This day is bagel day. I mentioned that on my first visit to Montreal, I did not try the bagels. I didn’t know it was a thing. Turns out, it’s a huge thing. There are two mainstay bagel shops, Fairmont and St. Vitaer. They are within walking distance of one another and dole out tens of thousands of bagels a day, all day. In fact, they never close.
If you live on the East Coast of the United States, you know about the lure of a New York City bagel. Personally, my dad likes the ones made in Hoboken, but that’s close enough. Montreal bagels have an equal mystique. In Montreal, they use the water bath method in which the raw dough gets a spin in hot water before it’s baked in a wood fired oven. I prefer this method. I used it in my own bagel making. But, the Montreal bagels are thinner, chewier, and slightly sweet. I don’t swoon over them, but I also don’t dislike them either. I try them both, the Fairmount and the St. Viateur. While sitting outside Fairmont I see a family pause but keep walking. I finish my bagel and shortly follow behind. Somewhere along the way I lose them, but when I pop out of St. Viateur’s there they are. The husband says, “we’ve seen this face before.” But, this family is not just doing a bagel tour. They bought a small container of cream cheese and clearly perfer the St. Viateur what with passing by Fairmonts and coming prepared with cream cheese. I too preferred the St. Viateur, but days later I forget why. I think it had slightly more crumb than crust- meaning it was a little breadier.
I leave the bagels having scratched that itch and begin heading for a coffee shop I’ve mapped out. But, then I see pass by this Cafe Olimipico. It’s busy and it’s 11am on a weekday. People bustling about is the best sign of a place. So, even though I’ve passed it, I backtrack and decide to settle in. I ask for an iced latte not knowing what that in this place it means that there is a pre-made coffee slushy machine churning out the best coffee drink for a hot day. I usually drink unsweetened coffee, but this little icy delight is too tempting. I repress the urge to order another one as I down it far too quickly. But, I need to buy time until lunch so I order bottled water and sit and read my newly purchased book from the day before. And I listen to the regulars who live in this neighborhood and come down to chat about the news or the soccer and call each other by name as they leave.
After an hour or so I leave this my now favorite coffee shop and begin the walk to Bishop and Bagg, an English style pub mentioned in my new Montreal cookbook. For some reason I am determined to get fish and chips at this pub and it is the only thing I think of on the walk there. The walk is not far as Bishop and Bagg is on and named for St. Viateur on which it sits. I’m not very hungry considering the two bagels and coffee I’ve just had, but I’m determined to eat fish and chips. However, they are nowhere to be found on the menu. Without asking my waitress (a mistake) I order the Rarebit. It’s described as a thick slice of bread covered in beer cheese with pickled carrots and mustard seeds.
I’m sat beside a table with 3 men and 1 women. They are locals and good friends conversing in Fren-glish. I’m amazed at the ease with which this French Canadians use both languages interchangeably. When their food arrives, I immediately have order envy. The smells coming from their plates are amazing- earthy, seasoned, and rounded. I almost beg for a bite, but stop myself by only asking for photos.
Lunch done I decide to grab a Bixi bike to short cut the route to Montreal local mountain- Mount Royal. The Bixi bike system lets you rent a bike without the burden of storing it while you flit about the city. There are over 400 locations and having scouted racks new Mount Royal, I sign up. Luckily, a local helps me out as I have a little trouble getting the hang of the system.
The bike friendly nature of Montreal is wonderful. I feel perfectly safe as there are designated bike lanes. These lanes are not “designated” they way they are in the states with a line drawn down a road between parked cars and moving cars, these bike lanes allow bikes their own “road” sometimes protected by a median or a row of parked cars. It’s brilliant, bloody brilliant, and makes the lure of the bike that much more enticing than the bus or the metro.
I easily make it to Mount Royal, park my bike and begin the trek up the mountain. When trail begins to quiet the city and I feel immersed in trees, I immediately miss hiking. Back home Virginia, I spent 4 days hiking one summer. And my hometown, Richmond, has this same type of center-of-the-city-oasis. For Richmond, it’s the James River. For Montreal, it’s Mount Royal.
Friends and fellow travelers had recommended it, but I thought- eh, it’s an overlook. I had forgotten that this town is French inspired so that this overlook is worth the slow winding inclined trail and the millions (yes, in the heat it seems this must be true) of stairs in the last stretch.
The top of the mountain is spacious, open, and lures me in to quiet my mind even more. Though there are people about and the stonework gives a sense of Canadian heft, there is a quiet lightness that sings here. After procuring a much needed bottle of water, I sit in an adirondack chair and take in the sun, the people, the view of the river and write this- finally making the lug of my laptop worthwhile. It’s much cooler than it has been the last two days which makes this day to hike a blessing. I’m so thankful I’m here.
Days like these. Everyone should have them. And not just when you are young or having a gap year, but when you are nearing forty and wondering if there is enough time for all the things. At the top of Montreal, I am consumed in the breeze and sunshine. I see tall buildings but have no tie to the stress and business they surely possess. My shoulders have no muscle memory of worry and I wish I could always live in this space, of being, of flow.
I finally leave my little oasis above the city to travel to another one, this time at Parc du La Fontaine, which was designed by the same man who designed Central Park in New York City. When I reach the foot of the Mount I grab a Bixi again and get to the park in little time. I swing by a health food store to grab a snack (a blueberry smoothie, chocolate covered cashews, and water), find a comfy spot and relax, read, faux sleep, and thank the heavens for these luxuries.
Dinner is around the corner at a very busy Portuguese chicken joint, Ma Poule Mouillee, recommended on my first day from a shopkeeper. My camera makes me stand out as I try to chronicle my experiences and a local behind me guides me through the ordering processing sometimes remarking as I click away, “Oh, they are cooking the chicken…look poutine!…oh my gosh, fries!” I take it in stride. He means well and I forgive him all his ribbing when I hear him say to his lady, “How is it that you get more beautiful every year?”
The chicken is amazing and the plate comes with a side salad and fries piled on top. It’s more food than one person could possibly eat and I waste half of it, but not the chicken. I eat all of my 1/4 dark meat with hot sauce. Tender, seasoned, juicy,- I want to pack up this chicken and sell it to the U.S. Where are these little places in the states. Why do we eat so drably?