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Emerging areas, plus great pies and donuts in Montreal

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MONTREAL – You’ve cruised Crescent St. You’ve paraded through the Plateau. And you’ve wandered the streets of Westmount.

Looking for something new in Montreal? Check out Griffintown, Little Burgundy and the burgeoning Saint-Henri neighbourhoods for some fun shops and tasty treats.

Our tour guide, the delightful Rene Lemieux, drove us through Griffintown, which feels a bit like the Distillery District with old warehouses and factories converted to condos and a forest of construction cranes building new condos and a new ALT Hotel, part of the lovely Le Germain group.

We also toured Little Burgundy, which used to be home to African-Canadians but is increasingly Anglo and hipster-ish. Saint-Henri is the latest neighbourhood to get the “upgrade,” if you will, with trendy new spots taking their place alongside old-time stalwarts.

On Rue Notre Dame in the Saint-Henri area we stopped at a wonderful spot called Rustique, where they make tremendous pies. We sampled three mini-pies or tarts; pear with cinnamon, pumpkin and maple. The crust was amazing on all of them and I’d have all three again in a heartbeat, but we particularly loved the maple. Rene said it was like the old-time sugar pies in Quebec, but slightly different. I thought they were a bit like butter tarts, so perhaps it’s the Francophone-Anglais ideal compromise!

IMG_6501We also checked out Leche Desserts, a high-end donut shop where the 29-year-old owner makes puffy donuts with chocolate icing and a slice of chocolate brownie on top and also interesting varieties such as lime and coconut or miso with sesame seeds. Very, very cool.

It was a nice day on Saturday and folks were jogging and biking and walking their dogs along the Lachine Canal, which has become a very cool spot to get some fresh air and admire the refurbished industrial architecture.

We wandered around Atwater Market for a while and had some good tortiere and admired the cheese and chocolate shops before walking the length of Notre Dame back to the hotel.IMG_6600

There’s a ton to see along the way. Arsenal is a very cool gallery that looks like an airplane hangar. One room was dedicated to colourful, modern bits and a black and white exhibit that featured a hanging, black light bulb. The next room featured an exhibit called “Wakhan, Another Afghanistan,” with haunting images and short movie clips. I was particularly moved by a jerky bit showing a small boy of maybe five years of age with a green “Mickey” sweatshirt and a toy (I think) rifle on his shoulder.

We strolled by antique shops selling everything from fine old furniture to polar bear rugs and stopped at beigehttp://www.beigestyle.com/en/montreal/, a fine and colourful shop on Notre Dame featuring cool tiles with piano keys, Parisian bits, flowers and other elements, as well as bath salts, sexy greeting cards and a home décor section with a bright pink bedspread.

We also stopped for great coffee lattes at the Griffintown Café, where you table water comes in a Bulleit Bourbon bottle and there’s ambience to spare.

IMG_6558-001Not an exhaustive investigation, but a good taste of some up and coming areas of a great, great city you might not be familiar with.

LE SAINT-SULPICE HOTEL

We’re staying at Le Saint-Sulpice in old Montreal, and it’s a great hotel. The rooms here are suites, which means you get considerably more room to spread out and have a living area where you can watch something on TV while your partner sleeps, or vice versa.

IMG_6441The décor is nice; a pretty, patterned, black and white carpet, dark wood and some modern but not too modern art on the walls. Our bathroom is quite large, with a tub that fills up in less than two minutes (I counted) and a nice shower and a cool glass sink.

We also have a mini-fridge, a gas fireplace, a nice, big TV and a Nespresso coffee maker. Hey, if it’s good enough for Penelope Cruz it’s good enough for me.

The lobby area is nice, the staff helpful and friendly, and the IMG_6441location is fantastic: a one-minute walk to Notre Dame and Place d’Armes and 30 steps from Rue St. Paul and its bars, cafes, restaurants, galleries and hip clothing shops. I’ve said before that it’s the best street in Canada, and I’ll say it again. A lot of tourists traipse up and down St. Paul over near Bon Secours Market and think it’s nothing but chain shops and stores selling Montreal Canadiens’ jerseys and poutine. But if you wander west past Saint-Sulpice it’s truly magical.

I’ll talk more about Old Montreal in a blog later this week.

VIA TRIP TO MONTREAL

We took the VIA train here from Toronto, leaving Friday around 5 p.m. There was great service from a warm, friendly VIA worker and I had a decent pork tenderloin in business class. We also got a glass of pretty good wine before and after dinner and a shot of brandy after our meal; a nice touch. It was fairly smooth, but we had to slow for freight traffic on the tracks ahead of us a couple times, and then there was a fire in Kingston near the tracks that delayed us an hour. That’s not VIA’s fault.

But I found it weird that after, say, 9 p.m. they don’t dim the lights. The Wi-Fi was good on board, but the tray tables are WAY too small to put your laptop on. The seats reclined nicely but having some of those bendable headrests at the top of the seat would help folks sleep. As would dimmer lighting.

Still, it beats the heck out of an airplane trip if you don’t mind a little extra time. At least on the train you can use that extra time wisely and get up and move around.

We’ll see how the trip home goes later today…

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