Having visited Western Canada and the magnificent Rockies several years ago, Eastern Canada had been on the cards for some time. With the advent of a World Traveller Plus (premium economy) sale and some judicious use of Avios to upgrade to Club World (business class), a visit to Canada’s Atlantic coast came off the cards and into reality.
Whilst researching transport options between the two cities we wanted to visit, Toronto and Montreal, I came across a Porter Airlines trip report and started investigating this little-known carrier a bit more. I liked their concept of a premium service for an economy price, and coupled with a decent sale, booked a one way flight from the carrier’s home base of Toronto to Montreal.
For this trip, we would be staying three nights each at the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville and at the InterContinental Montreal, and planned to do our usual thing of walking more than anything else, to soak up the atmosphere of each city and try and avoid anything too touristy.
BA First, LHR-YYZ
We arrived at Heathrow around 4 hours before departure, parking in the Long Stay car park for T5. The free transit bus took under 10 minutes to whisk us to the terminal, and before long we were checking in in the calm of the First check-in area (thanks to my Gold status). There was no queue for any of the several manned desks, and we were promptly checked in with bags priority tagged. The agent asked me whether we needed an ESTA (US visa waiver), causing me a momentary panic before I re-connected Toronto with Canada…
Fast Track security was a prompt affair, and a few minutes later we were ensconced in the Galleries First lounge (again, thanks to my Gold status).
We headed initially for the Refectory area, opting to order from the menu rather than choose something from the tempting buffet. We both opted for the Meze Plate to start, followed by the gnocchi (although without the Parmesan, as I loathe the taste).
Retiring to the main lounge area, I chose the summer pudding (with clotted cream and raspberry coulis) for dessert, followed a short while later by one of the delicious chocolate mousses from the buffet. I couldn’t fault any of the lounge catering on quality, and as usual this visit reinforced my opinion that BA’s lounge catering is pretty solid. Below is the post-12:00 menu for Galleries First for May 2012.
Courgette and Crème Fraiche Soup with Crusty Bread
Feta Cheese, Marinate Artichoke, Sweet Pepper and Aubergine Salad, Secretts Farm Leaves
Hoisin Duck, Shredded Vegetables, Sesame and Nigella Panini
Meze Plate – Humus, Baba Ganoush and Guacamole with Spiced Tortilla and Raw Vegetables
Caesar Salad made with Baby Gem Lettuce, Herb Croutons, Anchovies and Ceasar Dressing with a choice of Hot Smoked Salmon or Smoked Chicken
BA Gourmet Beef Burger, Croxton Manor Cheddar, Potato Wedges, Garden Salad
Gnocchi with Peas, Pesto, Shaved Parmesan and Rocket
Vanilla Cheesecake, Marinated Cherries
Seasonal Fruit Salad with Berries
Summer Pudding, Clotted Cream, Raspberry Coulis
Selection of Cheese from The British Isles – Keens Cheddar, Tunworth, Innes Log, St James, Served with Fig, Quince and Apple Chutney
Whilst BA’s Galleries lounges at T5 are decorated to my taste, they are starting to show their age a little, having not had any significant work done to them since opening 4 years ago. It’s disappointing to see things like the projectors in the First lounge still not working, parts of the chillers falling off, and various lights out of action. The dripping air conditioning near the Work & Entertainment Zone did nothing to improve the image.
Shortly after a glass of the very agreeable Bollinger Rosé from the Champagne Bar, our names were paged over the PA system and we were asked to go to the customer service desk within the lounge. My heart skipped a beat as I thought we may have been lucky enough to have been upgraded, and as it turned out we had! The charming lady behind the desk recognized that we had chosen good seats next to each other on the upper deck (62AB), and had wondered whether we would like to swap those for 4K and 5K in First. Well of course, that didn’t even need thinking about! My very first operational upgrade!
Thanking the lady profusely, we nipped across to the Concorde Room for nothing more exciting, alas, than to use the washroom. This brief visit was mandated by boarding time rapidly approaching, and as such we were soon on the transit to T5B. It would’ve been nice to have had slightly longer in the CCR, but having spent a good 7 hours there last spring, I didn’t feel too disappointed (especially not having just been upgraded to First!).
A quick stop at the Galleries Club lounge in T5B, and boarding was showing as commencing on the screens. It is worth noting at this point that the T5B lounge is significantly quieter than either of the Club lounges in T5A (and even quieter than Galleries First, which on this visit had been fairly busy, as had the CCR). I had a quick look at the buffet out of interest, and was disappointed to see it half empty and rather grubby, as if it hadn’t been attended to for at least an hour. A big contrast to the First lounge’s Refectory area that is nearly always, in my experience, kept well tended.
Boarding at Gate B38 was a bit of a shambles, as despite a pre-boarding announcement for First and Club World passengers and Golds/Silvers only, there was a bit of a rugby scrum and the usual panic from the masses that they would miss their flight. I do also think that BA should pre-board First passengers before all others, and only commence other boarding once all F pax at the gate have passed through ticket presentation and passport check.
LHR [London Heathrow] (T5) – YYZ [Toronto Pearson] (T3)
B747-436, G-BNLK (1990)
4K, 5K (First)
Boarding was through Door 2L, with no dual airbridges at this gate. After a few minutes’ waiting behind a gaggle of families, we made it to the aircraft door and were welcomed onboard and escorted to our seats through the mini Club World cabin and into the sanctuary of the 747’s nose. As this was a 70J configuration, this aircraft was fitted with BA’s new First cabin, the same as I had flown to Hong Kong in last spring.
On the seat was a cushion, with noise-reducing headphones, slippers and a blanket on the ottoman. Shortly after sitting down, a cabin crew member offered me a washbag and sleeper suit (pajamas). These were not delivered from the silver tray as they are supposed to be, but by hand. I’m not a fan of the current Anya Hindmarch washbag provided in First, but the REN and Dr Harris amenities within are good quality and do the trick of keeping one refreshed during a long flight.
Pre-departure beverage orders were taken, and I opted for a fresh orange juice. We had quite a lengthy (hour long) delay on the ground as baggage had to be offloaded, and during this time the safety video was played and the CSD introduced himself by name to everybody in the First cabin and kept us informed of the delay.
We departed on Runway 09R and were treated to a rolling takeoff from taxi.
Shortly after takeoff, hot towels were distributed and drinks orders taken, delivered with a ramekin of warmed mixed nuts. At this time, menus and wine lists were also handed out, and meal orders taken in status order, with passengers being addressed by name. As we had been upgraded, we were asked last of the 12 other passengers in the cabin, which I have no problem with. This did mean that my travelling companion didn’t receive her choice of the grilled chicken.
Below is the lunch menu for First cabins to much of North America for May 2012.
Seared Scottish king scallop with broad bean puree and crispy porchetta
Grilled artichoke, Laverstroke Park Farm mozzarella and baby courgette salad
Pea soup with mint crème fraiche
Fresh spring salad with your choice of French dressing with golden rapeseed oil or cherry and elderflower dressing
Roasted Herefordshire beef fillet with British purple asparagus, baby carrots and dauphinoise potatoes
Loch Fyne Scottish salmon, linguine with chive cream sauce and crispy soft shell crab
Poached and grilled free-range chicken with vegetable nage and Ratte potatoes
Deep-fried tofu with pesto and Asian-style noodle salad
Chicken à la king
Wagyu beef burger with Monterey Jack cheese, gherkin and onion
A selection of biscuits
A selection of cheese and fruit
Toffee and chocolate parfait with toffee hazelnut sauce
Warm pineapple upside down pudding with hazelnut brittle and vanilla ice cream
Ice cream sundae custom made to your preference of ice cream, sauces and toppings
Cropwell Bishop Shropshire Blue
Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar
And here is the wine list, which also featured a range of spirits, digestifs and liqueurs, along with soft drinks of course.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, Champagne, France
Mersault Les Clous 2008, Bouchard Père et Fils, Burgandy, France
Sancerre Cuvée Prestige 2010, Domaine de la Chézatte, Loire Valley, France
Pacific Rim Wallula Vineyard Riesling 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
Château Camensac 2005, 5eme Grand Cru Classé, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France
Freestone Pinot Noir 2008, Sonoma Coast, California, USA
Saint-Joseph Amphore d’Argent 2009, Northern Rhône, France
Château de la Chartreuse 2005, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Warre’s 1992 Colheita Tawny Port
For some reason we did not receive the amuse bouche (not listed on the menu but offered to other passengers in the full cabin). I had wondered whether this was because we were upgraded, but First should be fully catered for 14 passengers. Furthermore, the table setting did not include the signature red water glass, nor were serviettes placed on passengers’ laps, as service standard dictates. This set the tone of the crew really, as they were most certainly not the most professional or dedicated crew I’ve encountered. They did (almost) everything that was required of them, but not in a polished way at all. There was nothing ‘first class’ about the service.
The pea soup was divine, and whilst the Herefordshire beef was a little too rare for my liking (and way too rare for my travelling companion’s liking), the dish was nicely presented and of good quality. My pineapple pudding dessert was exquisite, and I am reliably informed that the toffee parfait was equally delicious. The quality of this catering was significantly improved over my last two First flights in 2011.
After dinner I changed into PJs in the washroom (I do love the washroom with the window on the 747!) and my bed was offered to be made and trousers hung in the galley (as my personal wardrobe was fully occupied).
When in fully flat, made-up bed mode, the new First seat is very comfortable indeed. However, I do miss the option to have a leg rest when in the seated position.
I didn’t really sleep at all on this day flight, rather just relaxed whilst watching the new Mission Impossible movie (enjoyable, if a little generic), and the hilarious Tower Heist (a comedic take on the original Die Hard), both enjoyed along with the fresh fruit selection.
It’s great to be able to split-screen the AVOD in new First and view the moving map at the same time as a movie. However, it is disappointing that the HD screen cannot be taken advantage of by the ageing Rockwell Collins IFE system.
The crew’s lack of attention to detail noticed when I visited the washroom and my bed was not re-made. Additionally, once I had changed into my normal clothes towards the end of the flight, the crew did not proactively offer to remove the bedding, and only did so on request.
Before long, afternoon tea (inspired by The Dorchester hotel) was being offered. Here is the menu.
An individual selection of sandwiches featuring smoked salmon, roasted chicken with mustard mayonnaise, prawns with lime mayonnaise and dill and aubergine caviar with red pepper confit
Plain or fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves
Hazelnut financier, strawberry tart and praline mille-feuille
Twinings Teas – English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Mint Humbug, Honeycomb Camomile, Red Berry Fool and Jasmine Pearls
Coffee – Freshly roasted and ground, decaffeinated, espresso or cappuccino
I originally opted for the ice cream sundae from the lunch menu, but alas the ice cream was more cream than ice at this late stage in the flight, and so I instead went with the scones and a pot of breakfast tea, and very pleased I was too. The cake selection met with approval from my travelling companion.
We didn’t make much time up on route, and landed in Toronto around an hour behind schedule, not that I was particularly fussed. It was a beautiful evening in Toronto, and I was looking forward to the following days and exploring the city.
We parked at the gate next to a recently-arrived Cathay Pacific 77W from HKG. Unlike the Cathay aircraft, we didn’t have a second airbridge attached to us (despite being available), and even worse the crew made no attempt to hold back the Club World passengers from the upper deck or rear main deck cabin at Door 2L. This is something so basic that it’s just really annoying not to see being done, particularly on 4 class aircraft.
Baggage delivery was prompt once the belt started moving, and soon we were in a taxi on our way to the InterContinental Toronto Yorkville.
It was so nice to be upgraded, but disappointing to see several service standards fall by the way onboard. Given the choice, I would not select Rows 4 or 5, as I feel they are too close to the central pairs, despite the ‘wing’ around the head area of the new First seat. Rows 2-3 offer a much more private experience.
For a detailed review of the British Airways Concorde Room at LHR T5 and more pictures of the new BA First cabin, you may like to read my HKG trip report from 2011: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...sh-airways-first-class-w-pics.html
InterContinental Toronto Yorkville
This is one of two ICs in Toronto, the other being more business-orientated and located near to the main station.
Yorkville is a lovely area to the north of downtown, but with good transport links to further south on the metro and by taxi (although the latter is not particularly cheap). The area is home to several museums and is bordered by the university district (think leafy, with varied architecture). Yorkville is also the premium shopping area of Toronto, including the flagship Holt Renfrew department store (a nicer version of Selfridges for my UK readers).
Our taxi pulled up outside the hotel and a bellboy immediately took our luggage and directed us inside to the reception, at which there was no queue. We were promptly checked in and given directions to our room on the 6th floor, with a courtyard view (not particularly exciting, but not a brick wall either).
The hotel has a fairly classical styling, but with a modern twist. The rooms have recently been refurbished, and ours was quite large for a standard room, with ample space between the entrance and the beds, enough room for sitting at the desk between the two double beds or at the table in the comfy armchair.
The bathroom was slightly older than the room itself, but again, very spacious, with a separate low bathtub and fairly small walk-in shower. Amenities were by Ginseng and Macadamia.
The Ambassador welcome fruit was waiting in the room on arrival, although I had to request for the complimentary mineral water (and on subsequent days too). A nice Ambassador perk at this hotel was the option to have 48hrs complimentary internet in lieu of the complimentary movie. There was reasonably fast wifi in the room and throughout the hotel.
One thing I did find disappointing was the lack of tea in the room – there were only coffee capsules for the machine. My only other gripe about the room was the noisy air conditioning, but it was very efficient such that it wasn’t needed much.
Service in the hotel was very good, particularly at breakfast. We breakfasted each day in the hotel’s only restaurant. There were several different options available, and all were excellent quality, presented well and delivered with exacting attention, particularly by the weekend team. Swapping items on the menu between the different options also wasn’t a problem.
The hotel has a small lap pool on the roof adjacent to the sun terrace and gym, which I found perfectly adequate for my use, particularly as there was nobody in the pool when I used it! The changing rooms were well stocked with amenities.
We sampled in room dining on one night, which was promptly delivered. Our butter chicken was well presented and excellent quality, with no fatty meat as you may expect sometimes in a curry.
Check-out was a thoroughly professional affair, with a thank-you for my Ambassador loyalty.
In summary, this is a very good hotel in keeping with the well-respected InterContinental brand. There is little the hotel could do to improve upon its current position, and I would be happy to stay here again if back in the city.
Our first day in Toronto was spent wandering from the hotel in Yorkville all the way south through downtown, past the CN Tower to the harbour front. From there, we took the fairly cheap ferry across to the Toronto Islands. From Centre Island, we walked around to the community of Algonquin, which was fascinating to see. A whole island community, it is well worth exploring beyond the more touristy Centre Island, and walking along Lake Ontario’s shoreline to discover this peaceful hideaway. There were fantastic views of the city skyline and departing aircraft from the island airport.
That evening we dined at Sotto Sotto, a little Italian restaurant recommended to us by our hotel concierge. This was a charming place, packed to the brim with mainly locals, and bursting with atmosphere. The restaurant is located in the basement of its building in Yorkville, but this only added to the charm. Service was prompt and understated, and the menu simple but exquisite. We both had the lasagne, one of the special dishes that evening. This was just what one looks for in an Italian – authentic to the last degree. It was interesting to see the photos lining the entrance wall of the many famous faces that have eaten here historically. Whilst not cheap (around £100 for two), this restaurant comes highly recommended.
Our second day in the city saw us exploring downtown further, walking through the university district, through Chinatown, Kensington Market, to the heritage distillery district. It was fascinating to see how quickly the different areas through the city changed. One moment you could be walking along a typically ‘American’ street, wide and open, and the next walking through a little bit of Hong Kong. Kensington Market was very quirky, a mix of hippy shops and grocery stalls, that somehow came together to create an eclectic vibe. I enjoyed wandering around the leafy university district and appreciating the architectural differences between new and old. The distillery district was a little too touristy for my liking, and whilst interesting from an architectural standing, I wouldn’t rush to visit again.
On our third half-day in the city, prior to leaving for the island airport, we walked around Yorkville and visited the Church St (gay and lesbian) area. This made a great contrast from Yorkville just a few streets away – the area really did have a community feel unmatched by a lot of the rest of the city that we visited.
This is just a small collection of the hundreds of photos I took in the city. We had a great time in Toronto – it felt similar in many ways to New York, and yet vastly different in others – cleaner, friendlier, more water, more greenery, and yet with that typically North American vibe. And of course, fire hydrants and school buses. Gotta love them. I look forward to the opportunity to return to this city and explore some of the outlying districts.
Porter Airlines YTZ-YUL
Porter is a fairly small carrier operating out of its home base at Toronto Billy Bishop airport (the ‘island’ airport) to destinations throughout Eastern Canada and Eastern US. It is quite unique, not least due to its spectacular home airport, but also due to its focus on premium service, despite being a one-class carrier.
We took a taxi to the airport ferry terminal, which is really just a small building from which a ferry shuttles passengers and crew back and forth to the airport, only about 50 metres away across the water. The ferry crossing took all of a minute, and whilst there was a bit of a queue to board the ferry initially, it wasn’t too bad. The convenience of this airport compared to Pearson more than makes up for the minor inconvenience of the ferry crossing, and the view of the city from the ferry is certainly different.
We emerged from the airport-side ferry terminal into the check-in hall, which was spacious and well signed, with separate areas for US and Canadian destinations, and a couple of desks for Air Canada, the airport’s only other commercial carrier. There were a couple of people checking in before us, but it wasn’t long before we were also being checked in by the rather miserable agent. No attempt was made to give directions to security or ask whether we had used the terminal before.
Security was a no-queue affair, and once down the escalator we were within the spacious departure lounge. The lounge features a business centre with iMac computers, a refreshment area with complimentary soft drinks, tea, coffee, nuts and biscuits, and a small shop from where sandwiches and salads can be purchased. The rest of the lounge has two distinct seating areas – one less private, with armchairs, and a larger area with privacy screens around groups of four chairs. As this lounge is essentially an economy class waiting area, it’s pretty good, but comparing to a business class lounge it doesn’t stand up well. The lounge was pretty crowded, but there was a reasonable view of the several domestic gates on tarmac level.
We took a seat in the more private seating area, and caught up on emails etc. thanks to the free wifi. Before long boarding was announced, and we made our way through Door A to board at Gate 4. Initially, Door A wouldn’t open, and we had to wait a couple of minutes before an agent realised and came and released it.
YTZ [Toronto Billy Bishop] – YUL [Montreal Trudeau]
Dash 8-Q400, C-GLQZ (2010)
Our carry-on bags were offered to be checked at the gate, but we declined as the flight looked pretty empty. Indeed, there were only around 14 passengers on the 70 seat aircraft, such that it felt very much like a (noisy) private jet! We were welcomed onboard and took our pre-selected (for a CAD10 fee each) seats on the right hand side of the aircraft (3C, 3D). After checking with the cabin crew member, who subsequently checked with the pilot to confirm takeoff runway and weight balance, we moved to the left hand side for the view of the city as we took off.
A manual safety demonstration was carried out, before our captain informed us of our route and pushback commenced. We took off with a truly fabulous view of the city, although unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos due to the crew member seated in the jump seat a few seats in front of us and nobody in the surrounding seats to block the view.
This was my first time on a propeller aircraft, believe it or not, and I did find it fairly noisy, although the whole experience was very novel. The takeoff in particular was rather brisk and deafening at the same time. The washroom was absolutely tiny, uncomfortably so.
The seats Porter have fitted within their Dash aircraft are upholstered in cream leather, and have an ‘executive’ look and feel about them. They are pretty comfortable for sitting in for a few hours, featuring a 34” pitch, so similar to BA Club Europe (BA’s European business class). The 2-2 seating throughout the aircraft adds to the private feel, and the large-ish windows make for easy viewing.
Shortly after takeoff, the two crew members hand delivered the meal box, which featured a ham sandwich, a couple of cookies and a chocolate, along with a bottle of water. A drinks run was done via trolley, with orange juice provided in a real glass. Beer and wine was also available (complimentary). The catering was very fresh and tasty, and really far exceeded my expectations for a flight that only lasted just over an hour. Comparing to a similar flight length on BA in Euro Traveller (European economy class), when one would receive a drink in a plastic glass and some nuts or a biscuit, Porter really does seem superior.
We landed slightly early into Montreal, and glided down the runway until touchdown around halfway down, which meant some very harsh breaking was required. I guess this was to reach the terminal-end of the runway quicker, but it did slightly unnerve me when I saw the piano keys for the opposite end of the runway to which we had landed and were still travelling around 50mph.
I found it amusing that our little Dash 8 got an airbridge at YUL – indeed, the airbridge was so large for the door size that a little ramp had to be placed between the bridge and the door.
Our flight was not clearly signed in the baggage reclaim hall, but we soon spotted our bags doing the rounds around 5 minutes after arriving in the hall. It was a short walk to the taxi rank, from where we were whisked to the IC Montreal.
This was a very novel experience, not least due to YTZ being a unique airport environment. The Porter philosophy of providing a premium experience for all worked well from a passenger perspective. Everything from check-in through to disembarkation was pretty smooth, and I appreciated the little touches such as the real glass during the meal service, and the opportunity to use a lounge before departure as part of what is essentially an ‘economy’ service. If you’re in the area and are looking for an alternative to Air Canada, I’d highly recommend Porter.
Our taxi pulled up at the hotel and we were met by a bellboy in the small ground floor lobby, before being directed up the escalator to the main lobby area.
The hotel is trying rather hard to be a ‘boutique’ hotel, but not really pulling it off very well. Far too many unnecessary small cushions everywhere and silly pieces of ‘art’ such as hands stuck to the wall at the entrance to the bar. Really not in keeping with the IC brand.
Check-in was transacted by a friendly if unprofessional agent, who made no recognition of my Ambassador status, nor did she provide the guaranteed upgrade or offer anything in lieu when prompted. I enquired about Club access and accepted the CAD60 charge per night, as this also gave free wifi in room.
Our ‘deluxe view’ room on the 22nd floor did indeed have a good view of the port and over the old town. The room was warmly decorated, but rather dark due to a lack of artificial lighting – in particular, there was no second table lamp by the bed. There was no welcome Ambassador fruit plate, mineral water or gift, there was not enough tea for two on the tea tray, and there was only one cup, one glass and one bathrobe in the wardrobe. In short, whoever had set up the room had completely failed to grasp the concept of two beds = two people.
The bathroom, as with the room, was spacious enough and featured Pharmacopia amenities. The walk in shower was of a decent size, although annoyingly the soap tray did not have a hole, meaning the soap flooded every shower. The extractor fan was incredibly noisy, but did its job pretty well so was bearable.
I enquired about the lack of Ambassador amenities at the front desk, and was rather abruptly told that they only recognised Royal Ambassadors, which clearly is untrue. I didn’t take no for an answer and spoke with another member of staff, eventually receiving a gift of cupcakes and the mineral water. It is incredibly annoying to have to ask for this, as it rather defeats the point of the ‘welcome’.
Breakfast the first morning was taken in the Club lounge. There was nothing exclusive about this Club. Whilst it was nicely furnished and decorated, the breakfast was pitiful. The lounge was very busy, and as such the tiny platters of food constantly ran out, such that there was only one selection available at any one time. Essentially a choice of cold scrambled eggs or cold scrambled eggs. This was completely unacceptable, and after extensive discussions at the front desk I cancelled the Club access for the remaining two nights and negotiated a discount on breakfast in the main restaurant along with continued free in-room internet. I did have to laugh when the member of staff tried to explain to me that the breakfast was ‘gourmet’.
The main restaurant breakfast selection was very good, with a secluded buffet area away from the main seating area. The service, as throughout the rest of the hotel, was not wholly professional and was delivered by a rather mixed bunch of people that looked rather out of place and out of their depth. Most strange.
In-room dining was sampled on two evenings, and was perfectly adequate.
The swimming pool was viewed, but not sampled due to lack of time. It looked very similar to the IC Toronto’s lap pool.
In summary, this was a disappointing hotel experience. Having stayed in many InterContinental properties, I can safely say this was not up to standard. The complete lack of Ambassador recognition was unforgiveable. I have contacted Priority Club regarding the issues I’ve raised here, and am awaiting their reply. I would not return to this hotel if back in Montreal, and might look to the Sofitel as an alternative.
Our first full day in the city found us exploring the old town area of the city, which felt very French indeed! The historic buildings enabled plenty of good architectural photos, and it was interesting to see the French Canadian crossover at every turn. This area certainly felt far apart from much of the rest of Canada we’d experienced. Into the afternoon, we wandered through Chinatown to downtown, where the contrasts were as great as in Toronto. Walking as far north as the McGill university campus at the foot of Mount Royal, we discovered the nearby museums and upscale shopping district.
On that evening we ate at Restaurant Gandhi in the old town a few blocks from our hotel, recommended to us by our concierge. Despite not being particularly busy, the atmosphere was still pretty good. The interior design was not what you might expect from an Indian, in that it was rather modern and European, but I liked it. The service was efficient and the cuisine beautifully balanced. Both the vegetable and chicken balti were perfectly made, with good quality, tender chicken used in the meat dish. Our tarka dhal side dish was perfectly seasoned. The only disappointment was our waiter reminding us to tip at the end of the service, which I didn’t particularly appreciate. All the same, I would certainly recommend Restaurant Gandhi based on the setting and quality of the cuisine.
Our second day was the only poor weather day of the entire trip, with the morning featuring heavy rain and very overcast skies. Luckily things dried up later in the day, and whilst the humidity had increased somewhat, we made the climb up Mount Royal to admire the view from the chalet at the top. The park area around made a nice contrast to the busy city below, with the contrast made doubly apparent having to literally barge our way through the student protestors to get to the base of the mountain. I must admit it was a little unnerving and at first I wasn’t willing to cross through the protest, but a local lady who had kindly stopped to help us with directions assured us that it would be fine.
The good weather returned for our third day, during which we took a taxi to the delightful botanical gardens. The Chinese garden and rock garden were particular highlights, and the Olympic park made a stunning backdrop to this green oasis. The gardens are well worth a visit for anybody finding themselves in Montreal.
Montreal was a city of a number of contrasts. I appreciated the architectural merit of the old town and greatly enjoyed exploring the botanical gardens along with its associated insectarium. However, downtown felt rather bland, as if it was lacking a certain energy. Perhaps the student protests had put a damper on the city’s usual vibe, but something certainly felt to be missing. I would recommend a visit to Montreal for any first-timer in Eastern Canada, as there are most certainly some hidden gems to discover.
[Edited 2012-06-19 13:12:17]