With L’express and Au Pied de Cochon behind me, I feel like I’ve done the mainstays for which I have come. I have one more, Olive and Gourmando (oh, and the bagel places), but beyond that I want all my eats to be new discoveries, local haunts and if possible- unknowns. I’m desperate for the best coffee ever and maybe the best pastry, too- a croissant to be exact. I use the wifi at my hostel and scope out something near Olive and Gourmando. I choose Myriade and head out.
There is heat in the air this day and humidity. A city can wear on you, begin to cling and hang on you. It is days like these, walking up the steps from the metro that I feel the city clawing at me. As carefree and awe inspiring travel can be, it can also be draining. These days, when I’m tired and hot, I get a sense of what living here would be- the day to day. Something about how a city reaches out to you on it’s bad days whispers that it’s not always fun and lighthearted. It speaks its truth and tells you that there is monotony and sweat here too just as there is in every inch of this world. And when traveling, it’s important on these days to find rest because reconnection to yourself is your top priority, isn’t it. Isn’t that why we travel and vacation?
I find cafe Myriade amongst a street of high end shopping though sadly there are so many American stores that I focus on finding the coffee shop. I get lost though I know I am in the right spot, but there is no sign of this place. I rarely give up and will often just pace the streets until I land on a place, but something feels weird about this one and I happen to be right beside a tourist office. I pop in and after a tourism expert checks her computer, she points me across the indoor hallway to the shop Club Monaco saying that the coffee shop is inside the store on the bottom level. I’m confused, but follow directions. I go in an immediately discover that Club Monaca is my spirit stylist. It’s just that I can’t yet afford this spirit. I want one of everything.
Cafe Myriade, at the bottom of a gorgeous set of marble stairs with wrought iron railings, is swank and precious. The banquette and tiny round tables are surrounded by books. A careful collection with title like Mayonnaise and Tartine. I’m intrigued by Mayonnaise and after I bother a couple to snag a peek at it, I’m saddened that it’s written in French. C’est la vie.
Cafe Myriade is so tiny, I wonder how it survives with two baristas at the helm. I order a latte and a croissant- I am always looking for the perfect one. The croissant is good and flaky and still outdoes our American store-bought ones by miles. I eavesdrop on two women sitting beside me as they say words like, “support the teachers, curriculum, each child.” Since teaching is my real job and the reason why I get these days free for travel, I interrupt them and ask what they do in education. After chatting with them for a bit about their non-profit that supports the social/ emotional well-being of Canadian school children, I head out.
I make my way to Notre Dame. I’d promised myself after missing this spectacle on my last trip here that I would come back and see “le church de Celine Dion.” It doesn’t disappoint, as you can see:
Leaving Notre Dame, my plan is to get lost somewhere near Olive and Gourmando and work up a hunger for lunch. I land in a bookstore. I stop here at it’s signage is written in French and English. I am drawn to a tourist table and decide to dig in and buy a travel book. This is the second full day of my trip and I have one and half more. It makes sense that I would now buy a travel book about the city I’m in, right? I then scope the English aisles and come across Montreal Cooks– this book must be mine. I also succumb to an American best seller, The Nest– I need a new recreational read and while I have books on my phone in my Kindle app., there is something about the weight and heft of a thick book that pulls me in. I pay and as soon as the transaction is complete, the Montreal sky opens up. I decide to sit and wait out the rain storm. I begin by studying Montreal Cooks and discover Bishop and Bagg. This will be a stop tomorrow.
When the rains lightens I head out again. I’m around the corner from Olive and Gourmando, but despite this I walk too far and the rain begins again. I hide under an overhang of an office building and eventually have to move inside and sit on the edge of some lobby stairs as a drenching rain descends. It’s moments like these in traveling when no real agenda or timeline that storms just come with no worry. And it’s times like these just after you’ve picked up a few books that you don’t mind the deluge from which you are safely guarded.
When the rain lightens I leave the safety of the building lobby and hope for a pause in the rain. I backtrack my steps a bit and land at Olive and Gourmando. I accidentally ate here 4 years ago. I happened upon it in my getting lost tour and fell in love. The decor alone sells me, but the food brings me back. I order a sandwich and a sweet summer caffeine free drink infused with ginger and goodness. The rain outside has increased the humidity and the air inside hangs. Canada doesn’t have a lot of air conditioning because they normally don’t need it. This weather is unseasonal here. It feel like summer in Virginia and not the northern respite for which I was hoping. Oh Montreal. Oh Global Warming.
My sandwich, called Mr. Miami, is a panini with meat and caramelized onions, but the best part is the pineapple dip. The sweet, the savory, the tender meat, the melted cheese- everything. I top it off with their famous brownie who’s recipe is in my newly purchased cookbook. This, I think, means I must try it out. As I wait for my brownie, I meet two women from San Francisco sitting beside me who are traveling around the world touring a documentary film. They tell me that Montreal is their favorite so far. This is their first visit here and we all marvel at how Americans have no idea what they are missing- Montreal is a secret gem right in our backyard. Hearing of their worldly ventures, these are the times when traveling that I wonder about my career choices.
I leave Olive and Gourmando to get lost in Old Montreal. It’s touristy and crowded and not my favorite part of this city. But, I happen down to the Old Port where I lay beside the clear water canal and rest. I soak in the beautiful day, the trees above me giving shade and finish my current read on my phone- The Paris Letters. Ironically, the author is a Canadian who sells all her worldly goods to travel the world. She doesn’t get much farther than Paris as she meets her husband, but I understand her wanderlust and her love of French everything. I love this time by the water. It’s calm and serene by the water- isn’t it always? I am alone, watchful, at peace, and reconnected to myself, to this world, to inner calm. A mother and daughter come and sit beside me as I get ready to leave. The speak French and giggle as they dip their feet in the water.
My newly acquired travel book tells me about a noodle place on the edge of Chinatown that is simply excellent. I think that this will be my way home dinner option. When I make it to Restaurant Noodle Factory, I see those telltale glossy photos of plate offerings and wonder about this “excellent” rating. I ask for suggestions, but only want something with the handmade noodles. I order a stir fry with vegetables. I decide that at some point in all this eating I should put vegetables at the top of the order list. The dish is good, but this does not sell me on “excellent” the way my guidebook promised. I ask for chili sauce to give some spice to the bland dish. A regular English speaking customer sits down at the table in front of me. She is determined to order something new to her and she does- a soup with noodles rather than a spicy pork dish. As I walk out, I ask her if she was happy with her choice. Straight faced and sad eyes she says, “no.” She says to the waiter than she will always order number 19 and nothing else- ever. Well, I wasn’t impressed with my stir fry either, but if number 19 is that good I may have to come back. Let’s face it- we all know I’m coming back to Montreal.