This time 2 weeks ago, Adam and I were traipsing through a Canadian winter wonderland, popping into cute cafes for coffee and hot chocolate (and okay a few cocktails.. basically anything to keep us warm) along the way. The city of Montreal has long since been on our travel ‘wanderlist’ both for its proximity to New York and all the rave reviews we’ve heard from friends. So when Adam got news that he was being sent for a couple of days on business – I jumped at the chance to tag along. Couple that with the fact that it was Valentine’s Day and under a fresh blanket of snow and the beautifully European-feeling city had us under it’s spell.
When we looked at ways to travel from NYC up to Quebec there were a variety of options (driving, bus, plane..) but I can’t say enough how happy I was to have chosen the train on the way there. Although the Amtrak trip will take you most of the day – you can sit back in spacious side by side seats (equipped with free wifi) as you enjoy scenic views of the Hudson River, upstate New York and Lake Champlain. While the ride was honestly gorgeous in Winter, I can only imagine how good it would be in full foliage Fall. I seriously can’t recommend it enough. 2 insider tips? Eat breakfast before you get on the train and pack a lunch. I’m not a fan of the pre-packaged sandwiches and snacks you find on trains, so a healthy breakfast beforehand and the gourmet deli sandwiches we packed picnic style in a small insulated cooler bag meant we spent $0 on the train and really added to the overall experience. And my second tip – fly back to save yourself travel time.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Now – we’re there. The upside – February is definitely not tourist season, so we really felt like we had the city to ourselves with just friendly locals to act as our guides (they’re not kidding when they say Canadians are nice – everyone went out of their way to offer kind and helpful tips throughout our stay). The downside – freezing cold and so much snow. Without shoveled sidewalks or plowed roads we truly ice skated our way through most of the city. That said, there is something pretty magical about being inside of a living snow globe. Pack warm and waterproof if you choose to go at this time of year with comfortable and sturdy boots.
PLACES TO GO
Despite the weather conditions we did our best to see the outdoor sights – the scenic lookout point atop Mont Royal(the city’s namesake mountain), the Notre-Dame Basilica and Rue Saint-Paul in Old Montreal (you guessed it – the most historic and oldest area of the city), and window shopping along Boulevard Saint Laurent in the trendy Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal borough. And when we were in need of warming up – the Underground City – a huge series of connected shopping centers, commercial buildings and hotels that sits below downtown offers every shop you can imagine and even an ice skating rink!
THINGS TO DO
While we didn’t have time to partake in any winter sports, Montreal offers a plethora and if we go back in the Winter ice skating, skiing (for me)/snowboarding (for Adam), and trying snowshoeing are all on our list! And after all of that? You eat. We barely scratched the surface of Montreal’s foodie scene but if I had to recommend just a few places: Melk for coffee and pastries convenient to downtown, C’Chocolat for a decadent hot chocolate or crepe stop and Dominion Square Taverne for pre-dinner drinks. And if you only make one dinner reservation? Le Bremner. Aside from the fact that everything we tried on the inventive, seafood heavy menu was delicious and the cocktails were perfectly crafted – it’s the people and the space that really took our experience over the top. It’s a true hidden gem that was recommended by locals and sits tucked away in a basement entrance filled with cozy, wine bottle-lined booths – and once you’re in there you immediately feel at home. Like taking shots with the wait staff at the end of the night kind of home. It’s a must visit.
I think the same could be said of Montreal in general. We’ll be back… perhaps in warmer months.
Whether your New Year’s resolution was to travel more or you’re just hoping to get ahead of the game – January is always my favorite time to start to dream about and ultimately begin to plan travel for the coming months. Since I follow a pretty specific game plan when it comes to making my far-flung fantasies a reality, I thought it might be helpful to share.
Step One: I like to begin here – on my Pinterest board of bucket list destinations near and far. I try to start to pick out a few that seem fairly doable (based on distance, expense, etc.) and one or two ‘reach’ destinations (that will require more savings, travel and time off work). I call these top picks my “wander-list” for the year.
Step Two: Next I look to my calendar and hone in on any locked in dates (this could be a friend’s upcoming wedding or a business trip) and also any locked out dates (a month that will be particularly busy at the office for instance).
Step Three: Begin to make matches between your “wander-list” and your calendar. I always do this with Google Maps open. Is that wedding only a short driving distance from a new city you’ve been meaning to check out? If you’re taking a long international flight, is there a day trip you could make while you’re there? This is also a good time to think strategically about scoring off-season prices or overlapping your trip with major local events (like Jazz Fest in New Orleans or Oktoberfest in Amsterdam). Weather is also a huge factor here.. think New York in the Fall or Paris in the Spring. I always take the time to research things like average rainfall for my destination during the month I’m looking to visit. While rainy days don’t necessarily equal a bad trip, I like to know what I’m getting into ahead of time.
Step Four: Once I’ve made matches and decided on destinations, I use Google Docs to make a to-do list and Google Calendar to create a coordinating time frame. The Google Doc makes it easy to add names of accommodations and additional details such as transportation or activity reservations as I make them (and share them with your travel buddies). And the Calendar is helpful for setting reminders on when to actually pull the trigger and book. Is it an international flight? I’ve found between 3-4 months out to be the sweet spot for finding the best deals while I allow no less than 1 month for domestic flights. Plus, if I know I’ve got 6 more months to save before I need to book a flight it makes it so much easier for me to make a realistic plan for doing so.
Step Five: Book away. I like to use Google Flights for initial searches and then usually hop over to Expedia to compare actual flights/book. As far as accommodations, I’m a huge fan of AirBnB for access to a more ‘local’ vibe and you usually get more space for your buck. Plus things like a kitchen or washer/dryer (if you’re going to be gone for more than a week or are traveling with little ones) can really come make all the difference. However if a luxe resort at a tropical locale or a hip little boutique hotel downtown are the style you’re shooting for – I love searching Tablet for ideas first and then comparing prices and reading additional reviews at Trip Advisor.
I originally had this post planned for earlier in the week, but in light of the recent tragedy in Paris – talking about how great my own international travels had been just seemed insensitive. But I thought twice about it since then and realized that now is exactly the time to see the beauty of travel and the good in the world around us. So without further preface, my complete guide to Amsterdam. (more…)
By the time we reached Amsterdam in our travels (catch up on the rest with my guides to Copenhagen and Prague), I had exhausted most of what was in my suitcase. So I reached for the classics. These black, distressed skinny jeans were worn constantly, both for flights and long days of walking around and this navy coat is so good it made the spot as my only coat for the trip (with heavyweight items I try to pick an option that can be dressed up or down and matches with everything – this one covers all those bases).
The second leg of our European trip took us to Prague – a city that was booked almost entirely on the fact that several friends and acquantainces over the years have mentioned that there was something very special about the city that is hard to describe without actually visiting. Now here I am, finding myself – having now visited – trying to put the magic of Prague into words (aside from saying ‘just go’). (more…)