Celebrating the New Year in Montreal (Part 1)


After finishing up the Christmas holiday at home I realized I didn’t feel like spending New Year’s Eve in Panama City Beach.  For the past several years I’ve done the local Pier Park celebration, but I was craving something different.  With less than a week to go to 2012, I needed to think of something quick.  I had floated several ideas including Chicago or Boston (I immediately ruled out NYC, just because it didn’t seem fun to stand in Times Square all day), but ultimately decided to leave the country.  Hello Montreal!  Sure Canada isn’t exactly long haul travel, but it’s not the US and it at least the French part of Canada.  With that said I secured a relatively last-minute mid-tier Delta SkyMiles Award Ticket that had Medallion Upgrade space open for the ECP-ATL-YUL legs.  One feature I love about Delta’s higher status tiers is the ability to get upgraded on award itineraries, and with the tickets that I booked I tend to look for flights that have Upgrades Available.

Friday, December 30
As usual I got to the airport about an hour before my flight, which unfortunately meant getting there around 530am.  As usual getting checked in was quick, but for some reason security was unusually backed up for so early in the morning.  TSA wasn’t any slower than usual and the Delta and Southwest flights were on usual schedules, so it’s beyond me.

Boarding was quick I and settled into my First Class seat 1C for the quick ride up to Atlanta.  As usual, there wasn’t anything too remarkable about the flight.  I had a 60 minute layover in Atlanta and even though I stopped in the Delta Sky Club across from E14 for some oatmeal and coffee.  However, I misjudged when to leave and found myself standing around at the gate for 10 minutes before we could finally board.

Concourse E - Atlanta

For the flight up to Montreal I had picked out seat 4A, which is the last row of First Class on the CRJ-900, but is also on the side of the aircraft where (at least in First Class) the ‘A’ seats are both an aisle and a window.  On the CRJ700 and 900s these are my favorite seats; I always like to look out the window, but I just so much prefer aisle as I can stretch out into the aisle a bit, especially when in coach.  I can’t wait for all of Delta’s long-haul international aircraft to get outfitted with lie-flat seats with window seats with aisle access in the Business Elite cabin.

Anyways, back on point, there was no in-flight wifi, so I mostly just read and listened to music for the duration of the flight.  Shortly after takeoff, a cold breakfast was served as is standard for flights over 900 miles.  Granted I would have much rather have had the choice of a hot mystery omelet, but breakfast is still breakfast.  On my plate today: Cheerios, a very generous bowl of fruit, a bagel (a bit on the dry side), and some strawberry yogurt.  Overall not bad and really how can a breakfast with a view from 30,000 feet ever be bad?

Delta First Class Breakfast - ATL-YUL

There was cloud cover over most of the route north, but as we were on approach to Montreal I looked out and the first thought in my head was that it looked really, really, really, really cold and wondering why I left warm Florida.  Frozen over lakes and rivers, snow covered fields and towns, and just the fact that was overcast…but you know what?  It looked perfect.  Yes, I enjoy the relative warmth during the winters in Florida, but I miss the change in seasons.  Of course with that said, I’m also glad I don’t have to deal with snow and ice on a daily basis.  I’m glad there’s places like Canada to escape to for a weekend to get my fill.

Waiting For My Bag In Montreal

After I got my bag claim I had to make the long trek to Canadian Immigration and Customs, but luckily they were not busy at all so there was not much of a wait.  The officer did go through quite a few questions and seemed ultimately puzzled while a single guy from Florida would want to come to Montreal in the winter, but ultimately he let me pass.  From there I walked into the arrival hall, got my bus pass and boarded the 747 express bus into Montreal.  It was here on the bust that it really hits you that while you are in Canada, this is a very different part of Canada – the French part.  In airports I’m used to seeing multiple languages on signage, so it really feels like any other airport, but once you get on the bus, you start noticing that there isn’t a single advertisement or sign that is in English.

I Guess This Makes It Official

747 Express Bus - It's French

The bus really doesn’t take that long, even though I was one of the last stops on the route.  Immediately after getting off the bus, the cold really hit me as I worked to find my hotel.  Thankfully I added 50MB of data roaming for Canada, so Google maps was able to route me around the convention center and to my hotel for the night: The Embassy Suites Montreal.  I literally booked the hotel just a few hours prior – I wasn’t finding anything that was super affordable, but while on the flight to Atlanta I jumped on wifi quickly and found a rate for $149 CAD/night.  Supposedly it was for a non-suite room, but maybe as a result of my Hilton HHonors Silver status, I wound up in a regular suite.

Embassy Suites Montreal - Living Room

Embassy Suites Montreal - Kitchen/Entry

Embassy Suites Montreal - Bedroom

First order of business after checking out my hotel room was to get some warmer clothes unpacked and trade out my jacket for my parka.  It was time to explore Montreal for a few hours to get a feel for the city and also find myself a late lunch.  I made my way out of the hotel and walked around the corner to find that the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal was right there.  It’s a beautiful church from the outside, but I did not have any Canadian money on me yet, so I decided to just admire the outside for the time being.  Since the Basilica is on the edge of old Montreal, I decided that I needed to dive deeper into the old city and find lunch, but not before taking in some of the architecture.  It really does have that old-world feel to it and given some of the buildings it almost felt like wandering the streets of Paris.

Maisonneuve Monument - Place d'Armes

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) - Rue Saint Paul Est

Eventually I settled on a place called Crêperie chez Suzette – for, if you guesed it, crepes.  I went with the La Quebécoise which was filled with Ham and Cheese, but topped off with Quebec Maple Syrup.  Along with a Quebec beer called Raftman which is a red “peat-smoked whisky malt ale” that I found to be a bit different from what I normally drink and actually pretty good.  Of course the crepe was pretty good too and just the right size since by this point it was 2-3pm in the afternoon.  After finishing up I made my way back out into the cold and continued to explore by foot.

Crêperie chez Suzette - La Quebécoise

I found myself eventually on the waterfront or the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal.  A quay is synonymous with wharf in many commonwealth countries.  I’m not sure how the Quebecois pronounce it, but I know in Australia I was surprised when I was told its pronounced like “key”.  Anyways, along here are actually a few ships I noticed, but mostly the former docks have been taken over by other ventures.  Such as the Montreal Science Center and an ice skating rink.  Even though it was about 3:30-4:00PM, it was starting to get quite dark so after playing with the snow park that exists between the buildings and the waterfront I figured it was time to run back to the hotel for a bit.

Old Montreal - Waterfront

I was seriously cold and I had no idea where I was going to go for dinner or what I would do for the rest of the day.  Part of booking last minute trips is that sometimes you never really know what is in store for the trip.  That was proved true yet again on this trip.  I had read about the ice skating on the Quays and seeing it earlier in the afternoon made me want to give it a try – especially since the last time I put on a pair of ice skates was back at UCF the first year they put up that outdoor ice rink.  I guess most Canadians must own ice skates, because I felt like one of the few who was renting a pair.  And I definitely felt like a Floridian when 1) I remembered how much ice skates hurt my feet and 2) when finally made it on to the ice and had to hug the wall.

After a while though I actually started to the hang of it and surprised myself to be able to actually move a way from the wall and complete multiple laps without having to stop.  I was proud!  Unfortunately right as I got my stride, they kicked everyone off the ice to run the Zamboni, which meant it was time to take a hot chocolate break.  I warmed up and once they opened the rink back up I was back on the ice and this time it was much easier to get going.  That was until I managed to bust my ass on the ice at one point.  Luckily a local sitting on the wall taking a break helped me back up.  I went around a the rink for a while longer and after about 2 hours I decided to find dinner.  Besides at this point it was already almost 9PM!

The Quays Skating Rink

Zamboni Time!

I had decided that I was going to go in search of a place called La Banquise in the Mont Royal neighborhood that is open 24 hours and known for their poutine.  This place is apparently considered the best in Montreal/Quebec and they have a lot of unique varieties compared to the standard dish.  In case you aren’t familiar with Poutine, its french fries + cheese curds + gravy.  Mine was the Poutine T-Rex and it had the standard + beef, hot dogs and bacon.  Pretty much I went straight for a heart attack in a bowl…and it was delicious!  I was only able to eat about half before feeling beyond full and decided at that time that it would be best to retreat back downtown to my hotel for the night.

Poutine T-Rex at La Banquise

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