MONTREAL IN SUMMER means bountiful seasonal plantings — in tree pits, roadside strips, highway medians; lush baskets hanging from café awnings and balconies; flowers, grasses and vines everywhere. It also means a lively sidewalk café scene that far surpasses New York’s, and people making the most of the city’s parks, including the romantic Parc La Fontaine, above, jewel of the Plateau neighbohood.
Something to do with Montreal’s winter being long and harsh, so they revel in summer to the utmost?
Summer in Montreal also means tourists, especially in the Old City/Vieux-Port, below, where my friend Nancy and I ventured today. There really wasn’t much for us there, having little interest in visiting the cathedral, riding the ferris wheel or plunging into the shopping hordes along Rue Saint-Paul. After strolling along the waterfront promenade for a bit and admiring the high Victorian commercial architecture, we tucked into a bar with an outdoor terrace along a quiet side street and whiled away an hour looking at our phones, surrounded by baskets of flowers.
Earlier in the day, we had checked out Mile End, the hipster quarter, which seems like another great neighborhood to live in, with one-off coffee shops — I’ve only seen one Starbucks in Montreal — and numerous independent bookstores. Below, Cafe Olimpico, a Mile End fixture since 1970.
And then there are the BAGELS! I had to sample the bagels of which this city is so proud, from each of the arch-rivals, separated by a couple of blocks in Mile End: Fairmount Bagels and St. Viateur, both with long (but fast-moving) lines.
My vote goes to Fairmount, where I had an onion bagel so sweet and chewy it was practically cake. My rosemary bagel from St. Viateur was drier, not nearly as transcendental an experience. Sadly, neither location has sit-down facilities, just take-out, which leads to scenes like people putting cream cheese on their bagels with plastic knives while leaning on windowsills down the street.
My brief stay in Montreal is nearly over. Can’t complain about the weather, although we got hit with a couple of downpours, in between spells of intense sunshine and muggy warmth. One caught us as we headed to dinner at L’Express, a dead ringer for a Paris brasserie, with bread just as good and convivial groups at table. I had grilled dourade and a glass of chablis. Yes, most def a taste of Paris without the transatlantic trip.