Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From Poutine to Opera in Montreal

As we approached the restaurant outside Montreal’s Jardin Botanique, the unmistakable strains of an opera aria greeted us. We were exhausted after three days of trekking around the city and its parks, including the botanical gardens, where we had been greeted by enormous living plant sculptures presented by various countries for the Mosaicultures Internationales Montréal exhibition. After all that walking, it was delightful to find ourselves sharing tapas and a bottle of wine on a sun dappled terrace while being serenaded for free by members of the Opéra de Montréal.

We had spent our first morning at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (If you missed Chihuly in Boston, he’s now on exhibit in Canada.) I could have spent the whole day among the paintings, but we opted for an afternoon strolling through the tree-lined avenues (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted) of Parc du Mont-Royal, where we were stunned with a view of the city and the St. Lawrence.

The evening before we had dined at an exquisite French and Portuguese restaurant, but now I pulled my companions across the street to sample poutine, a local dish with a history to, well, maybe not recommend it—a hearty dish of potatoes and cheese curds smothered in gravy, poutine, according to my Lonely Planet guide, was eaten by early settlers trying to survive the long winters. We washed down our meal with some beer and walked through the Old Town and onto the quays until it was time for a light show at the city’s famous Notre Dame Cathedral. The show was complete with historical re-enactments and dramatic voice actors.

We spent a day in Little Italy, at the Marché Jean-Talon, a sprawling market full of fresh produce, then went south on a hunt for bookstores. Our favorites were Mona Lisait where the owner played us classical guitar as we browsed and complimented our French, and Les Aux Points Cardinals—a travel bookstore with a full room of maps and gorgeous globes. After touring the sleek and modern bibliothéque nationale, we followed our Lonely Planet guide to Le Petite Extra for a dinner that would only be rivaled by the tapas on the terrace the next evening.

Autumn had begun to touch the trees surrounding us in the Jardin Botanique, and as soon as the tapas disappeared and the sunlight began to fade, I was cold. I left the table to procure a chocolat chaud from inside the restaurant, and, when I returned, my companions greeted me with a warm, soft wrap they had just procured from the restaurant for “la jolie jeune fille.” Cozily wrapped and sipping my hot chocolate, I found in this gesture an attention to comfort and beauty that rivaled that of Europe, and soaked in the strains of a robust Carmen as my last evening in Montreal twinkled into twilight.

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