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More to Montreal | The Star

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MONTREAL—Its cobblestone streets and French architecture make Old Montreal, the original settlement on the St. Lawrence Seaway, compelling. But Montreal, now 376 years old, also has much to offer in its surrounding neighbourhoods. From the new restaurants of the Gay Village to the annually updated murals of the Plateau and the trendy shopping of Mile End, the city’s districts make a strong case for buying a subway pass. Street festivals, outdoor performances, pop-up markets: Montreal so likes to mingle that even tourism boosters call it “the smoking and drinking section of Canada.” Come for the innovative food and drink — namely, the recently opened natural wine bars, speakeasies and restaurants serving Quebecois small plates — and stay for the culture, especially the new mural tours, digital light shows and symphonic experiments.

Friday3 p.m. Meet Montreal’s masters

The expansive Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is known for its vast collection, including encyclopedic holdings of graphic and decorative arts. Narrow it down by focusing on its Quebecois and Canadian art housed in a former Romanesque Revival church, one of five pavilions at the museum. Start at the top level with Inuit art and work your way down over five more levels, progressing from the 1700s to the 1970s. This is an immersive dive into Quebecois painting and the talents of Montrealers specifically, starring the moody landscapes of James Wilson Morrice, 1920s modernist portraits from the Beaver Hall Group, the urban landscapes of Marc-Aurèle Fortin and the abstractions by Jean-Paul Riopelle.

6 p.m. Cathedral of Light

Montreal is a city filled with churches, but few match the architectural splendour of the 19th-century Notre-Dame Basilica whose original Protestant designer, James O’Donnell, was so moved by the work that he converted to Catholicism when he finished the job. In its new sound and light show, Aura (admission, $24.50), the neo-Gothic interiors get the 21st-century digital treatment from Moment Factory, the Montreal-based multimedia studio that is also responsible for the climate-influenced lighting of the river-spanning Jacques Cartier Bridge. The 20-minute sound-and-light spectacle traces the arches, columns, altar and vaulted ceiling in colourful rays and uses them as canvases for projected images of lightning, shooting stars, crashing waves and autumnal leaves, all of which generate non-denominational awe.

7:30 p.m. Village People

When chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard opened Le Mousso in 2015, it became an instant classic for inventive set-menu meals in a laid-back setting where diners could hear the jovial staff shouting out orders in the subterranean kitchen. Now the team has expanded, opening Le Petit Mousso, offering an à la carte sample of Le Mousso in the original space and moving its parent next door. The menu changes frequently but may include bites like a foie gras nub within a cloud of cotton candy and crab folded taco-style in a thin slice of rutabaga (dishes run from about $15 to $85). The grazing format makes it easier to hit two hot spots in one trip to the Gay Village neighbourhood. Head around the corner to Caribbean-rum-centric Agrikol, backed by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne of the band Arcade Fire, for Haitian beignets and a ti-punch.

Saturday10 a.m. Street Art Stroll

In the past five years, the commercial buildings lining St.-Laurent Boulevard in the Plateau district have emerged as a gallery for street artists in Montreal, and many of the walls are painted over during its annual Mural Festival in June. Take a two-hour walk ($25) to two dozen of these vibrant works with the mural tour from Spade Palacio, an innovative company run by Montrealers Danny Pavlopoulos and Anne-Marie Pellerin, who are so keen on their city they leave tour-goers with a list of their favourite bars, breweries, coffee shops and restaurants. The tour visits Kevin Ledo’s monumental portrait of the late Leonard Cohen; local street artist Fluke’s depiction of Jackie Robinson, who first played professional baseball in Montreal; and a 2018 contribution by Michael Reeder facing the mural-ringed parking lot that is the centre of the annual festival.

Noon. A Storied Sandwich

Montreal is known for its bagels, but its Jewish community has also made smoked meat a culinary centrepiece of the city’s delicatessens. Join the line at Schwartz’s Deli, which has been smoking brisket since Reuben Schwartz, an immigrant from Romania, opened shop in 1928. The narrow room festooned in old press clippings is perpetually crowded, and good cheer prevails at shared tables and counter stools. The substantial smoked meat sandwich ($9.95) comes with a generous dousing of yellow mustard and is accompanied by a large dill pickle and a black cherry soda.

1 p.m. Style by the Mile

Montreal’s creative class — a group that includes Cirque du Soleil performers, and digital art and video game makers who helped the city earn UNESCO’s City of Design distinction — surfaces in striking street fashion, and the Mile End neighbourhood is the best place to shop for Montreal-made style. Annex Vintage combines carefully selected thrift items with Stay Home Club T-shirts, pins and patches. Designer Sabina Barilà sells her vintage-inspired wrap dresses and striped palazzo pants at La Montréalaise Atelier. Yul Designs showcases the work of local fashion, graphics, housewares and jewelry designers. Lowell Mtl sells locally made leather bags, with several styles named after Montreal neighbourhoods. Nearby cafés provide ample respite, including Brooklyn Cantine, where sidewalk seating consists of vintage folding lawn chairs, or the competing bagel shops Fairmount and St-Viateur.

5 p.m. A Movable Feast

Judging by the number of new wine bars, Montrealers love natural wine. Follow the throngs to the new Mon Lapin in Little Italy. From the owners of the acclaimed restaurant Joe Beef, Mon Lapin (meaning My Rabbit) serves mostly small plates on a daily-changing menu — recent dishes included peppered whelks ($13) and duck with rhubarb ($25) — in a small and perpetually packed room decorated in cheeky rabbit-themed art. The place does not take reservations, so if you are squeezed out, head over to Montréal Plaza. Its partners, Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson, formerly worked at the high-end Le Toqué downtown. Here, in an energetic brasserie with an open kitchen, they let their hair down — the Star Wars theme song plays during birthday celebrations — but keep culinary standards high. Specials may include succulent lobster salad that arrives under the shell ($25) or veal heart shaved in a salad ($21).

8 p.m. Culture Trip

Montreal’s cultural scene covers the spectrum, from circus troops and comedy festivals to theatre in both English and French, the Montreal Opera, Grand Ballet and the symphony. The multi-venue Place des Arts makes one-stop shopping for many performing arts companies. A ticket to the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, directed by conductor Kent Nagano, provides entree to the acoustically state-of-the-art, 2,100-seat concert hall the Maison Symphonique de Montréal, where programming ranges from the classics to science fiction soundtracks.

10 p.m. Speakeasy Hour

Those in the know in Montreal scuttle off to drink at secret addresses in increasingly hard-to-find bars. Among a pair of newcomers, the Coldroom in Old Montreal is marked by a black door with a duck logo in the cement threshold. Ring the bell and a staffer guides you through a warren of pipelined stairways to the basement bar, a circa 1887 cold storage cellar, where bartenders specialize in seasonal cocktails like summer’s gin-basil-cucumber-green-strawberry Starling ($13). Even more discrete, the Cloakroom Bar in the Golden Square Mile is concealed behind a mirror in a men’s clothing shop. Only 25 people can squeeze into the walk-in-closet-size space where bartenders fittingly mix up made-to-order cocktails based on your flavour preferences (starting around $16).

Sunday9 a.m. DIY river tour

Montreal has 650 kilometres of bike paths and an extensive shared bike system called Bixi ($5 for one day; download the Bixi app for maps to bike stations). Pick one up near the river in the Old Port and follow the St. Lawrence to a series of riverside architectural sites starting with Habitat 67, the influential housing project of stacked boxes designed by architect Moshe Safdie for Expo 67. Catch the roughly 9-mile bike path that follows the park-buffered Lachine Canal past the grain silos that attest to the area’s industrial heritage, repurposed warehouses and plenty of new construction. Double back to the canal-side Atwater Market, one of Montreal’s lively green markets, to browse the bakeries, butcher shops, cheese mongers and flower stalls with a café au lait in hand from Première Moisson Atwater bakery.

11 a.m. Anglophile brunch

Reward your cycling efforts with brunch at the grand Bar George, newly opened in what was once the elaborate 1880-vintage home of Sir George Stephen, the former president of the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Pacific Railway. Grab a seat at the oval bar in the main lounge to gorge visually on 300-year-old stained glass, the carved Ceylon satinwood ceiling and Italian onyx fireplace (impressive even in its day, the house was temporarily dismantled in 1893 and exhibited at the World’s Fair in Chicago). Savour it over George’s full English breakfast ($20), including black pudding and a Bloody Caesar ($11), Canada’s favourite eye-opener.

Lodging

St.-Laurent Boulevard threads through three distinct neighbourhoods — the Plateau, Mile End and Little Italy — that are popular on Airbnb, easily reached by bus and close to the Metro Orange line subway. One-bedroom apartments, condos and lofts in these areas tend to cost between $42 and $128. Airbnb.com.

The modern new Hôtel Monville near Old Montreal has 269 loftlike rooms with window walls, a lobby papered in black and white photos of city landmarks, staff uniforms designed by the local brand Frank and Oak and room service delivery by robot. Rooms from $198; 1041 Bleury St., hotelmonville.com.

Newly renovated, the 950-room Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth now has a trendy lobby bar, Nacarat, and a gourmet food court, Artisans. Guests can splurge on room 1742, the room where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their 1969 “bed-in” protest of the Vietnam War, newly decorated in period style. Rooms from $299; 900 René Lévesque Boulevard West, Fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montrea

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip

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(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled

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(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Be safe not sorry when booking travel online

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(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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