Thursday, August 25, 2011

International Road Trip Part 2

I'll start the story of our recent International Road Trip with our first stop:  Montreal.  Montreal is a major city in the province of Quebec and it's located about 8.5 hours north of our home in Delaware.  We left home around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and arrived at our hotel around 3:30 p.m.  The road trip was pretty uneventful (New Jersey... New York...), except for the border crossing into Canada.  The border patrol had never seen our particular variety of Delaware license plate (I don't think Canadians get to choose their plates) and we had an interesting conversation at the border.  Otherwise, all went well.

Recommendation:  If you are driving your car over an international border, make sure you have your permanent and current registration and tags on your car.  

As soon as we crossed the border we saw some hilarious signs reminding us that 100 kilometers per hour does not equal 100 miles per hour.  Just in case we didn't pay attention in school!  Actually, we did have to make a conscious effort to use the kilometer section of a speedometer in the car... we just opted to cruise comfortably below the speed limit.

As far as money, we carried major credit/debit cards (I prefer American Express, but it's not accepted everywhere, so have a Visa and/or Mastercard on hand).  We also exchanged about $100 for Canadian cash...

Canadians have $2 coins.  We couldn't get used to handing a bartender or server a coin as a tip... different!  We also noticed that servers bring the credit card machine to your table when you use a card to pay your tab at a restaurant.

A friend recommended that we stay at Hotel de Paris.  Our "Executive" room was $125 per night, plus tax, which is a good rate for Montreal.  My friend described the hotel as European-style and I agree.  The rooms are a modest size (similar to a master bedroom in a private home) and the hotel is really a large house.  Think of it as a series of suites with private bathrooms.  We had a window air conditioning unit (it really wasn't hot, so that was fine).  Our room had a semi-private balcony.  It was functional and for less than $400 for the duration of our stay, I can't complain.

Hotel Positives

  • Location - within walking distance of the Latin Quarter area (lots of restaurants) and the Metro station
  • Continental breakfast included
  • Updated bathrooms
  • Friendly staff

Hotel Negatives

  • On-street parking-street signs in French, difficult to understand parking rules (we found out at the end of our stay that there was limited garage parking for $15/night)
  • No elevators (but the building only has three floors)

We started each day with the complimentary continental breakfast:

The coffee was good, the muffins were great.  It was enough to get us started each day.

And now, the fun part... speaking French!

Although most Canadians speak English, Quebec is a French-speaking province, so French is the first language.  I've been to other provinces in Canada, but this was my first trip to Quebec.  I knew that French was the dominant language, but I was still surprised that everything really was in French.  I'm such an American, I know.

I speak Spanish, but I've had little exposure to the French language, so this was quite the adventure.  Fortunately my husband took four years of French in high school and he downloaded an iPhone app with common French phrases.  We were in business!

I recommend that you at least try to speak French when you meet people in Quebec.  For me my "trying" was limited to simply saying "bonjour!" and smiling.  Many people heard our accent (even when E did speak French) and would switch over to English.  All signage and most restaurant menus were in French.  Believe it or not, I figured it out most of the time.  Maybe it's because French and Spanish are both romance languages, but I did not feel overwhelmed by the language difference at all.  We encountered some people who did not speak English (well), but we worked it out.  Sometimes we'd attempt to order food in French and they would send over an English-speaking cashier to finish taking our order.  It worked.  For the most part, people were happy to see us and willing to help us understand.  If anything, this experience motivated me to learn more French.

We took the Metro everywhere.  If you go to Montreal, just do yourself a favor and buy a train pass.  E took a photo of the subway map with his iPhone so we'd a way to discretely reference the train map.  It worked like a charm!  It was really easy to get around using the train.

If we weren't riding the train, we were walking.  We must have walked five miles per day.  Make sure you pack comfortable shoes!  We didn't mind walking at all, especially since it was a comfortable 70 degrees (Fahrenheit).  Speaking of temperatures, Canadians are like (most of) the rest of the world and they measure temperature in Celsius.

My first impressions?  I can't believe we're only a one-day drive from home!  People here really do speak French!  The city has a European flavor.  Oh, and where can I get some poutine?

What is poutine?  That will have to wait for my next post!


  1. Sounds like a very nice trip! I can't wait to hear about some of the things you guys did. Poutine doesn't sound like something we should be talking about. LOL!!! I need to get it together. LOL!

  2. I loved Montreal! It felt like a complete different world only a few hours from home. The train system is beautiful - funny way to describe public transportation, but it's true! So clean and pristine. The city was also immaculate! So clean and beautiful. I would love to visit again. Last time we went in the dead of winter and still loved it. I can only imagine it being 100x more enjoyable in the summer :)

  3. I can't wait till I go on vacation in September. We are traveling to Canada....hooray!

  4. I've been wanting to go to Montreal for a while, and now I definitely want to go. You and I totally have the right attitude about the french language barrier: bonjour and a smile. It got me through 3 days in paris with not one negative experience. And so does a a can-do attitude about the metro system. This city looks beautiful, and I can't wait to hear about the poutine.


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