We have this wonderful new (er) tradition in our family: taking a trip to somewhere new for my birthday each year. My husband came up with the idea before my 40th birthday. He thought it would be nice to celebrate my big 4 – 0 by going somewhere I have never been. That year we went to San Francisco. It was wonderful. We have kept up that tradition ever since.
This past week was another birthday. While I am thankful for another year, I don’t necessarily enjoy getting older. I do, however, enjoy going places I have never been. God created this huge, wide, amazing, and wonderful world and I want to see and explore as much of it as I can. I often read that it is better to spend our money and time on “experiences” rather than on “stuff”—I couldn’t agree more!
This year we decided to take a trip to Montreal. I have never been to Canada before, and Montreal did not disappoint! It was an easy trip to make from Atlanta, and while it was a quick trip, we packed in as much sight-seeing as we could.
We left on Friday, and thanks to the rainy weather, our flight was delayed. By the time, we landed and got to our hotel, we were starving. We decided to clean up a little and head out to an early dinner. Montreal is known for its jazz scene, so we thought it would be cool to hit up a jazz place where we could eat, drink, chill, and listen to some great music. We found the perfect little spot. And, by little, I mean little.
Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill is a small hidden gem. Even though it is in the downtown area, It feels like it is tucked away from everything else. Maybe it was because it was raining and getting dark. Maybe it was because it is named “Upstairs” and the sign outside is actually upside down, but you really have to go downstairs to get to it. (Which, initially, threw me for a loop. But, I love silly idioms like this!) Maybe it was because I was craving nourishment. Whatever the case, Upstairs was just the cozy atmosphere we needed. The food was good, the drinks and atmosphere were great and the music divine! It was the perfect way to kick off our trip.
Saturday morning came and the rain didn’t stop. Thankfully, even with rain, the world keeps turning, and since we don’t melt, we headed out to the Old Montreal/Old Port area. St. Paul street is a MUST if you are in Montreal. It is the oldest street in Montreal and its first cobblestones predate American democracy. All of the beautiful old buildings there have been preserved and St. Paul street is home to some of the best restaurants, galleries, and shops in the area.
My husband is of Portuguese descent, and he scouted out a charming little Portuguese café with breakfast for us to start off our day. Cantinho de Lisboa is a small, but warm and inviting eatery that is part bakery and part delicatessen. We both had tasty little sugar donuts. I had one with chocolate filling. It was delightful! I also had some pear juice to go with it. So, lots of sugar to start off my day. While we were there, the staff was cooking up some soup and putting the sliced meats out for the sandwiches. It smelled heavenly. I made a mental note for us to go back and have lunch, but unfortunately, we didn’t make it. But, if we ever go back, I will make sure we don’t miss it again.
After breakfast, we decided to take a stroll down St. Paul. We ducked into a few little shops that were open, just to get out of the rain. As we kept wondering along, with no real destination in mind, we soon happened upon what was, for me, the highlight of our trip: Notre-Dame Basilica. With the rainy weather, there were not too many people out and about and we walked right up and bought our tickets to go inside. What an amazing and magnificent holy place!
Founded in 1642, the church started out as a small chapel operated by the Jesuits. Over the years, it grew to be the breath-taking basilica it is today. In 1982, Pope John Paul II designated it a basilica —raising its status from just a church. This shows the architectural and artistic value the church represents. You can read more about Notre-Dame Basilica here. (And, enjoy my pictures below.)
From there we walked all around the Old Montreal/Old Port area. It is like stepping back in time. The history and small streets make it delightful to explore. The outdoor market and artists were in full swing at Place Jacques-Cartier. Once it started getting a little warmer, we cooled off by going into the shops in the Marche Bonsecours. We ate a delicious lunch of fish and chips at Brit + Chips. Then, we headed back down the port and got ourselves some Italian ice from a street vendor.
For dinner, we found this amazing Italian restaurant called Café Il Cortile. Their website says that since it opened 25 years ago, it has consistently been described as one of Montreal’s best kept secrets. Whoever they are, they are NOT lying. This was easily the best meal we had on our trip. Their European style terrace was quaint and loaded with colorful, stunning flowers. Our server was so friendly and knowledgeable—he knew his stuff and so did the chef. My homemade, hand-made gnocchi al gorgonzola was to die for. Then, the chocolate mousse cake for dessert sent me over the moon. I can’t rave enough about this place. If you ever go for a visit, you MUST eat dinner here. Period.
Sunday, our last full day in Montreal, we finally got a full day without rain. Yay! We started out at another Portuguese bakery for breakfast. This time we went to Saint Laurent Boulevard. And, wow, let me tell you, it was not what I was expecting. The area, at first glance, looks run-down and sketchy. When our taxi driver dropped us off, I was wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. Well, as it turns out, we were in a melting-pot of astounding creativity allure! I quickly fell in love.
The Portuguese bakery we had breakfast at was incredible! Since 1983, Patisserie Notre Maison has been serving up authentic Portuguese fare for whoever is lucky enough to come across it. They had our favorite: malasadas! (Or, as we refer to them as, mullies.) We sat in their petite interior and savored every bite while inhaling the heady scents of baking bread. Speaking of, they also had sweet bread. Score! We bought a bag of 6 rolls of sweet bread to go. (One of the best ideas we had the whole trip!)
Afterwards, we ambled down Saint Laurent Boulevard, taking our time and taking in all the dazzling murals. They were everywhere! The artistry, the creativity, the skill-set, the expertise, the sorcery and magic of it all. It blew me away. I was like the proverbial kid the candy store. This is the kind of stuff I live for! Read this great article on the history of Saint Laurent Boulevard.
For lunch, we walked a few blocks from our hotel and ate at 3 Brasseurs. I finally had the chance to eat some poutine. I had read that eating poutine was a must while in Montreal. And, it is! Poutine is an authentic Quebec-inspired dish that is basically French fries with a special poutine gravy and cheese curds. I had mine with some BBQ-braised pulled pork and crispy bacon added on top. So good! I am drooling now just thinking about it. This is one of those dishes that I am glad we don’t have here in America. If we did, I fear that my clothing would not fit me much longer.
Sunday afternoon we decided to head up to Mount Royal and check out the park. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York’s Central Park. It is a lovely spot that was bustling on this gorgeous day. We didn’t get to take in as much of it as I would have liked, because doing so required a lot of walking. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have it in me. But, we hung around the lake and the pavilion and did some people watching. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
After a nap and before dinner, we decided to take a walk around a little more and just see what we could see. On the other side of our hotel from the Old Montreal area, we found lots of little pleasures and treasures. This year Canada is celebrating 150 years of history and Montreal is celebrating turning 375 years old. There is a lot going on! (I wish I had known this earlier, so I could have planned our trip a little better, but, c’est la vie!) There is basically a walking tour outlined across the city, highlighting outdoor sculptures and artwork. Part of this tour goes through the campus of McGill University, which is only a few blocks from our hotel. The campus is undergoing some renovations, but it is still a pleasant place to delve into. It was a nice way to spend some time before dinner.
Sunday was my actual birthday, and as such, Paul treated me to a high class dinner. Gibbys in housed in a cool 200-year old building in Old Montreal. Paul and I both enjoyed some tasty seafood. And, I had what they call a Monte Carlo baked potato, which is a double baked potato with bacon, sour cream and chives. It was the bomb.com. But, the very best part was the dessert. We shared a hot apple croute—apple pie in an amazing pastry, topped with ice cream and caramel sauce. The pastry was so light, flavorful, and yummy. And, thank goodness we shared it, because it was huge. It was the perfect ending to an enchanting trip.
So, in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I loved Montreal. If you have never been, you should go. I promise you won’t regret it!
I have always loved nature and being outside; especially in the sunshine and water. There is no better place to soak up some rays and salt than the Caribbean. And, while I have been blessed to visit the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Aruba, St. Martin, and St. Maarten, I have found a new home in Jamaica. I mean, honestly, I want to move there. As soon as possible!
Being married is not always easy, but Paul and I are doing pretty well for ourselves in that department. One thing that we like to do each year is go on a trip in February. We celebrate not only our wedding anniversary, but also Paul’s birthday, which falls on the day after our anniversary. (I figured if our got married the day before his birthday, he would have no excuse for ever forgetting it! This plan has worked very well so far!)
This past week we celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and my amazing Paul booked us a three-night stay at The Caves in Negril, Jamaica. I was blown away by the natural beauty of the caves, cliffs, and crystal waters. However, what really made an impression on me were the Jamaican people—especially the staff on the property. They were so warm, welcoming, and real. And, happy. The Caves is a small resort and so refreshing in that there are only a small number of other guests. There are only 12 rooms there. Because it is so small, you get to know the staff and they you, very quickly. And, they make you feel like family. They look after your every need. I mean, it is truly a mind-blowing experience. Honestly, when we left on Monday morning, it was all I could do NOT to cry. That is what Jamaica did to me. I wanted to cry at the beauty of it—the natural landscape and the people, and because I didn’t want to leave it.
Their motto there is "One Love" taken from the Bob Marley song. It is the quintessential, most perfect motto. The staff all embrace "One Love" and and make you feel it. And, once you feel it, you don't want it to stop!
And, I am not alone. Ian Fleming felt the same way. The famous author, who first went to Jamaica during World War II as a Naval Intelligence officer, fell in love with it immediately. He realized that he wanted to live the rest of his life there. He stated, “I have made up my mind. I’m going to live the rest of my life in Jamaica.” And, he did. After the war, Mr. Fleming bought some property in Oracabessa Bay, which means “golden head”. It was there that he built his dream home and it was there that he created his iconic character of James Bond, better known as 007. He wrote all 14 Bond novels there.
Island Records founder Chris Blackwell bought the Fleming estate in 1976. Blackwell’s mother, Blanche, was the longtime lover of Ian Fleming. Blackwell, who introduced the rest of the world to reggae music and forged the careers of Bob Marley, Grace Jones, Traffic, Bad Company, and U2, among many others, now owns and runs Island Outpost. These are an elite group of resorts in Jamaica, which include The Caves, Strawberry Hill, and GoldenEye. Or, if you have about $6,000 lying around, you can actually rent out the Fleming Villa. It has satellite cottages, a pool house, a private beach and pool and a tropical garden. The villa comes with its own dedicated staff that includes a butler, housekeeper, and cook. (The rates are per room, per night.) I mean hey, as their website says, “You only live once.”
I hope you get to visit yourself someday. I am already looking forward to our next visit, whenever that may be. You couldn’t ask for a better place to get some rest and relaxation. It truly is a little slice of heaven. I hope you enjoy the pictures
I am a girl who loves God. My goal here is to simply share His love and light and any good thing that I come across.