A Taste of France

Bill and I had planned to go to Montreal last year when we visited our family in Vermont, but weren’t able to do so because we were inept in the whole renewing-our-passports thing and they didn’t arrive in time. This time we happily held them in our grimy little fists to hand to the border guards as we passed from Vermont into Canada.

The most notable thing was that you could immediately tell that you were in a different country. And I’m not just talking about being greeted by the border guards, who didn’t seem terribly concerned about us. The landscape changes almost immediately from the woods of Vermont to farmlands of Quebec. I seriously would have thought I was in Nebraska except for the fact that the architecture was also quite unique.

Juliette & ChocolatKnowing us as well as they do, the first thing that Heather and Lauren did was to take us to a chocolate shop, featuring all manner of things chocolate. Bill and Joseph thought they had died and gone to heaven for sure. In fact, they both ordered the same thing – a chocolate lava cake with a side of, yes, chocolate.

And the second thing they did was take us to an outdoor market, probably the most beautiful market I have ever seen, even in Europe. While there were shops featuring seafood and meat and patisseries and boulangeries, it was the vegetable market that amazed me the most…..

vegetable market montreal

micah joseph nana market (2)

This photo is notable in large part because it’s about the only one taken this trip of Micah in which he doesn’t have his tongue out or is making some sort of face. He’s 4, donchaknow.

Being me, one of the things I most wanted to do while visiting Montreal was to experience local food. Lauren, who grew up in Vermont and has spent a fair amount of time in Montreal, told me that there were a few food things for which Montreal was known – mussels, smoked meat sandwiches, and poutine. Poutine? I had never heard of it.

So on Friday night we went to a restaurant appropriately called Poutineville, featuring all sorts of options for poutine. Poutine is basically a dish consisting of French fries covered in cheese, some sort of meat, and some sort of gravy. I had the house specialty, which was French fries smothered in a red wine gravy, cheese curds, and braised beef…..

poutine

We arose early the next morning and went to yet another market, where we quickly spotted a beautiful pastry shop. Lauren and I agreed to wait in line while the rest found a place to sit. The shop was extremely busy, and Lauren and I stood in line for probably 15 pastries montrealor 20 minutes before we realized we should have grabbed a number. Have you ever seen the movie Beetlejuice? You remember the scene where Beetlejuice grabs the number – something like 1,032,587 – and looks at the screen and sees they’re on number 6? We were Beetlejuice. Nevertheless, time passed quite quickly once we grabbed our number and in short order we all were eating croissants so fresh, warm and crumbly that it brought tears to my eyes. And, yes, also a second visit to the patisserie and another 20 minutes in line. I also bought some of the beautiful macarons for which the French are famous. They deserve their fame as they are light and delicious, as well as so very pretty…..

macaroon tree

Macarons

Our final Montreal food treat was a visit to a brasserie at which we got our mussels. Well, actually, Bill shockingly ordered a steak, but Heather and Lauren and I each ordered a different kind of mussel dish and shared. I’m not sure when I’ve ever tasted anything so very good. And also beautiful…..

Lauren Heather Kris mussels

Montreal musselsI will admit that perhaps the highlight of our brief trip to Montreal was what probably would rank among the top three tourist attractions – a city tour on an amphibian bus. Yes, my friends, we toured Montreal from the bus, which then drove into the St. Lawrence River from which we were awarded with another view of Montreal. Joseph, Micah, and Nana all had eyes the size of quarters as we drove into the water. It was a grand treat.

amphibian bus

And we had a wonderful visit of Montreal, without a doubt. I loved hearing the beautiful French language spoken by the people around me and experiencing the feeling of being in Paris, and yet, wasn’t. I am motivated to return, and to add Quebec City to my itinerary. In the meantime, I’ll get my fix by reading the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny.

Pill Canisters and Other Contraband

imgresAfter spending a full week with our family in Vermont, Bill and I traveled with them to Montreal on Friday and flew back to Denver from there on Sunday. This pretty Canadian city is a short hour-and-a-half-or-so drive from Montpelier, and it feels like you are in a different country.

Oh, wait. You are in a different country. But it feels, well, really, really different. Like France, only with nice and friendly people who don’t get mad if you don’t speak French. It makes up for that whole mayonnaise-with-your-french-fries thingy.

Our trip home Sunday started as we flew on Air Canada from Montreal to Toronto. We

The offending pill canister.

The offending pill canister.

went through Customs in Toronto, where once again my pill canister caused a complete examination of my carry-on bag and considerable angst – by them, not me. This time I was prepared and things went a bit quicker. I saw her frantically rooting through my bag, and asked if she was by any chance looking for my silver pill canister. As an aside, I feel compelled to tell you I have carried this particular canister in my purse since Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009, and it has never caused a bit of concern; never once has it raised any TSA or United States Custom agents’ eyebrows. I’m blaming Colin Kaepernick.

By the way, in Customs, the other thing that caused them concern was my bottle of Benefiber that was in my carry-on because it wouldn’t fit in the suitcase we checked. Lifting it high in the air, the agent hollered over to her co-worker who sat 20 feet away from her, “Don’t worry, it’s only fiber powder.” Thank you for sharing my constipation issues with my fellow travelers who were already concerned about the silver canister. Now they also had to worry about crankiness due to uncomfortable abdominal bloating.

Air Canada is nice, my friends. It’s true you still have to pay for an assigned seat if you aren’t interested in grabbing a vacant seat in the manner of a 5-year-old playing musical chairs. I pay for the seat because I always feel somewhat guilty when I shove aside the elderly Catholic nun to get an aisle seat. Her rosary beads slow her down. Aside from that, however, you get a full-sized tray, your seat reclines a full inch-and-a-half, you get a free pop (including the can – whoo hoo!), you have access to Wi-Fi on many planes, and there are television screens from which you can watch movies or television (well, except you have to pay them 3 Canadian dollars for the earphones that are specially designed and cannot be substituted with the earphones you are carrying with you on the plane). It doesn’t matter, because I mostly read anyway.

Which brings me to the other thing that happened to me on our trip back to Denver. As we made the approximately-one-hour-flight from Montreal to Toronto, I happily read my Kindle book from my trusty iPad. Upon landing, I placed it in my carry-on, and off we went in search of our connecting flight. As I mentioned above, this required going through Customs as we were flying from a foreign country. Aside from the pill canister/Benefiber issue, Customs went flawlessly, given the fact that we weren’t trying to bring home live animals or illegal drugs.

We had about an hour to kill, and I carried my bag with me as we found our gate, then plopped it down at my feet when we found a place to have lunch.

Oh, I have another digression here. At the Toronto airport – or at least in the post-Customs side of the Toronto airport – they don’t have very much regular seating at the gates. Instead, they have this very cool seating where you sit at a table with your own personal iPad. From that iPad station, you can catch up on the news, order your lunch, select an appropriate beverage, and charge up any of your own equipment. It was very cool except for the fact that a sandwich cost 20 Canadian dollars and the cheapest glass of wine was 17 Canadian dollars. Both which I purchased, of course. It was very high tech and Star Trekie, if quite expensive.

Anyway, we boarded our Air Canada plane in Toronto, and for some reason, it was a much smaller plane with no Wi-Fi. No problem, however, because see above. I read. Except after we were up in the air, I pulled out my iPad only to find that at some point in Toronto, the volume button had gotten smushed and was thoroughly jammed. My iPad would do absolutely nothing but show that little volume icon. Bill spent a good 30 minutes using his fingernails, a pen, and various other things to which we had access to try and unsmush it, but to no avail. It was nothing but a flat, useless, metal item taking up room in my bag.

I thought I had the answer because the Kindle software is also on my phone. Alas, I hadn’t downloaded the book I was reading, so though I could see the book, I wasn’t able to read it. And guess what? No Wi-Fi on this plane because of its small size. I’m blaming Colin Kaepernick.

So I sat for three hours as we made our way across the central US states to Denver. Time goes very slowly when you are staring at the flight map. Even I find it interesting that I was willing to pay 17 Canadian dollars for a glass of wine but wouldn’t fork over 3 Canadian dollars for headphones. Priorities, my friends. I’m not made of money.

The good news is that we made it home safe, and Bill – in true MacGyver-like fashion – has jerry-rigged my iPad to work, at least for a bit. Like its owner, it wouldn’t win any beauty contests.

Tomorrow I will tell you all about Montreal.

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