To be honest I didn’t know how it was going to work. The plan was to go and see and I wasn’t quite sure where we would park the van, much less camp in it. But things always have a way of working out and worrying about it before hand doesn’t help that happen, so off we went to Montreal, lickety-split, after our quick tour of Niagara Falls.
It was quite the drive to Montreal from Niagara, about 8 hours all told. We were determined not to stop, unless for gas & potty stops. There were some really nice rest stops along the way. Food was a great value, especially with the great current exchange rate, but even without it, the fresh pita pocket sandwich that was lunch was priced at $4.95 Canadian. The counter girl at Tim Horton’s was delighted when we asked for the “Tim-bits” (donut holes) just as it reads, but, for some reason, in Canada they say, “Tim-bites”. The only snafu was my debit card was declined as I had forgotten to let my credit union know about the travel and they are apparently sticklers for this. No worries though, I had backup and hubby was still in the U.S. of A. and could handle unfreezing my card. So we refilled our tummies and our tank and continued on the way.
The roads were, frankly, impressive. Nary a pothole in sight and well marked and well signed. All of the signs were in English, and in Quebec, in both English and French. Man child got to work on math skills calculating mileage from kilometers to miles so we had an idea really how far we had to go. Mom got to revisit her rusty high school French on those road signs.
The last stop along the road before Montreal was in Quebec (Route 20 in Quebec which is 401 in Ontario), and featured a tourist info booth inside the rest stop. It was easy to know you were not in Kansas anymore as all the stop signs now said, “Arret”. That and all the posters on the windows of the rest stop and other instructions too. It was here the young lady handed me a map, in English, with her pen markings showing me the exact roads and even an “X” on where to park when I got there. I didn’t think until later I couldn’t take the van through the tunnels under the city in the way she routed me, but with her map I quickly found an alternative route, that, while taking a bit longer to get us to the Old City, helped us stay legal. (Quebec doesn’t allow propane-equipped vehicles in tunnels without turning it off, and I wasn’t chancing I could get it off and on, though simple, as with temps in the teens, we were going to need that heat even if we were trying to stealth camp. This was our first real trip with the van and I was trying to keep it simple.)
Off we went and in a short time found ourselves at Old Pier in the Old City just where she had recommended we park. No signs telling us we couldn’t overnight park and a sign charging by the hour, with 12 – 24 hour increment noted. No attendant on duty, probably as it was the off-season. It was perfect. And close. And simple. Done.
We basically had the lot to ourselves. Not many head north as the Midwest thaws, and it was still wintertime in Montreal. We pulled out the warm gear we would need and took off to explore the Old City area.
As night fell it really took on a magical look – snowflakes falling and lights glistening. We walked blocks and blocks, the man child and I just looking at the historical architecture and reading the signs, most in English and French. The obligatory Starbucks was in the Old City, for a Wi-Fi catch up, as was a McDonalds across the street. It was late and most of the shops were closed, but the Starbucks stayed open until 11 p.m. and the McDonalds even later. There were still many restaurants open. Man child found a Five Guys for a late dinner.
Back to the van later that night we settled in with our sleeping bags determined to only use the heat if needed so the security men in SUVs didn’t think we might be camping in the van. We made it through the night only running the heater for an hour or so. It was a perfect place; if you didn’t mind hearing others enter their cars as the bars emptied, some singing or talking loudly as they went by. But this tapered off and settled down.
In the morning time we got up, breakfasted in the van and headed out to finish our exploring. Old Montreal does look different in the day. I will say it was a lot more magical seeing it at night for the first time. It is a tad dirtier in the day, but a lot of this was due to the snow having melted a bit leaving the hidden trash exposed. The signs all over the buildings to watch for falling icicles were fun to see although we must have been a bit late in the season in mid-March to see any icicles.
We paid for entry into the Basilica of Notre Dame, looked through it, and came back later for the guided tour portion in English. It was only $9 to enter, $5 for adults and $4 for kids. Bring lots of singles and small bills to pay here as you pay in American and receive change back in Canadian. They don’t accept credit cards at the Basilica. It was worth the entry fee. A most beautiful church and it was worth waiting for the tour.
After our tour, we wandered down Rue San Paul and found an adorable café with fondue and crepes. To my surprise, the man child tried both and decided he really liked those French pancakes. He was decidedly certain also that Canadian maple syrup is better than ours here in the Midwest. Lunch prices seemed a bit steep in the restaurants along the Rue San Paul, with most in the $15 range. We managed to get out of the Crepe restaurant for $28 Canadian, but that was with ordering off the child’s menu. I had Fondue for lunch and the portion size was more than I could possibly eat. Simple fondue with a Caesar salad was $18.
After looking in some touristy shops, trying some gelato, and looking at the poor cold looking horses that pull around the carriages, our visit came to close and we were on to the next stop. We paid our $24 Canadian at the parking exit and were off. Not a bad rate for a sleepover in a major city.