Discovering Montreal

Posted November 27, 2019 – Narrated by Carmen

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“This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window. Yet when I was told that you were going to build one more I said, but where are you going to find room? They said, we will build it on top of another church and use an elevator.

   – Mark Twain – addressing a Montreal audience on Dec. 10, 1881

All I have to say about Jim’s Birthday Week in Montreal is, Holy Cow

Our October 2 view from Mont Real, two days before Jim’s birthday. We were there on the anniversary of Cartiers “discovery” of Saint Lawrence River. Jacques Cartier is credited with giving Canada its name. He reportedly misused the Iroquois word kanata (meaning village or settlement) to refer to the entire region around what is now Quebec City; it was later extended to the entire country.

… which might be the only thing we did not see in Montreal – a holy cow. But, I’ll bet someday they get one.

Sure, cathedrals are the dominant architecture in the New France colony but every other world religion manages to sidle in-between the narrow gaps. This positively divine 377 year-old city-around-a-hill boasts three summits – all less than 800 feet above sea-level that float like emeralds above the spectacular skyline.

It was a last minute idea, this side-trip to Canada.

For two weeks we’d been dry-camping in the mountains yearning for fall color to peak.

Unless you’re an arborist, watching trees can be boring. And we bore easily. Ah, well. Such is the life of this flaneuse and her handsome flaneur. (Thanks to Joe and Ronnie, our francophone friends for that fabulous “f” word).

So, while the trees made up their mind about what they planned to do, we drove up the coast looking for a city to plunder with our eyes.

And where better than Montreal “the city of a hundred belltowers” to ring in our Cajun birthday boy’s 65th Medicare Birthday!

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

So, Jim charted a 146 mile route from northern Vermont to our destination campground on the shore of La Fleuve St. Laurent in pleasant Sogerive Halte RV Park in Longueil – just a short subway ride to Montreal.

Well, somewhere in all of that country-life to city-life excitement we forgot one very important teeny-tiny detail: to select the “RV feature” on the GPS.

We realized the error when we came face-to-face with Smuggler’s Notch – an infamous road hazard that frequently traps oversized vehicles. The drive was so harrowing, I couldn’t take an intelligible photo. Oh sure, I tried to photograph the last moments of our lives but the pictures look like half-digested sushi.

Smuggler’s Notch on VT 108 is a huge boulder field running adjacent to Sterling Mountain, which prohibition smugglers used many years ago. (stock photo)

We made it through with no damages, but our nerves were shot. We couldn’t shake the anxiety of knowing how quickly and throughly we could have lost our rig.

But, evidently, Canada isn’t suspicious of old people who look like they might be sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Or, perhaps, frighted Americans at the border is routine these days.

In any case, it was lunchtime and only two cars were ahead of us, so it took less than five minutes to enter Canada from the U.S.

We needed a drink.

So, we stopped for the night at Vignoble Domaine Bresee winery in Sutton – a sweet French country establishment.

Unwinding in the vines

All of the wines were excellent, but they had a special Thanksgiving offer on cases of their best Rosé. Sold.

A case of mighty fine Rosé

The stress slowly abated as we strolled through the vines, sipping Rosé and counting our blessings.

At last we settled down to a cold dinner followed by a good nights sleep.

The next morning we stopped for breakfast in Dunham at the L’Épicerie Cafe.

Our hostess must have heard us rave about the coffee and our plans for Jim’s birthday, because as we departed she handed him a gift of freshly ground coffee.

Such unexpected kindnesses are one of the reasons we love visiting Canada.

Within an hour we pulled into Sogerive Halte RV Park without a reservation.

Our campsite

The staff spoke French, but together – with our pitiful grasp of the language and Google Translate on the iPhone – we all managed well enough.

Google Translate doesn’t work on graffiti … bummer.

The campground had dozens of sites available ranging from full hook-ups to dry.

We chose a dry campsite (no hookups) for $19 per day – a fabulous price for urban camping – especially in a place with an ancient forest, nature walks, kayaking, designated cycling trails, the best public transportation in the world, as well as many excellent restaurants and coffee houses all within walking distance.

But we hadn’t discovered all of that yet, so we only paid for two days through Jim’s birthday.

Our main concern was the weather.

To keep the Airstream plumbing from freezing in the chill, we’d have to run the furnace all night. But at least we had enough long sunny days to keep the batteries charged.

A paved lighted path near our site led to the walking bridge which spans the eight-lane highway between the campground and Longueil in the sub-division of Montérégie, Montreal’s oldest borough.

The place stole our hearts from the very moment Saint Anthony waved us a warm greeting from the cathedral…

A suburb of Montreal, Longueuil is located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It is a vibrant and historic city that dates back to 1657.

We became acquainted with the Montérégie area where there was no shortage of beautiful scenery and easy access to the metro area.

and delicious meals …

and a clean, modern, user-friendly subway and bus system to take us anywhere we desired to go.

So, we bought warmer hats and paid for two more days.

They don’t call it The Paris of Canada for nothing …

but I prefer to call it The Montreal of All

Where genius and ambition meet restraint and grace ..

Where preservation is progress. Where the past advises the future and the future respects but does not revere the past …

Where the public art scene is game for the whimsical, the grotesque, the historical, the hysterical and the luminous.

and music everywhere!

So, we paid for two more days because …

the patisseries …

the gourmet groceries …

the shopping …

and a ride to the sky!

And then, suddenly, snow was predicted in the forecast. It was early in the season but an arctic blast was on the way.

As we prepared the rig, Jim noticed a truck tire was low, embedded with a very long screw he couldn’t dislodge by himself.

It was a Saturday afternoon. The tire had to be repaired by Sunday or we’d be snowed in. We are so grateful these two young men at Canadian Tire had mercy on us and stayed overtime to repair our tire and refused payment.

That night, for the last time, we walked across the highway to have wine and soup at our cozy dog-friendly hangout, The Bungalow.

There, we met some locals who kindly encouraged us to return and stay longer. It is our hope, someday, to reside in Longuiel for a season to study French, to immerse in a culture we love, and to learn more of Jim’s ancestral history … and, to see Claudia at the Contemporary Art Museum.

That’s right. Before posting this entry I thought it best to look up “Holy Cow Montreal” and, voila. Of course Montreal has a holy cow.

I can write every French word I know on a credit card and still have plenty of space, but we are sooo in the Québécois state of mind.

Back to the States

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.

6 thoughts on “Discovering Montreal

  1. Wow what a lovely post. I’m thankful for knowing folks like you are on the road for when I return in the summer. Love your post. An old friend I visited in Sebastopol CA last summer mentioned your post out of the blue. I bragged that we r road buddies even though we only met talked in my first trip out three summers ago. But I always feel your positive presence and remember that are paths almost crossed two summers ago in Jasper CA.

    Thanks for the great trips on Montreal haven’t stopped yet. And Happy Birthday Jim. 🎂


    1. Thank you, Deb! We are so happy to know you and we can meet up anytime. Just email us with meet-up ideas and we will let you know if we’re going your way.

      Safe and Happy Travels!


    1. Hey Allison!

      About thirty-five years ago – before the bridge was built from Halifax – we cycled the circumference of Prince Edward Island, tent camping along the way. It was such a wonderful trip that we fantasize doing it again (next time with e-bikes and Airbnb). It was also an education in the “double yolked egg” francophone and anglophone dual culture. The US keeps these divisions beneath the surface until some minor affront and then, voila, here come the “freedom fries.” Melting pot societies need not discourage identity to achieve unity. I appreciate the way Quebec speaks openly and honestly about the divide and expresses the nature of assimilation. It seems to me that the remnants of civilizations like New France should be preserved and recognized for better and worse.

      Thank you for being us, Allison!

      Safe and Happy Travels!


  2. Sometimes I’m very late in getting to some of your post. Glad I finally got to this one. Great insights into another place I’ve never been to.
    Your experience in Smugglers Notch reminded me of one of our first trips with our Airstream. We were going from Bennet Springs SP in Missouri to Lake Ouachita SP in Arkansas blindly following our GPS. I think it was in RV mode, but I can’t swear to it. We eventually ended up on RT 7 in Arkansas. A wonderful drive if you’re in a Corvette or a Ducati motorcycle. Not so much for a rookie pulling a trailer. Talk about stress!

    1. Hey Bill! Great to hear from you. Hope you had a wonderful holiday season.

      Being West Coast people we were not as familiar with these narrow places that would be insane to pull an RV through – but because we take backroads, it seems like we find them every single time. Yes, it’s making us better drivers, but it’s not doing our blood pressure any favors. Fortunately, we took the advice of others with more experience and bought the GPS with the RV mode. Sadly, it only works when you choose the proper setting. I hope that someday there will be an alert system that kicks in five miles before a trouble spot, regardless of the setting. Our most recent near-death experience was in the Red Rock area of Colorado. Whew. Don’t get caught there! Thank God, the restaurant at the bottom of the mountain served booze.

      Safe and Happy Travels!


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