Arts Café: Montréal

The Arts Café is a very hip and cozy restaurant on Fairmount Avenue in Montréal, Canada. We came across the café on a rainy morning when I spotted rows of books and strings of rustic light bulbs in the windows. I have what we call a “Kass-radar” for bookshops, and when I first saw the books and lights, I was intrigued. However, when I saw that there was a cappuccino machine, I saw myself making a beeline for the shop.

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When I opened the door, I was not disappointed. I was greeted with a rush of warm, sweet air filled with the smell of coffee and pastries. It reminded me of a real-life replica of Professor Trelawney’s classroom!

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Feeling serendipitous, my husband and I sat down and ordered our drinks and looked at the menu. The menu had a variety of choices from a classic breakfast of eggs, toast, russet potato, salad and a choice of meat to Eggs Benedict and french toast. We went for the breakfast sandwich and classic breakfast.

The food was excellent, and the staff were very kind and attentive. What I liked the most about Arts Café was the atmosphere. Inside, there were tables to sit at, but also bars with stools. And, the books. There were books around the café from Jane Eyre to a biography on Salvador Dali. Along with bookshelves, the café had beautiful hanging plants and intriguing wall art. The café felt homey, and there were a few people reading books, doing work, or writing on their laptops with coffee and tea mugs at their tables. The entire café was very relaxed, and it seems as if there are guests who stay there most of the day. We never felt rushed to leave.

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If you ever visit Montréal, take time to stop at the Arts Café for a warm beverage and delicious breakfast that won’t disappoint!

 

 

Day Four: Montréal

Day Four: Montréal

On our last full day, we planned to visit the Botanical Garden, Insectarium, and the Biodôme! We were excited that the weather was on our side yesterday—blue skies, beautiful fluffy clouds, and cool temperatures. We stopped for breakfast at Fabergé on Fairmount Street, a hip and fun restaurant that serves breakfast all day along with their lunch menu. They had some really fun items on their menu, like chicken waffles, PB&J french toast, a “benny mac” which is a mac n’ cheese fritter and pulled pork topped with jalapeño jelly. They also had all sorts of waffles, including a s’mores waffle! We just took it easy ordering a plain crepe with an egg breakfast platter—we would be doing a lot of walking that day, so we wanted to take it easy! When we visit Montréal again, I am definitely trying the PB&J french toast!

After breakfast, we made our way to the Botanical Garden. I was super excited to begin exploring! The Montréal Botanical Garden has a collection of 22,000 plant species, 10 greenhouses, a gorgeous tree pavilion, and more than 20 gardens spread over 75 hectares. It is massive, and it is absolutely breathtaking.

We first stopped at the Insectarium—mostly to get it out of the way. Ian and I are a little hesitant about insects, but the museum was very interesting. All I can say is get ready to get goosebumps as you observe all different types of insects!

After two days of traveling throughout crowds, it was a perfect way to unwind and feel at peace. Together, Ian and I roamed the gardens and strolled through windy paths filled with flowers and different shrubs. It was so lovely! There were plenty of benches and innovative seating throughout the gardens, where couples clinked their champagne glasses in celebration or enjoyed lunch under a weeping willow tree.

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One of our absolute favorite spots was the Japanese Garden. The garden opened in 1988 is 2.5 hectares and was designed by Japanese landscape artist Ken Nakajima. When you enter the cultural pavilion, you are able to sit by the Zen garden with headphones with meditation music to put you at ease. There’s another room where you can learn more about the Japanese culture—there’s food on display (not to eat), paintings, and two other exhibition spaces. One of the most fascinating parts of the garden was the Bonsai Courtyard, which includes a collection of bonsai trees that range in 25 to 350 years old. It was an incredible sight. The amount of patience, care, and affection that goes into each tree is so astounding.

When you leave the cultural pavilion, you’ll find a large green space that was carefully designed. All elements in the garden (water, stones, a lantern, bridges, and plants) are perfectly balanced to create a feeling of serenity and make every visitor feel at peace. I know that I was. Ian and I strolled the gardens filled with calm, and the world around us was in complete harmony. The pathways also led to a beautiful pond with Koi carp swimming in its shallow waters. We did not want to leave!

 

We continued to explore the gardens, walking through the arboretum, the shade garden, and rose gardens. We were able to walk aimlessly through the Botanical Gardens and enjoy the sights. We also stopped at the Monumental Dougherty, beautiful art sculptures woven from willow branches!

 

After the Botanical Gardens, we made the walk to the Olympic Park to take a look at the Olympic Stadium. It was a long walk to the Biodôme, which ultimately was disappointing. After visiting the Biodôme, we headed back to the main parking lot and headed to Old Montreal to have one last look at the Notre Dame Basilica and have a delicious dinner.

From hiking to the top of Mont Royal and walking the shops of downtown to exploring the beauty of Old Montréal and the Botanical Gardens, Montréal is an amazing city, filled with something for every one! We are very grateful to have visited, and we are excited to come back soon. Thanks all for reading and I can’t wait to write more about our adventures…like Ireland in March!

JUST A NOTE

Before we left for our journey home today, we stopped at a café on Fairmount called Brioche À Tête and we had the most amazing croissants. As we devoured them in complete silence, we realized that we should have gone there everyday, and perhaps should have ordered more than one each. If you plan on going to Montréal, go here and have a croissant for me!

Days Two and Three: Montréal

Wow! That’s all I can say about the last two days. A combined 40,000 steps has led us throughout this beautiful city.

DAY TWO: THURSDAY, AUGUST 17

Ian and I woke up early and made our way over to St-Viateur Bagel & Café to have some delicious wood-fire bagels. We brought our breakfast over to Mont Royal and ate in front of the Sir George Etienne Cartier monument excited to start our hike up the mountain.

 

Mont Royal is a beautiful park, 200 hectares of green space and different paths to enjoy and explore. The park was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also
co-designed Central Park and the site for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1890. There were numerous trails to take up to the Belvédère Kondiaronk (the look out) from intermediate and easy, to the “athletic trail” that Ian and I decided to take. It took about 35 minutes to get to the top, including climbing 339 exhausting steps. Once at the top, it was the view that ultimately took our breath away.

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It wasn’t until making my way to the top when we visited the Mont Royal Chalet that I learned Olmsted created other leisurely trails to encourage visitors to take their time and enjoy the scenery of the park. I also learned that the first European to scale the mountain was Jacques Cartier, an explorer who claimed what is now Canada for France. He also was the first European to describe and map the Saint Lawrence River. Cartier happens to be a family name, so this made me excited to hear! We decided to take the long way back down. It was so peaceful—the park is filled with sculptures, a beautiful pond, green space, and benches to relax and have lunch. It was an amazing experience.

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When we made it to the bottom, it was time for lunch. Ian and I walked over to St-Denis, a popular street filled with shops and places to eat. We stopped at Café Cherrier, a very cute French bistro where we had sandwiches and salads. After our lunch, we walked around the city and poked around at some shops. I felt my energy start to wane, so we stopped at another café called Brûlerie St.Denis where Ian got a delicious seven-layer bar and I drank the biggest café latte I’ve ever seen!

 

DAY THREE: FRIDAY, AUGUST 18

We woke up Friday morning to the sweet sounds of rain hitting the windows and the soft sounds of car tires driving through the wet streets. While this may have dampened our spirits, we thought this might be a good opportunity to walk in the rain through the beautiful cobblestone streets of Old Montréal. Comme c’est romantique! We got dressed and ventured a couple blocks over to find a spot for breakfast. We found this very hip, cool place called Arts Café. The interior is very cozy and called to me at once. Its walls were filled with books and art, and the food was amazing!

After breakfast, we made our way over to Old Montréal. We parked in a garage and made our way to our first stop: the Notre-Dame Basilica. No words can truly express the beauty and magnificence of this church. Having been to Paris and seeing the Notre-Dame there, I was able to see the similarities and differences between the two. Both, however, were breathtaking. Ian and I paid to see the inside and spent some time taking in the Basilica. I was awe struck and felt at peace.

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After we visited the Notre-Dame, we walked around the streets of Old Montréal. It brought me back to those days in Paris—the cobblestone streets, shops, cafés and bistros, amazing architecture, and of course, crêpes!

 

We made our way down to the St. Lawrence River and took in the beautiful sights. We walked along the river and made our way to Place Jacques-Cartier, a square filled with even more restaurants and shops. Ian and I vistied the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. It is one of the oldest churches in Montreal, built in 1771 over the ruins of an earlier chapel. It is the resting place of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was the first teacher in the colony of Ville-Marie and the founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame. This was a special site for Ian, for St. Marguerite is the patron of his high school education.

Exploring Old Montréal reminded me so much of Europe; it was wonderful to spend some time away from the busy city and step back in time for a while. Ian commented how we don’t see streets like this back home. Maybe we haven’t explored enough of the United States, but there is a stunning beauty to the elaborate facades of each storefront. The old city lived up to its expectations and for any visitor to the area, it is an absolute must-see.

Thoughts from our balcony: Comfort Zones

The balcony of my Airbnb hovers over the busy streets of Mile-End in Outremont. As I sit on the landing that is covered with colorful wooden pots and flowers, I feel at peace and think about comfort zones and how often people push their boundaries—especially myself. I know this may sound silly, but to me, this trip and exact moment in time is me breaking out of my comfort zone.

While I write on our balcony, flurries of cars, motorbikes, and people pass underneath me playing music, laughing, and talking. Some are friendly and smile as they pass by. This morning, I woke up at 7 (that’s the time my body wakes up now…the joys of the internal clock!) after an interesting night of sleep. Oftentimes, I cannot sleep in new places, and this night was not any different. This feeling of the “unknown” along with being jazzed from the espresso I had at 10 p.m. the night before (oops) was flooding my system as I lied in bed thinking about all of the different ways we stepped out of our comfort zones that day.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this was Ian’s first time out of the country. I remember as we were driving towards the border, my husband’s attitude changed; he started acting apprehensive and quiet. I remember grabbing his hand, and instead of telling him it will be OK, I just talked about how exciting it was to travel to a new place! Honestly, I felt it too, but some reassurance and talking about our excitement helped. The apprehension faded until we arrived in Montréal and found the place where we’d be staying for the next few days. Don’t get me wrong—the place is darling. It’s exactly what the pictures looked like, and the host has been so helpful the entire process. It was just this: We’ve never done this before. Not only are all of the parking signs in French (good thing we know military time and the days of the week in French!), but we also do not know the area. We don’t know where the good restaurants are. We don’t know where are going. We felt very vulnerable. I kept telling myself that this was what made this trip exciting!

We unpacked and found our route using the map that our host left for us. Our apartment is nestled in a busy area filled with artists, musicians, and beautiful architecture. We enjoyed the walk to the hubbub of restaurants. It was here, however, where we began to pause. We were extremely nervous to approach the restaurants yet alone eat there. After looking at many and deciding that we would keep on going to the next one, I decided that we stop at a quaint, Parisian looking restaurant. When we sat down at a table, we noticed that the entire menu was in French. We had no idea what to order (another post to come on this particular topic!) and were embarrassed that we didn’t know the language that well. Our waitress, who spoke English, helped us immensely, but we couldn’t help but feel even more out of our comfort zone. But, Ian and I both tried new food and found ourselves loving the experience, excited for more to come.

On this journey, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite literary quotes. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo recollects something that Bilbo used to tell him about adventures:

“He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Yesterday, I learned that it is OK to break out of your comfort zone. It’s OK to try new things and take safe risks. If we don’t take risks, then we simply aren’t living. When we first arrived and that feeling of overwhelming, “I don’t know where I am” panic arose, we could have just found a hotel and relocated somewhere a little closer to the main part of the city. But we didn’t; we chose to just “be.” Break out of your comfort zones. Explore. Don’t be afraid.

In our apartment, our host has created beautiful masterpieces and paintings that she hangs around her home. They are awe-inspiring and motivational. One of my favorites is something that she sketched. It hangs on a wall right as you walk in the door. I plan to look at it every day while I am here, and remember it thereafter as a reminder to let go, just be, and take life as it comes.

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