Like a red hooded Handmaid, I was leaving my hometown of New York to run off to Montreal, Canada. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, this was for vacation, not a permanent escape. The idea of the trip seemed perfect, less than an hour flight, to another country when I was feeling doubts about my own at the time.
When I went to the American Airlines kiosk at John F Kennedy airport, the woman who was supposed to help me with getting my boarding pass instead sparked panic after she looked at my passport. “I don’t think you’ll be able to go; your passport expires in two months.” With a sense of frustration, fear, anxiety and heartbreak, I waited for the boarding pass to print, which it thankfully did. My passport actually expired in two months and 20 days.
The unease didn’t leave until I landed in Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport. The flight was 58-minutes. It takes me a longer time to get to work in Manhattan from Queens in the morning.
Waking up late on the 4th of July in the Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel in downtown Montreal was the epitome of peace. Any worries of the previous day were dreamt away as I had a view of beautiful downtown Montreal and the St. Lawrence River.
It was time to stop daydreaming and hit the streets. I walked around Saint Catharine which had many shops and restaurants. I went into a quaint eatery called Chicha, an Asian-fusion restaurant and bakery. On this hot summer day, I needed their refreshing peach Jasmine ice tea, which I still think about weeks later. Their lunch special was affordable and delicious; two veggie spring rolls with chicken teriyaki over rice with broccoli. It was just the right amount of food for a full day ahead.
Walking down Saint Catharine Street, I came across a couple selling beautiful gemstone jewelry. After asking recommendations on where to go and what to eat close by they pointed me in the direction where a massive jazz festival was taking place, which happened to be a 15-minute walk from my hotel.
The Montreal International Jazz Festival was free and had music going from noon until the wee hours of the morning. The festival took place from June 26 to July 6 so I made it just in time to catch the last couple of days of the event. There were multiple stages were set up surrounding a major performing arts center Place des Arts which served as a nucleus landmark for the festival location.
With a Tim Hortons latte in my hand, I was ready to do more exploring. I walked over to the Basilique, a notable cathedral with a lot of rich history and absolutely stunning architecture.
I also came across Complexe Desjardins which was a mixed use space for offices, hotel and a shopping mall all in one. Walking around the shops they even had a stage for kids to enjoy music aptly called La Petite école du jazz.
Like any good food court, there was a wide variety of cuisine with no frills, there was Korean barbecue, Lebanese food and so much more. I went for Mucho Burrito. I got a half chicken, half pork rice and salad bowl with the spiciest salsa. “It’s very hot,” the server warned. “Good, put extra,” I said, proudly aware of my pepper loving Caribbean roots. The salsa certainly had a kick to it which flavored the bland chicken but the pork tasted like it had been stewed for hours and was flavorful.
I continued my walk and ended up in charming Old Montreal with restaurants and musicians lining cobblestone streets. It is mostly visited by tourists and it’s easy to see why, with heavy French influence, the area is nothing short of enchanting.
After receiving wrong directions to my hotel, I ended up in Montreal’s Chinatown where I wish I got there earlier to explore more. I stumbled upon Patisserie Harmonie where I bought some almond cookies to take back to New York as well as a piece of walnut cake to take back to the hotel.
I did in fact have that delicious, buttery walnut cake for breakfast with some coffee which was already a positive start to the day. By chance, there happened to be a Caribbean parade right outside the Sheraton hotel I was staying at.
Carifiesta Parade is a vibrant celebration of Caribbean people from all over, Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Haiti, Grenada, Brazil and so many other cultures brought together during this event. Complete with floats, colorful feathered costumes and lots of dancing it was a giant party along René Lévesque Boulevard.
What a great event for the last full day in Montreal. And then I remembered, I have to get souvenirs! So I hit the shops along Saint Catharine once more where I got the best maple cream cookies, maple fudges and Desir Noir French chocolates to take home for friends and family.
For dinner on the last day, I had some of the best-fried chicken from Korean restaurant Monami. With incredible seasoning, crunchy outside quality and soft, fall-apart texture, it was some of the best-fried chicken I’ve had…ever.
On my last day in Montreal, I decided to enjoy the hotel room, opted for late checkout, since I had a later flight. I watched the Women’s US soccer team win the world cup as I enjoyed room service breakfast. Co-workers kept talking about Canada’s bagels and telling me to try it. So I did.
As a lifelong New Yorker, it’s difficult for me to admit when bagels are superior to NYC’s carb-filled delights. Montreal’s bagel was far better than many bagels I’ve had in my home city. I ordered a toasted sesame seed bagel with cream cheese and it was perfection. It was thinner and less doughy than bagels at home, the crisp to soft ratio of the bread was impeccable. The US may have won the World Cup but Canada won the bagel battle against New York.
Montreal is a city filled with polite people, incredible history and architecture, tasty food and unlimited cultural events. And since it’s such a short trip, I know I’ll be visiting many more times in the near future.
Article and photo by Liz Ramanand.