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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

A Sojourn to Montreal: From the delights of the city, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and Tremblant Ski Resort to the Solitude of a Trappist Monastery

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 more French.
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 cuisine festival.
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 health."