OUR WEEKEND in Montreal didn’t begin on an auspicious note. The flight from Pittsburgh was delayed by an hour because of weather at the Trudeau airport, which was limiting incoming flights. Not exactly what a jittery flyer like me wants to hear. But an hour and change and several bumps later we arrived in Montreal and Uber-ed to meet friends for dinner at Gibby’s, in a 200-year-old building with stone walls and beamed ceilings. From our cozy table next to a fireplace, we are welcomed with crunchy dill pickles, bacon crumbles and fresh bread to graze on before our superb main course fish. In the meantime, a powdery snow falls and coats the city.
Visiting somewhere new is energizing and eye-opening but visiting a place where your friends live is even better. Speaking of energy, we were going to need a bundle for our heavily scheduled next two days. In fact, after dinner, we made a stop at the open-24-hours St.-Viateur Bagel bakery to watch as the bagel dough was rolled, boiled and then baked in a wood-burning oven. We bought four or five and then received a gratis bag of six!
Did I mention that it had snowed about eight inches overnight and that it was still coming down heavily the next morning when we left for the Museum of Fine Arts, a few blocks from our hotel? On exhibit was a comprehensive and fascinating probe into the life stories of six Egyptian mummies and a deep dive into the mummification process. Then we fast-forwarded to the 20th and 21st centuries to a small exhibit of the work of three American photographers (Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons and Rachel Harrison) exploring the history of how women are represented.
Some three hours later it was time for lunch. By now you’re getting the theme here –eating is an occasion in Montreal. Our friend braved the snow-clogged streets to drive us to the famous Schwartz’s Deli, where lines are to be expected and the signature dish is a smoked meat sandwich served on rye bread with yellow mustard. The meat is served by the fat content: lean, medium (our waitress suggested this one), medium-fat or fat. My sandwich looked like a pastrami or a corned beef sandwich that I would have eaten at a New York City deli, but far more flavorful.
Fortified, we headed for the 350-year-old, seven-floor, massive department store Hudson’s Bay, a former fur trading company that now owns Saks Fifth Avenue. We shopped for gifts to take back home on the accessories floor and gaped at the offerings on the cosmetics floor, which extends a city block. As we browsed we kept the exchange rate in mind, calculating what the Canadian dollar price would translate into U.S. currency. (One Canadian dollar equals 75 cents). The amount of merchandise was staggering but so was the gracious service we received from salespeople. “You’d like a bigger box for that gift you’re buying? Let me find you one.” Or, “I can tell you what the price is in U.S. dollars.”
Dinner that evening was at quintessential French bistro L’Express, a piece of Paris in Montreal. Onion soup, steak frites, foie gras and poached salmon draw a crowd of Montrealers whom a little snow—15 inches or more—could not deter. Our own city would have been at a standstill.
By the following day the efficient, huge snow plows (we noticed a least a dozen in a row) had cleared the streets and smaller machines had made sidewalks passable. But the high temperature was predicted to be a chilly 6 degrees F. Indoor options were required. My friends indulged me with a trip to the high-end store Holt Renfrew and Ogilvy, where we received the same treatment we had the previous day at “The Bay.” Nobody hovered over us as we oohed over the jackets, pleated skirts and sweaters in bright greens and pinks, chartreuse, lilac and pale blue from top designers (Dior, Valentino, Isabel Marant, Dries Van Noten, Kenzo, to name a few). No salesperson attitude in sight.
After a nourishing lunch at Old Montreal foodie destination Olive & Gourmando, we steeled our well-bundled selves for a walk through the historic district, chock-a-block with galleries and boutiques, which we selectively headed into when the cold was too much with us. Our final stop of the day was the Notre-Dame Basilica. We heard a short, basic lecture on the history of the Gothic Revival church and then walked around for a better view of its interiors—the rich, red, blue and gold hues, the star-studded midnight blue ceiling, intricate wood carvings, stained glass windows and massive organ.
Our two-day visit passed by in a flash. We didn’t take the subway nor did we see the splendor of Place des Arts, visit the contemporary arts museum or hear all that jazz the city is famous for. Or taste as many different types of croissants as we wanted to. All reasons to return to this most hospitable city. Maybe next time, though, in summer, when there would be even more to love.