The beautiful and cheap Hotel de Paris.
There are two kinds of hotels in Mon'real (don't pronounce the "t"): big, tall, expensive ones that have elevators, and small, tall, cheap ones that have lots of steps. My travel companion and I, being on budgets, opted for the cheap ones. Our first choice (which turned out to be quite a dumpy place on Rue St.-Denis) advertised $40/night American on their website and showed a nice little room with full bathroom. When I called to make the reservations, their manager took all my information and informed me that that would be $79, American, per night.
"What about the $40 rooms?" I asked, baffled.
"Oh, you don't want those. They don't have bathrooms."
I didn't want an $80 room, either, so we ended up at the Hotel de Paris on Sherbrooke, located three blocks from Rue St.-Denis and two from le Metro. The taxi let us out beneath a long edifice consisting of cement steps with some windows and a small door at the top. I noticed round, steel hooks protruding from every nth step, and deduced that these were used to secure the lines of rapellers in the winter so they could make their way safely down to the street from the lobby.
The steps up to the beautiful and cheap Hotel de Paris.
But it was still summer, so we lugged our heavy suitcases to the main level. From there we had to lug another story, the equivalent of two American ones because the ceilings were so high, and then yet another Canadian story, this one with extremely shallow stairs, down a short hallway, down two stairs, and finally to our rooms. They were quaint and quite adequate, despite the fact that (1) my air conditioning conked out the second night (and in addition to the city being unusually warm for that time of year, you had all the heat rising from the hotel building up in my corner of the attic), (2) my television apparently was hooked up to a cable system that only ran French Canadian or French-dubbed American children's programming on it, twenty-four hours a day. Karen in the next room was watching Fred Astaire movies, NBC and porn, all in English. I would certainly have complained to the management, but (3) my phone didn't work. And to go down to the front desk and then back to my room entailed a reenactment of the stair scenes in Barefoot in the Park, a play that I'm really not that fond of. Especially now.
Karen and I made a deal that we would go downstairs in the morning and not return upstairs until we were dead from touring all day. One trip down and one trip up -- that would be our limit. We tried, but there were a couple occasions when we would have to make double trips. We just took our time, cheered each other on, and paused for very long breathers between stories.
Luckily, the Hotel de Paris just happens to coexist with the Bistro de Paris, which had the absolutely bestest, most sublime cuisine in town. Unfortunately, it was only open for breakfast and lunch, and we missed lunch all but our first day there. For $10.00 Canadian ($7.50 American) you could stuff yourself on the most delectible crepes or omelettes or sandwiches you've ever eaten. The waitstaff and chef all came out on the terrace to chat with us and advise us on our touristy business. Even the bees were hospitable. You could swish them away with your napkin and they would take it in a fiendly manner. But warning: they don't like sneezing. I did that when I first sat down the morning before we left, and was rewarded with a sting in my back.
Nothing's perfect, I suppose. Except for the Bistro's chicken crepes.
UQAM as you walk down the street. Notice the extremely gothic church smacked right into the center of its drab facade. I took one look at this joint and said, "Londo (the hero of my Three Worlds books) would NEVER have attended THAT!" So I let him have a year there before he transferred to McGill U a few blocks away. UQAM is on Rue St. Denis -- Ugh! What a boring street! The guidebooks say that St.-Denis really comes alive during tourist season, but we missed that by one week.
Over on the Rue St.-Denis, supposedly the capital of bohemian living, but actually a long street of small cafes, the occasional sex club, cinemas, and UQAM (l'Universite de Quebec a Montreal, pronounced oo-kwam except by the canned voice on the Metro, who pronounced it you-kwam), we found a place called the Creperie Bretonne. Wonderful! I thought, and we went in. We came out reaching for the Pepto. There were truly abysmal things to be found in there in all courses. Of course there was no iced tea -- apparently such a thing doesn't exist in Montreal (Karen and I discussed opening a restaurant that only served iced tea and making a million dollars from it). The salad was a half a head of lettuce, practically uncut, sitting in a too-small bowl with a greasy dressing liberally applied. The bread was cold and so was the butter. The waitress suggested a buckwheat crepe for a new flavor sensation, and it came to the table as a large, flat, ungarnished square thing that was tough and tasteless. For dessert, there was homemade ice cream that had too much vanilla, salt and ice crystals to be enjoyed. When they asked if I wanted some more tea, I said no, I just wanted more water, thanks, and they brought me a little pot of boiling water. Duh.
That's the Creperie Bretonne, Rue St.-Denis. Right next to it is a cafe advertising biftek that we visited the next day. Very nice. (I had the pollo something, chicken with spaghetti and lots of vegetables.) All our meals were quite delicious, except for the Creperie and McDonalds (where we encountered the one and only rude person in Montreal working behind the counter. "You there! Faster! Get up here! Move!" she shouted at us in French).
One of the charming shops on Rue St.-Denis. As soon as I saw it, I shouted, "Picture time!" NOW can I write this trip off my taxes?