find the cheese only pizza right away and asked the waitstaff if they had any bacon or meatball pizza. He pointed out a meatball pizza that we hoped Jake would like. We ordered our drinks, two blonde beers (beer and wine only), a Shirley Temple for Jake and Izzy ordered a chocolate milk. Sorry madam we do not have chocolate milk, but we can make her a hot chocolate. Yes, we will take that!
I was having a terrible time trying to figure out what pizza to order and was really struggling with the French only menu. Jeff asked the waiter to recommend something spicy, he showed Jeff one he thought he'd like, but also told us we needed to order soon because a large party just sat down. I opened the roaming app again (more money) just to try and translate the menu, quickly I found something that looked like I'd eat all the ingredients. (my anxiety was that I really don't like mushrooms and really didn't want to eat them). I ordered something with prosciutto and artichokes and hoped for the best. This place didn't disappoint, the pizza was amazing!! Izzy didn't eat but she did drink her hot chocolate so we had a cheese pizza to take back to the hotel mini fridge.
After dinner the kids played on the statue out in the square and then we headed back down to Notre-Dame to hopefully find a horse and carriage that Izzy desperately wanted to ride in. Jake wanted to ride too as long as it wasn't a pink one. When we got to the square, there were no horses to been seen. We didn't think our chances were very good but we spent time at the fountain (see I told you we like the fountains) and listened to some street musicians. Then out of the blue comes a horse and carriage and wouldn't you know its... wait for it. PINK!
Of course we went for a ride and Jake didn't put up a stink. I think he really just wanted to ride in one too and since it was our only choice he gladly went along and Izzy was beyond excited! The chauffeur let Izzy drive the carriage as we set out. She took us for a wonderful tour of the old city, the buildings were beautiful, lots of neat architecture in the old city. After about 15-20 minutes Izzy got down and she let Jake finish off the tour driving the horses. When Izzy was in the back of the carriage with Jeff and I she told us she was in heaven.. On our way home we stopped for a cro-nut at Al and Jo's on St. Catherine's Street. (half crossaint half donut, to die for). Yes, it was a good night.
Day three: Saturday
Wake up was again pretty reasonable, we got dressed and headed out to Eggspecation for breakfast, located just outside our hotel. Jake got a strawberry nutella crepe, again, (when he finds something he likes he'll order it over and over again). Finally Izzy was able to get a chocolate milk and an order of macaroni and cheese - for breakfast (which she didn't eat).
After breakfast, Jeff and I packed up while Izzy played on the IPad and watched Japanese anime in French. Jake made video tours of the hotel.
We checked out of the hotel and brought our bags to our car. We thought we'd try and visit Mount Royal and see if we could find the bagel place so many people raved about. Kids wanted to ride the Metro again so we attempted another trip. Of course we struggled with the ticket machine again. The thing just wouldn't read our credit card. This time the ticket lady spoke English and told us the kids rode for free, she gave me our tickets but of course we went through the wrong turn-style. We just can't get this right! The lady helped us get through and we made it to the Mount Royal metro stop. I really thought the park wouldn't be that far of a walk but my estimating skills failed me again. The walk was pretty far - about 2 miles but the neighborhood we walked through was really neat. It reminded me of Greenwich Village in NYC. Once we made it to the park we just let the kids play. They were in awe of the giant hill they could roll down and that they did about a hundred times. They made videos of themselves rolling and running down the hill. Jeff and I drank our ice coffees and just watched them play.
Jeff let me take out my paper map while we were sitting in the park and it seemed like we could walk back to our hotel in the same amount of time it took to ride the Metro, after about an hour or so in the park we started our walk back. The kids were filthy but very happy and there were no complaints on the walk back except for Jake begging us to go to this hole in the wall pizza shop called Double Pizza on St. Catherine St. that for some reason he was obsessed with. We never made it to the bagel place or to Double Pizza.
We stopped at Baton Rouge on St. Catherine for lunch. Izzy and I split the steak and frites, Jake got the chicken fingers, and Jeff ordered the ribs. Everything was very good and splitting a meal with Izzy was something we should of been doing from the start, she finally ate but they didn't have chocolate milk.
After we finish lunch it was time to say good bye to a wonderful city and a fantastic vacation. The kids sang Merci Montreal on our way out of the city and I would have to agree. Thank you for giving us a great adventure and another check off of our bucket list.
Favorite Moments and Biggest Challenges
Jeff - , favorite thing to do - watching our kids play in the park, the carriage ride, and relaxing at the pool
Jake - favorite thing to do - playing on the mountain. Best thing I ate - the pizza
Izzy - favorite thing to do - the carriage ride. Best think I ate - the macaroni and cheese (which we ate the next day at home because she didn't eat it at the restaurant)
Steph - favorite part of the trip - the carriage ride and walking around the city.
Our biggest challenge was not having our phones to find where we were or places to go. I really didn't realize how much I depend on it. I'm sure I will be cursing even more once I get our phone bill.
Biggest kid meltdown: Jake and Izzy fighting over who gets to push the elevator buttons
Biggest parent meltdown: My Pringles meltdown after the kids were making such a mess.