With economics on the minds of many as well as the desire to get away and have a change, Montreal is the perfect escape. One can almost close their eyes and pretend that they are walking the streets of France. Just a short six hour drive to the Canadian border, the trip is short enough to accommodate young travelers and far enough away to feel like a true vacation.
There are many places at which to stop along the way if travellers prefer to take their time. Price Chopper on Central Avenue in Albany offers a large kosher take out department and bakery under the hashgacha of the local Albany vaad. Anything that you do not see in their showcase they will be happy to make for you. Sandwiches with side dishes are a popular choice. The Great Escape Six Flags is in Queensbury, New York, which is 58 miles north of Albany, is a fun option when travelling with children. For shoppers, at exit 20 on the Northway are tons of discount stores in the Lake George shopping outlet. Dare I say that one parent who prefers shopping could (with permission) take off on a shopping spree while the other parent spend the day on the lake.
In general, once one passes Lake George fueling stops are few and far between. There are no services on the Northway whatsoever. Rest areas with bathrooms do exist; however no food or gas is sold anywhere on the route. Keep in mind that it is important to fuel up prior to reaching Canada as the price of gas there is outrageously expensive and is sold in liters. Paying at least $8.00 per gallon in Canadian dollars would not be unusual.
It is imperative that everyone have proper identification when crossing the border. Yes, even babies are required to have copies of their birth certificates and adults require passports. Keep in mind that while driving in Canada the speed limits are all in kilometers. One hundred kilometers per hour is the equivalent of 60 miles an hour. It will take approximately 45 minutes to get to Montreal from the border as long as the traffic is flowing easily.
Although French is predominantly spoken in the province of Quebec, upon reaching Montreal most of the people speak English. Beware of the fact that signs are only in French. For example, upon approaching the Champlain Bridge, which is the most direct way to enter the city from the highway, the sign for bridge in French is Pont. It does not say Champlain Bridge; it says Pont Champlain. Fortunately, there are no tolls in Quebec.
Hotels are in great abundance and we have friends that did well with an AirBnb. If one chooses that route I would greatly suggest that you check with someone in order to find out exactly where the address of the accommodation is as I would suggest not ending up in a totally French area. In the middle of downtown is the luxurious Sofitel Hotel, which is owned by David Azrieli and is accustomed to having Shomer Shabbat guests, even providing regular keys for hotel rooms upon request. Hotels slightly outside of the midtown area probably will be less expensive, but always keep in mind that whatever price you are quoted for a hotel will be at least 30% less in US currency. I would suggest that couples without children stay downtown. The city of Montreal is small enough that the distance to surrounding suburbs, including the predominantly Jewish ones, is not more than a twenty minute drive.
The Ramada Plaza Montreal, formerly the Quality Midtown Hotel, has Shomer Shabbat ownership and provides a free kosher breakfast each morning to its guests as well as free parking. There is also a kosher meat restaurant on its premises. Even more exciting is that it is approximately 500 feet away from the world renowned Pizza Pita which has a large dairy menu. Known for its poutine, which is french fries with cheese sauce poured over it (the kosher way), I have often been told that no one in the States is able to replicate the taste of the poutine from Pizza Pita. The hotel has easy access to all kosher facilities as well as shuls. The Lubavitch Yeshiva is just two blocks away. The Kosher Quality Bakery is approximately eight blocks away and there is nothing that you cannot get there. Certainly if anyone is planning to go on to Mont Tremblant for a few days this would be the way to stock up on whatever you need.
Summertime is indeed the time to breathe in the festive air as many streets are filled with locals and tourists attending the various summer celebrations. One does not even have to spend a penny in order to enjoy the charm and character of the city. Both the Jazz Festival and the Comedy Fest offer all kinds of street fare with absolutely no cost. In order to purchase tickets for any specific event it is possible to go online to do so. Once again, many of these festivals coincide with the three weeks, but as Tisha B’Av is on July 22 this year there are still a few days following to enjoy the Just for Laughs.
Walking in Old Montreal on the cobblestone streets brings smiles to everyone’s faces. Bikes can be rented all over the city and in the Old Port, which is where Old Montreal is located, one can rent bikes for as many as eight people sitting together. For extra fun one can take the Amphi-Bus tour, which leaves from Old Montreal as a regular bus and then proceeds to become a boat and paddles its way in the water. Ben and Jerry’s is in the old city and the same flavors that are kosher here are kosher there. They have a list and will be happy to share it with you. The cones are kosher. Horse and buggy rides are everywhere. In French they call them a caleche.
A highlight in the old port is the Montreal Science Museum. A recent article in the travel section of the New York Times zeroed in on the greatness of visiting Montreal with the accent being on the activities in the city which are family friendly. With little children in tow, the writer and her family (grandparents and parents) could not get enough of The Science Museum.
Downtown, in the center of the city, is the Fine Arts Museum and the McCord Museum. Directly in the center of the city along Sherbrooke Street is the famous Mcgill University campus, and wherever you look while in the downtown corridor you will see the mountain directly above the city, which explains the name of the city Montreal (Mount Royal). It is possible to drive up either side of the mountain from two different directions, and once at the top there is a lookout where on a clear day one can even see New York state. Notice the cross at the top of the Mountain indicating that Montreal has always been a Catholic city, which is what it means if you hear someone say they are French Canadian. A French Canadian is a person who is Catholic and from Quebec.
Visit the Biodome with children, where they are able to walk through four different seasons and ecosystems—one minute they will be freezing as in the Arctic and the next moment they will be walking through the Tropics. From the Biodome one can walk over to the Olympic Stadium and Tower. Tickets can be purchased as a package and the Botanical Gardens are just a walk away.
Montreal has several different Jewish areas. I can say quite emphatically that I never experienced any type of anti-Semitism while living there. The yeshiva community is located off Van Horne and de Vimy. The Chassidish community (Montreal has the second-largest population of Chassidim in North America next to New York) can be found between Park Avenue and de Vimy and between Van Horne and Ste. Catherine. The majority of Sephardim live in Cote St. Luc or St. Laurent, where they have their own schools, shuls, kollels, shteibels, etc. (and the most delicious bakeries).
The majority of the dati leumi community lives in Hampstead/Cote St Luc. The Cavendish Mall is home to the only almost-completely-kosher food court in North America. There are at least five to six kosher establishments in the court. The only remaining non kosher restaurant there is Subway. There is an indoor playground directly adjacent to the food court and family members have the opportunity to sit at the same table and choose from so many different options. There is a kosher pizza store, sushi restaurant, deli, Chinese food establishment and a falafel/schwarma restaurant. There are two dairy restaurants in the mall serving paninis, pasta, sandwiches etc. One is called Boca and other other is Avenue. The IGA (supermarket) in the same mall has a kosher bakery, take-out food department, meat department and fish department, all under hashgacha. It is worth checking out. Also in the same mall is a kosher butcher store called J and R. There is also a ladies’ clothing store in the mall with the appropriate name of Tzniut.
Separately I will list all of the restaurants (and there are many), as well as exceptional bakeries. There are three well-known acceptable hashgachot in Montreal: the MK (Montreal Kosher), the COR (from Toronto) and the KSR, which is the Sephardic hashgacha under the Grand Rabbinat du Quebec. Again, all three hashgachot are acceptable to all in the community. However only the MK and the KSR give hashgachot to restaurants in the city.
The good news is that the Canadian dollar is worth approximately 30 percent less than the U.S. currency. As of this writing, one U.S. dollar is worth $1.35 in Canadian funds. Montreal is a great place to shop for fashionable and up-to-date fashions, and it is a well-known fact that the children’s clothing that one might find in any of the more “Jewish” stores in Brooklyn, Lakewood and Monsey are manufactured in Montreal. All of the manufacturers have factory store outlets and are open on Sunday. They all take credit cards as well as cash. Best known is Lolly Pop; Aritex; Un, Deux, Trois; and Petit Bouffon. Do not expect any amenities at these stores. Nicole Hats for ladies, where they will adjust and add on to the hat of your choice, as well as Hats by Ophelie, are also made in Montreal and the factories are open to the public. All stores are open in Montreal on Sunday. While visiting the factories, or perhaps even if not, it is definitely in your best gastronomic interest to visit Cheskie’s bakery on Bernard. (This is not to the advantage of your diet.) The store was written about in Gourmet Magazine and is known for its amazing yummy rugelach and cheese crowns. Everything there is scrumptious.
For those who would prefer to shop downtown, Simon’s Department Store would be a worthwhile stop. They have fashionable, reasonably-priced skirts and tops and are known for their great men’s department. Montreal streets are connected underneath by the “underground city,” which allows people to never go outside in the days when the weather is overwhelming. The city is linked by blocks and blocks of office buildings above them.
For those who would prefer to be in the mountains, Mont-Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains offers many family vacation packages and is approximately two hours from the city. Jet boating, boat rides, mini golf, go-karting and great hiking trails are just a few of the features they offer. There is an active Chabad in Mont-Tremblant where they offer everyone a Shabbat lunch, and if one chooses they will also pre-order food for Friday-night meals and the food can be picked up from them. There are so many choices in the city that my preference would be to select an establishment and see the delectable possibilities. It is possible to rent a condo in Mont-Tremblant. The most deluxe hotel there is Hotel Quintessence, which is directly across the street from the Chabad. As well, the Fairmont and Westin are lovely. The Marriott Residence Inn offers kitchen facilities in each suite and provides breakfast each day.
I know that I am passionate about suggesting a vacation to Montreal. There are not many places where the Jewish community offers so many facilities, the streets are safe, the return on the US dollar is exciting, and the feeling of being far away but in reality quite close to home exists. Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information. It would be my pleasure to be of assistance. I spent many years in the travel business in Montreal and would be happy to offer suggestions. I can be reached at [email protected]
By Nina Glick