Journeying to Montreal via the Adirondack, one of the country's prettiest rail routes, is a splendid prelude to the bounty that lies ahead. For upon arrival, I discover that Montreal is an enchanting feast of culture, art and cuisine, flavored with a bilingual population who are delightfully welcoming.
I've just one day to savor it, and so set out early through the streets of Vieux Montreal to the Basilique Notre-Dame.
The neo-Gothic cathedrals artwork, stained glass windows and sculptures leave me breathless. I could spend hours here, drinking in the grandeur and delighting in the music of the church bells.
On the Rue Saint-Paul, I explore myriad shops and galleries, all brimming with trinkets, souvenirs, paintings and sculptures. Moose images tattoo everything from t-shirts to teacups, while locally-produced maple candy and syrup populate every store.
The 17th-century Chapelle Notre-Dame de-Bon Secours welcomes visitors to Montreal.
Shop owners greet me with a hearty "bonjour" when I enter their establishments, to which I respond in kind. Originally, I thought that the four years of high school French I studied three decades ago would serve me well, but once we get past the greeting, I draw a blank. Fortunately, upon witnessing my wild-eyed panic, most proprietors switch immediately to English.
Strolling the cobblestone avenue, I come upon Marche Bonsecours, the silver-domed 18th-century building that houses shops, restaurants and artist's wares. Chapelle Notre-Dame de-Bon Secours, a 17th-century chapel, is just a few steps away. Overlooking the waterfront, a glorious statue of the Virgin Mary crowns its steeple, her arms outstretched in welcome to those arriving by sea. Yet, the Old Port is nearly empty today, the winds too sharp to encourage more than a brief stroll by the riverside.
Montreal boasts hundreds of eateries serving more than 80 different cuisines, each teasing me with tantalizing aromas as I pass. I resolve my culinary crisis by selecting an avant-garde bistro, where I order the table d'hote. (A complete meal that's more affordable than ordering à la carte.) The veal, potatoes and salad are tres extraordinaire.
Latin Quarter is an eclectic area where boutiques and shops mingle with bistros and cafes.
After lunch, I hurry up Rue Saint-Denis toward the Quartier Latin. Boutiques and antique shops mingle with bistros and cafes along this eclectic route. Students stride along, speaking a dozen different languages. I stop briefly in a café where the proprietor asks if I want my coffee here or to go? "Ici" I say, proud that I understand him. "Here."
As the sun descends, I hike through the modern downtown avenues. I could have bypassed this brisk workout by taking the Metro through Montreal's famous Underground City, but then I would have missed the zest and flavor of the city at its very heart — the buildings, the traffic and the crowds.
I cap off this delicious day with hot pasta, rosemary bread and a luscious raspberry tort at a restaurant across from my inn. As I finish my coffee, I wish for more time to see the panoramic views from Mount Royal; to cross the Jacques Cartier Bridge; to visit the Olympic Village; or to wander Mile End, the district that artists and filmmakers call home. Perhaps next time. For now, I'll settle for just one more raspberry tort.