I went for the culture. I went for the history.
I went for the skiing. I went seeking fine accommodations.
I went to meditate. All right, I really went to
see my cousin, Stanley, in Montreal.
Stanley is a professor at McGill, Canada's oldest
university. He's an American who, after several
decades living in Canada's only predominantly
French speaking city, has become a Francofile.
He was a fine host and together we toured his
city and travelled to Tremblant, a wonderful ski
resort, just 1 1/2 hours north of the city.
If you want to experience the history of Montreal
as well as its luxury, you might choose to stay
where I did - at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal (800-241-3333).
Although there are several grand hotels in Montreal,
the Ritz-Carlton is the oldest, the standard bearer
for service and luxury. It has 230 rooms, including
40 suites with fireplaces. Rates are about $425
Canadian (less than $300 U.S.).
The Ritz-Carlton, located in the heart of Montreal's
business district, opened in 1912, the very first
of the acclaimed Ritz-Carlton chain. After nearly
100 years of service, it has hosted innumerable
famous guests from rock stars, to movie stars,
to royalty. Queen Elizabeth, when visiting Montreal,
stayed in its Royal Suite. The rooms have modern
amenities but classical European design. There's
a gym on the second floor, a business center on
the first, and high speed internet in every room.
A special guest manager is available to try to
fulfill any extraordinary request. There's even
a "techno-butler" available to help
businessmen overcome any technological adversity.
Its formal dining venue, the Café Paris, serves,
of course, French cuisine. Just as Montreal is
a union of English and French cultures, the Ritz
is a union of classic French dining and romantic
style and meticulous British attention to service.
Montreal is a charming walking city with modern
skyscrapers sitting beside wonderful 18th and
19th century European buildings. Just a walk around
the block from the Ritz, you'll find an eclectic
mix of restaurants and bars from the Irish pub
Cladeagh, to the French restaurant Les Halles,
to the American Hard Rock Cafe. Montreal is a
little bit American, a little bit British, a little
By the harbor is the old city, Vieux-Montreal.
Here you'll find one of the most beautiful churches
in North America, the Basilique Notre Dame. The
historical area has been revitalized into a collection
of fashionable boutiques and fine restaurants
amid the usual collection of tourist curio stores.
If you're interested in history, visit the Museum
Point-a-Calliere by the wharf which has an introductory
movie to acquaint you with Montreal's history.
Stanley took me on a ride down St. Laurent Street,
which natives call "The Main." The street
was once the main boulevard bisecting Montreal.
Today it is a diverse thoroughfare with a polyglot
collection of stores and restaurants - Chinese,
Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Eastern European,
and Jewish. He tried to kill me with a cholesterol
binge at Schwartz's Deli where crowds gather and
order plates heaped with "smoked meats."
Montreal has a marvellous metro that makes traversing
the city easy. And they built an underground city
with shops, restaurants, hotels, and theatres.
Here, in the cold of winter, it is possible to
enjoy Montreal and never step above ground.
For shopping, walk Sherbrooke and St. Catherine
Streets. The American dollar goes a long way in
Montreal with more than 1 1/2 Canadian dollars
exchanged for each American. But they take the
gloss off the bargain with their 15 percent tax
rate. For night life cruise St. Denis, Crescent
Street, and the Main.
As for culture, the city is rife with festivals.
The Montreal Jazz Festival, the largest in North
American, is held the last week in June. After
that, there's a music festival, a humor festival,
an international film festival, and an art and
Tired of the city, consider a trek north to the
Laurentians, a land of mountains, forests, and
lakes. Enroute to the ski resort of Tremblant,
you'll pass a multitude of quaint villages and
smaller ski resorts, each with its own breathtaking
scenery. Tremblant has been rated the #1 ski resort
on the East Coast by Ski Magazine. Its 13 lifts
and 92 trails are scattered along four mountain
faces. Owned by Intrawest, the same corporation
that owns and operates California's Mammoth Mountain,
it is a newly developed resort with a quaint alpine
style central village with boutiques, restaurants,
and slopeside hotels.
There was one more stop in my sojourn to Montreal.
Having been awash in life's luxuries and pleasures,
I decided to seek out a decidedly different experience.
Just half an hour northwest of Montreal is the
Trappist Monastery of Oka (514-479-8361). The
abbey, founded in 1881, is set in the solitude
of a wooded countryside. While the monks live
and work here, they provide a few rooms for guests
seeking a meditative retreat.
The Trappists are said to have taken a vow of
silence. But silence does not mean they are mute.
They will certainly talk and have infinite patience
in responding the queries of their visitors. Their
silence rather means moderation in speaking. In
silence they reason they can avoid sin and better
listen to god. These men have forfeit friends,
family, and careers to enter the monastery. They
have given up everything they own and cut all
ties to people they cared for to subject themselves
to isolation for life. So, entering their domain,
even for a day, is a voyage to a strange world.
Guest rooms are comfortable but austere. Every
door is hinged to close silently. There is no
smoking, no use of radios or cassette players,
no television of course, and you are admonished
not to bother others by chatting. Dining is buffet
style and all eat in silence. Only the tinkle
of tableware mares the quiet of meals. Here, there
is nothing to explore except one's inner mind.
For the monks, eating, sleeping, and working,
all revolve around choir. They meet seven times
a day, for 3 1/2 hours daily, to chant liturgy.
Only their angelic chanting echoing in the high
ceilinged cathedral disturbs the quiet.
And so I found in Montreal all that I sought -
from the sybaritic delights of the Ritz-Carlton
hotel and Tremblant ski resort to the solitude
of Oka, perhaps the "ultimate spa for mental