Tuesday, 23 September 2014

10 Things You Need to Know for Your First Trip to Montreal

Having recently returned from an extended weekend in Montreal (original story here), I sat back and reflected on it as a whole. I had a lot of fun while there but also wished I had been given a heads up or researched deeper into things I'd need to know. With that in mind I have decided to share some things you need to know before you go.

10 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Montreal

1. If you are driving, don't make a right turn at a red light. It’s illegal. I did know this going in, but after being so accustomed to doing this driving maneuver it was frustrating to be held up at the lights.

Inside the Acura RLX Elite
Don't turn that wheel to the right on a red light!

2. "Déppaneur" and "Couche-tard" is what you will be looking for when you need a convenience store. Also, beer is sold until 11pm in most of these stores! Awesome!

3. It's quite a small city, you can honestly walk 30 minutes in each direction from the core and be where the tourists want to be (the exception is Mount Royal Park). With that they also have an extensive Metro for any longer hikes.

4. If you are staying on a Sunday or Monday night plan to eat early. We learned the hard way that most bars and restaurants close at 10 or 11pm. Our saviour was Dunn's on Metcalfe south of St.Catherine on a Sunday night after walking around.

Smoked Meat Burger from Dunn's
Smoked Meat Burger from Dunn's
5. St. Dennis has slightly better bars than Crescent. Crescent is cool with all of its patios and what not, but the slew of drunken McGill students really ruined the vibe for me. St. Dennis is a good 20 minute walk away and is loaded with brew pubs that take the art of beer seriously. Definitely a must area to crawl for beer enthusiasts.

6. If you need to leave the island of Montreal with a cab, good luck getting back. We used Uber to lure a cab driver to take us to a wedding across the river in Khanawake, but coming home took far more effort.  Which included a shuttle bus ride to a dilapidated motel where we woke up the concierge to call us a cab. $80 and an hour later we were back at our hotel.

Uber logo
Uber Logo
7. If you don't speak French fluently, don't speak it at all. Unlike most other places I've visited, Quebecers don't seem to thrilled that you tried to speak their language. If anything they seem frustrated. Montreal is a dual language city and you will be fine with just English. Off the island though...you're on your own.

8. Montreal is very bike friendly, if you have the opportunity bring or rent a bike and cruise around.

9. You cannot skip hiking in Mont Royal and taking in the stunning views of the city. You simply cannot.

10. This is silly but still important, Jean Coutu is a pharmacy, not a cheap clothing store. We overlooked this and spent far too long looking for a pharmacy when there was a bunch close by. Silly mistake.

There you have it, 10 things to make your visit to Montreal slightly better!  I hope that these tips will be beneficial on your first or next visit. Have any other tips? Let me know in the comment section below or on twitter.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Walk, Talk and Drink Beer with Local Tours Montreal

I recently visited Montreal with my girlfriend for a wedding (original post here) and we decided to make a weekend trip out of it to explore the city and what it has to offer. Any reader of Real Man Travels will know that we all love beer, so naturally I signed us up for a walking Brew Pub tour which Local Tours Montreal graciously let us participate in for free. The Brew Pub tour was hosted by our guide Phillipe Blouin (Phil) and he was extremely knowledgeable about beer and Quebec history. The tour would see us visiting 3 different establishments in Montreal and stopping off at local historic attractions. After it was all said and done, the tour was much different than I expected, but in a very good way.

Logos for local montreal tours and brew pub tour
Local Montreal Tours Logo and Brew Pub Tour Logo

I think it’d be important to first state the difference between a Brew Pub and a Micro-Brewery. As our guide Phil informed us, a micro-brewery makes and distributes their beer into SAQ, convenience stores, Beer stores etc, whereas a Brew Pub can only make and sell their beer on their premise. That means that all the beers I will describe below can only be found at each location! That is a pretty good enough reason to make sure you visit them if you are a beer lover!

Our first stop of the Brew Pub tour was L’amère à Boire located at 2049 Rue Saint-Denis. This establishment had a great classy rustic look to it and it was here that we met our group of 18 on the private terrace in the back. Our first beer of the day was a German Hefe Weizen; at the mention of this a lady from New York clapped in joy as it was her favourite type. Phil immediately put us to the test and asked us what fruit and spice we tasted in the beer. After all of us guessed wrong it was revealed that there was banana and cloves that created the spicy aroma and fruity taste. Our second beer tasting was a Czech Pilsner, the pride and joy of this establishment as the owner had gone through great lengths to acquire and maintain his yeast. I don’t want to spoil the great story behind the yeast but it involves communism in Europe and doomsday-esque storage, so be sure to listen up during the tour at this point.

L'amere a boire German Hefe Weizen
One of the first beers we tried, obviously I had to be reminded to actually take a photo before drinking it all!
With two tasty beers down the gullet it was time to move on to Brew Pub number two. But first we made a pit stop at the Grande Bibliothèque (Grand Library) where Phil gave us a great rundown of Quebec’s history and why this building is so important to French heritage. After the history lesson we shuttled through an alley way filled with beautiful murals and ended up at our second stop of the day in the Quartier Latin at Le. Saint Bock.

Picture of the group at Le Saint Bock
Just a fraction of the group at Le Saint Bock drinking and eating.
Le Saint Bock, located at 1749 Rue Saint-Denis, was a far more modern bar with a huge selection of beer. In fact the selection is so large that they have a catalogue dubbed the “Beer Bible”. We are talking over 600 beer choices with 44 of those on tap. We began our tasting with a Brown Ale that was paired with melted brie, maple syrup, bread and roasted pecans. I have to say this was as tasty as it gets! Our second beer was a double I.P.A. During this tasting Phil had delivered a lesson on the process of brewing and what factors make for different brews. We also had a chance to smell and taste some roasted malt and smell a jar of hops. Although I was familiar with the brewing process, Phil gave a great rundown of how it is done and a definite must listen to anyone considering home brewing. 

Melted brie with maple syrup and roasted pecans
Looks messy, tastes amazing! Melted brie with maple syrup, roasted pecans and bread.
The rest of the tour would see the group through the St. Louis Square (dubbed "the closest thing to a European neighborhood square you'll find this side of the Atlantic" by the Project for Public Spaces, a non profit situated in New York). After that we ventured down an alleyway filled with little shops, bars and more that was a hidden gem and a highlight of the trip.

The next Brew Pub was Benelux located at 245 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. Benelux as well is modern in style and offers a handful of beer. The beer you will taste here varies for each trip but because we had a bachelor party in our group Phil wanted to bring out the big guns percentage wise for them. We tried a 9% beer called Zoot which is an Abbey Tripel so it was hoppy in the finish which was great. And the last beer the group would have was an American Ale, something refreshing to finish the day.

Half empty glass of beer
Nectar of the gods. 
Unfortunately this is where the tour ended, but after scoping out some other bars and brew pubs along the way, we had an idea of where to go next! Thank you to Local Montreal for hosting us on this fantastic tour and to our guide Phil who was not only fun and engaging, but very knowledgable and willing to answer any question. If you are ever in the Montreal area and have 3 hours to spare I would recommend signing up for this tour!

Next time you are in Montreal be sure to book a tour with Local Montreal Tours via their website, They also host a Bachelor Party tour and a Mile End Food tour so be sure to check out their Twitter page for any updates.

Thanks again to Montreal Tourism and Local Montreal Tours for setting us at Real Man Travels up with this great experience! If you have been to any of these establishments or have done the walking tour be sure to let us know in the comment section below, on Twitter or on Facebook.

Ed Arsenault

Monday, 15 September 2014

Exploring Montreal by Foot

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Montreal for my girlfriend and Real Girl Travels contributor Sarah’s aunt’s wedding. We decided rather than staying for just one night we would make it a trip and explore what Montreal had to offer, by foot.

Panoramic shot of Montreal from the Observatory Deck in Mount Royal Park.
I’m currently situated in Toronto, so getting to Montreal is a bit of commute. That trip was made easy thanks to the fine folks at Acura Canada who have continued to power Real Man Travels' summer adventures. They lent us a 2015 Acura RLX Elite and I have to tell all of you, it was hard to give the keys back after we returned. The car was beautiful and had a ton of luxuries in it like air vented seats that made the long haul drive very comfortable. We also didn’t break the bank as the car only took half a tank of gas to get to Montreal; that’s 543km on a half tank! But enough of the car that got me there, let’s get focused on exploring Montreal!

The 2015 RLX Elite (my new love)
Once in Montreal we set up shop in the heart of the downtown core at Le St Martin Particulier hotel. This hotel was stunning and definitely far nicer than anywhere I would normally stay. It was conveniently located near all the things we wanted to do. Situated at the corner of Maisonneuve and Metcalfe, you could literally walk 30 minutes (maximum) in any direction and be just about anywhere you’d want to be. So, we did just that.

Our room at Le St Martin for the weekend
First up, we decided to see what the Centre Eaton was like compared to the Eaton Center in Toronto, and the surrounding area on St. Catherine. I knew beforehand I wasn’t going to escape shopping with Sarah no matter how hard I tried, so I just embraced and made the best of it (like all real men should do for their girls). While the layout was different, the store offerings were very familiar so it felt like we were back in Toronto for just a moment. Outside on the street it felt like a booming metropolis with all the people, shops and like any great city’s downtown core, traffic, traffic, traffic! One thing I noticed was there is a lot of Les 3 Brasseurs locations in Montreal, which is not bad as they have a few tasty beers that can make for a great pit stop while shopping. Another great stop in the area for eats was a place called Reubens. I embarrassingly demolished a traditional smoked meat sandwich like a starving dog while Sarah ate her Reuben like a normal functioning human in society. The plus side of my gorging though was that it gave me more time to drink beer!

Mmmmm smoked meat.
Later that night we decided to take in some nightlife where everyone and their grandma had recommended to us before we had left, Crescent Street. Crescent was just a quick 5-10 minute walk from our hotel and the shear amount of patios, terraces and outdoor spaces along this street put a lot of cities I’ve visited to shame. Visiting Montreal on a long weekend and just days before McGill students started classes meant we would be lucky to find any seats on a patio. But we persevered and walked from Rue Sherbrooke down to Boulevard Rene-Levesque and then back up until we saw a spot. We ended up on the corner of Maisonneuve and Crescent at a hole-in-the-wall looking bar called London Pub. The beaten up, dingy decor and cheap beer made me feel right in my element as I love a good dive bar. Time flew by as a couple of Sarah’s cousins joined us and eventually we ended up on the third story in another bar called Stogies where we all puffed on cigars and continued to drink the night away.

That's some good eating right there! A hot dog and bacon poutine from Peel Pub
The next day saw us slightly hungover, but no worries, we had the perfect cure! The folks over at Local Montreal tours had given us two spots on their walking brew pub tour. That’s right, more beer! You can read more about that tour later as I decided it was such a great experience that it needed its own article.

After the brew pub tour it was wedding time! The wedding was out in Kahnawake, Quebec at a private golf and country club. I could bore you with all the wedding details but instead I will give you a quick breakdown:
  • First wedding I’ve ever been to where I was allowed to have a beer during the ceremony! Anyone getting married take note, this is a game changer!
  • My girlfriend’s family is crazy, in a good way. Some of the nicest and fun people I've met in a long time.
  • Food, food, food.  Dance, dance, dance (in my case, watch them all dance).
  • Open bars ALWAYS make for good times
With the wedding wrapping up we had to get back to our hotel and I now know that if you are not in the core of Montreal, good luck getting back. Our adventure to get back to the hotel began at 2:30 a.m. We hitched a ride on the shuttle bus to a nearby motel where some folks were staying and we rudely woke up the attendant to call us a cab. He was our hero and 30 minutes later a cab showed up and took us the long way back. At 4:30am and $80 later we were back at the hotel. I know we got ripped off, but at this point, I didn’t care and was just glad that we were back and able to go to bed.

Notre-Dame Basilica close to Old Montreal.
Remember when I said earlier that open bars always make for a good time? While true the night of, it doesn’t apply so much to the next day. Hung-over and feeling awful Sarah and I laid in bed for most of the afternoon, only getting up once for some food. We headed just south of our hotel on Peel and hit up a sports collegiate type bar called the Peel Pub. Greasy and carb loaded food always cures hangovers right? Well we tested that theory by both ordering a huge bowl of poutine. Mine came with hot dogs and bacon and Sarah’s came with smoked meat. Feeling slightly better we headed back to the hotel to sleep some more. After another nap we hit up the hotels pool which was amazing! It was small, and would probably be uncomfortable if more than 4 people were up there, but the pool was heated and set high so it felt like a hot tub you could swim in. This made me feel great and ready to explore some more of Montreal.

Nice fountain across the street from the main square in Old Montreal.
With the sun going down we grabbed a cup of coffee and headed south to walk the cobblestone roads of Old Montreal. After a 30 minute walk we had reached the out skirts of Old Montreal and decided to walk up and down every street. This area was amazing as it has a great European feel to it with the tight cobblestone roadways, old buildings and horse carriage rides but I must point out that I disliked that there were night clubs in the middle of it all. Maybe I’m just getting old but in an area with so much history and beauty I don’t think it should be jeopardized by drunken hooligans. During our night walk there was some local buskers and musicians and performers that gave the area a welcoming vibe. I could say more about this area but you really need to get down there and experience it for yourself.

Old Montreal at night.
We wrapped up the night early as we knew we’d be heading to Mount Royal the next morning and wanted to save some energy for the hiking we’d be doing. Mount Royal Park was a nice day away from the city. If I had to, I would say this park is the equivalent of visiting Central Park in New York City (granted at a much smaller scale) in the sense that you are so close yet feel so far from the city. Here we hiked, and I recommend you do the same, not only for the observatory deck that delivers stunning views of Montreal, but also for the little peaks and views between trees all along the trails. This was a stop I was glad we made as it summed up our weekend in one glorious view.

I wish we had more time to explore the city but like all trips you do what you can in your given time frame and keep the things you missed in your head for when you return. When I return, I will be sure to do and see more.

Trail in Mount Royal Park.

One of the many hidden viewpoints of the city and surround areas along the trails. 

A big thank you goes out to the Montreal Tourism board for assisting us with accommodations, the brew pub tour and helping me decide some must visit spots. Another thank you goes to Local Montreal for letting us tag along the Brew Pub Tour, a definite must do for any beer enthusiast. Finally thank you to Acura Canada for supplying the RLX that got us there and back (and making me fall in love with a car just out of my budget!)

If you have been to or live in Montreal, tell me what I missed in the comments below and hopefully when I go there again I can find the time to do those things. And if you haven’t been or are planning to go, be sure to let me know what you plan to do, I’d love to hear!


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Camping with an Infant: Roofed Accommodations at Ontario Parks

My wife and I welcomed our new addition in early January. Our little “child of winter” arrived during one of the most grueling winters on record, which meant a lot of shut-in days in addition to our sleepless nights. As tough as the winter was, those days spent inside allowed us to get to know our little guy very well and adjust comfortably to our new role as parents. That said, when spring did eventually role around our minds quickly turned, as they often do, to travel.

A regular summer for us usually includes three or four camping/canoe trips, either as a couple or with friends, in addition to a variety of cottage excursions and day trips. We enjoy nothing more than spending as much time as possible exploring the outdoors. Naturally, the lingering question for us was: could our outdoor lifestyle continue with a young baby (his name is Wesley, by the way)?

That's him!
That's him again!
Discussions with friends and colleagues painted a grim picture, with even the more outdoorsy types opting to forego travel in their first years as progenitors.

Fellow blogger Mick McNamera from the blog HopGobblin’ expressed his apprehension to a similar trip: “Any kind of outing with an infant is challenging. Being fully aware of the trials and tribulations of even a simple day trip to Toronto Island, we had no intention of camping this summer! However, a good friend of mine was getting married about an hour from North Bay, and he had the bright idea of a camping weekend wedding. Pre-baby me was pumped, post-baby me a little bit wary.”

A couple things were clear; if we were going to attempt an outdoor adventure with our son we would need to consider:

  1. Stuff. Anyone with a baby knows they need things… lots of things.
  2. Temperature. Very cold or very warm babies are unhappy babies.
  3. Distance. One hour away? Sure! Two hours? Okay… Three? Nervous. Four or more? No way.
  4. Noise. Baby goes to bed at 7 p.m. while other campers may still be partying.
  5. Amenities. Trying to bathe a baby in a group bathroom, ugh.

“Try to keep as much to the routine that you're used to (if you have one!) and the baby will adapt,” explained Mick. “Having said that, enjoy yourself and don't be too anal with it. Bring warm clothes for baby and yourselves just in case, and extra blankets.”

With these in mind, we went hunting for solutions. After a discussion with Ontario Parks, they presented their line of roofed accommodations for our consideration. While we couldn’t consider this “camping,” the accommodations would allow us to experience everything we love about our favourite parks while keeping our little one comfortable, so we jumped at the chance to try one out.

Ontario Parks

We made our way to Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park just off Hwy 69, 30 minutes north of Parry Sound; a nice little park with a beautiful private beach nestled off Georgian Bay.

We were set up in one of Ontario Parks’ rustic cabins. The two bedroom unit was small but absolutely ideal for our situation. It allowed us and the baby to have separate rooms; provided a fully functional kitchen including fridge and a stove for warming bottles, baby food etc.; and had a private three piece bathroom with shower. The cabin was complete with hot water, a barbeque, one double bed and one set of bunk beds and, to our surprise, air conditioning!

Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks

The space inside the cabin was greatly appreciated. We were able to set up a play area for Wes where, for the first time, he actually crawled! He clearly enjoyed the space as much as we did.

Wes slept like a champ in his unfamiliar, but comfortable room. Always a huge plus.

Outside the cabin it felt like a regular campsite. Quiet and tranquil and complete with a fire pit and picnic table, none of the charm of camping was lost.

Ontario Parks

We spent our first day strolling around the little park and letting Wes play in the sand at the beach (though his version of play meant continually trying to eat the sand). On our second day we made our way up to Grundy Lake Provincial Park, about 30 minutes north of Sturgeon Bay, to do some hiking. One great tip that of which we were unaware, a camping permit at any Ontario Park allows you to access any other provincial park, assuming there are others within driving distance. The hiking at Grundy Lake is excellent and we took the opportunity for more beach time as well.

Ontario Parks
View from the hiking train at Grundy Lake Provincial Park

After another comfortable night in our cabin we checked out and trekked down Killbear Provincial Park for another hike before heading home. Killbear is one of our absolute favourites; a perfect picture of cottage country and what we describe when telling those from other countries about our province.

Ontario Parks
Killbear Provincial Park
A quick stop for lunch in the beautiful town of Parry Sound, and our trip was a wrap.

Roofed accommodations at Ontario Parks are an ideal way to experience the outdoors while maintaining the comfort and routine of an infant, and, vis-a-vis, the sanity of parents. Cabins, yurts, cottages, soft-sided shelters and lodges come in various shapes and sizes and with various features; you’ll definitely find something that works for you.

Special thanks to Ontario Parks for hooking us up with the cabin! Check out their Pinterest page for the various options of roofed accommodations available.

As for Mick, who ended up using a trailer for the weekend: “It was an amazing weekend, we stayed three nights and could've stayed a week no problem… we barely missed the comforts of home, but it was certainly more work than usual. Big shout out to the good folks at Fisher's Paradise in Field Ontario for a fantastic weekend, they bent over backwards to make it a camping wedding to remember!"

Watch for part two of my short series on camping with a baby in early October, when we partner with GoRVing to see how using an RV for family travel stacks up.