The World A to Z

M is for Montreal

2014 was a monumental year for many reasons. First, I got married. Greg and I tied the knot at the end of the year in Key West, Florida. Second, it marked the halfway point of my 26 year plan to see the world. M, of course, is the 13th letter of the alphabet. That meant we not only had to do something special, but we had to do it in a way that didn’t cost too much money since we had a wedding to pay for.

As anyone who travels (or even aspires to travel) knows, one of the biggest expenses for any trip is getting to your destination. Since my one hard-and-fast rule is each A-B-C trip must be outside the 48 states, transportation costs are typically more than half the cost of the whole trip. I also love the feeling of exploring a new culture, something you really only get in a foreign land. After trying to find something close enough to save on transportation costs, but far enough to feel foreign, we settled on Montreal.

If you’ve never been to Montreal, you may not know it’s more like a French city than many places in Canada. In fact, it’s a little like going to Europe without leaving North America. It’s laid out like a European city and the primary language is French, although English is spoken everywhere. So we booked a round trip on Amtrak’s Adirondack Express during the peak of fall colors and headed north.IMG_3039

I’d done my research and knew to sit on the side of the train facing west for the northbound trip and the side facing east for the southbound. That’s because the views of the Hudson Valley are prettiest in the morning and headed south, you want to be able to see the lakes and water to the east during the brightest part of the day. We got lucky and the colors were brilliant and lush for much of the trip.

On arrival we grabbed a taxi and headed to our small inn, Auberge de la Place Royale, right on the river with views of the water and the port. IMG_3170Our queen suite on the third floor was a HUGE room with a large sitting area and charming décor complete with a brick accent wall. IMG_3113We couldn’t have picked a better place. Fresh French pastries and coffee are set in the room under glass for you to enjoy the next morning with a mini fridge stocked with juices.

Montreal was cool with perfect fall sunshine and breezes. We knew to pack for the weather and spent our days wandering the old town and took a water taxi to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Greg had been to Montreal as a young boy with his dad and wanted to see the one thing he remembered, Habitat 67.IMG_3129 The walk was full of photo opportunities and bright blue skies.IMG_3148

We also found the charming and architecturally fascinating Plateau Mont-Royal with its ironwork staircases and colorful rows of townhomes. Trendy shops and fun foodie spots abound in Montreal. Our favorite, by far, was Chez Delmo. It was crowded, but there were two seats at the bar so we grabbed them and chatted with Chris, the bartender. He was AMAZING and offered an interesting drink suggestion and an appetizer that was not on the menu. The entire experience was perfect!

We’ve discovered the best way to find a good place to eat is twofold. First, if it’s crowded, that’s a good sign. Big crowds mean good food. Second, if there are at least two or three things on the menu that look really appealing, you’ll be much happier. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try things you’ve never heard of; we do that ALL the time. But get two entrees, one you want to try and one you’re pretty sure you’ll like. That way you’ll never be hungry. We share our entrees for variety. We’re lucky that we have similar tastes, so that helps.

We had two FULL days in Montreal to explore and enjoy before hopping on the train for the day-long ride back home. IMG_3206A couple of quick tips: Don’t forget that you’ll need a passport or passport card to cross the border; Canadians take US dollars, but you’re better off exchanging your money since they offer a 1-to-1 exchange rate and you save a little by using Canadian dollars. Plus, you’ll need a few coins for getting around town on the metro.

In short, Montreal goes into the book as another successful adventure as we continue our quest to see the world one letter a year.

Diversion

Diversion – A Day in NYC

By Judy

Diversions aren’t always entirely unplanned. In this case, we included a diversion in the middle of a day trip to New York City.

Greg had been to the Big Apple a number of times, as had I, but we had never been together. When Greg’s cousin got a job as the wardrobe supervisor for an off-Broadway production, Disenchanted!, we knew we could catch a show AND do a little sightseeing. With the day trip planned, we hopped aboard Amtrak before dawn and arrived at New York’s Penn Station just before 10. A little advance research had us headed for the right subway line for a quick trip “uptown.” We snagged our tickets from the kiosk and walked into the station just as our train pulled in.

It was shopping time! Greg took me into Tiffany’s to peruse the glittering gems before we headed to one of the world’s largest toy stores, FAO Schwartz. IMG_3528

Even though I’d been to the city, I’d never been to Central Park. When I mentioned it to Greg he declared a diversion. We strolled onto one of the paths in the direction of the ice skating rink just as it started to snow. What a magical surprise!

IMG_3534

The skaters spun and glided while we sipped hot cocoa and shared a classic hot dog from a street vendor. Then it was time to leave the peaceful surroundings of the park for more hustle and bustle. As we strolled the aisles of Crate and Barrel we had a celebrity sighting: Ellen Burstyn was also doing a little shopping. There was time for even more shopping as we made our way to lunch.

The restaurant we had hoped to visit was closed, so we ended up at The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. What a delight! Our waiter suggested two different kinds of oysters to try: one sweet, one salty. Eating one right after the other clearly shows how oysters from different regions have distinct flavors! We shared Nantucket Bay Scallops that were perfectly prepared in a garlic sauce. A strawberry shortcake on the dessert menu caught our eye and dazzled our palates with basil whipped cream and coconut shortcake. We marveled at our luck to stumble upon this foodie delight when our original plan went awry.

From there it was off to the matinee. Disenchanted! is a rip-roaring, gut busting laugh fest that had us singing along and nearly rolling in the aisle for an hour and a half. The performers were stunning, telling a lesson about personal strength poignantly and hysterically. The Theater at St. Clements is a small-enough venue that the ad-lib interaction with the audience made the show even better! When the final curtain fell, we met up with Greg’s cousin for a Thai-French fusion dinner and followed her recommendation to stroll a few blocks away to The Little Pie Company for dessert.

IMG_3546

In a word, DELICIOUS!

IMG_3541

The valuable lesson here is follow the advice of locals for those little hidden gems!

The sun had set and the time for our return train trip was fast approaching, so we made our way, via Times Square, back to Penn Station for the late ride home. It was a long, fun, magical day … complete with a diversion.

Diversion

Diversion — “M” is for Matrimony and Motels

By Greg aka fedflack

Kiss on the Blue Ice
Ready to set sail on our life together. (Photo: Carol Tedesco)

We did it. Judy and I tied the knot on 12/13/14, meaning that we’ll be travel partners forever. We were married on a 47-foot sailboat just off Key West as the sun was setting on a most perfect day.

More about that in a later post; this one is about the honeymoon; and specifically, our plan to “not plan.”

Huh?

Let me explain.  When we got engaged and decided that our wedding would be in Key West, we originally planned to take our car – a two-seat Pontiac Solstice roadster -down island so that we could enjoy some top-down motoring in what we hoped would be a weather-perfect setting, even for December. Judy booked us a premium sleeper on the Amtrak Auto Train from Lorton, Virginia, right near our Alexandria home, to Sanford, Florida, (just outside Orlando) with the expectation that would drive down to Key West when we arrived and then meander our way – topless whenever possible –back up U.S. Route 1 for our honeymoon. Thus, staying true to our desire to stay off the Interstates and take the road less traveled whenever possible.

Alas, a bit of practicality set in. While South Florida and Keys weather is darn near perfect in December, there was no guarantee that the rest of the south would cooperate. Furthermore, we realized that we simply had to take too much stuff for the Key West house we had rented for us and our small (four people) wedding party than we could reasonably ask others to bring. (With the top down, the Solstice has room in the trunk for just two small hand bags).

On the Auto Train. Take this if you want to meet snowbirds.

As one-car owners, we did what we often do in cases like these – rent for the mission – in this case, a full-size sedan. Turns out, we pretty much filled the trunk and half of the back seat with clothes for nearly every occasion, a box of booze, party favors and decorations for the house, and more. It felt weird to both of us; if you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you KNOW how much we like to travel light. But this was a special event, after all. We loaded some overnight clothes into an small bag for the train (along with a bottle of wine and some snacks) and let the Amtrak folks load the car and its complement into the back of the train consist. On a cold, dreary day, we headed south.

In doing our research, we also realized that the bulk of Route 1 in this part of the country was so rural that we worried about being bored…or that we might hear dueling banjos. We went “foodie” instead and booked four nights at the chic Andaz Hotel in Savannah, characterized as a “Concept by Hyatt.”

But we still knew that we had to spend one of our honeymoon nights in Florida, somewhere between Key West and Savannah.  For this, we decided that we wanted to stay somewhere that screamed Route 1 tacky – a classic cheesy motel…the cheesier the better. We couldn’t plan this; we would know it when we saw it.

With this “plan” in mind, we bade goodbye to Key West, and headed north.

(Stay tuned for the next installment where we answer the question, what’s fire have to do with it?)