June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Voulez Vous Une Grande Vacance???

Do not be concerned if you don’t understand the title of this article. After spending a few days in Montreal you might find that French is not as difficult as it seems! What could be better than knowing that you are vacationing in a different country that is driveable from Northern New Jersey, that has kosher food and Jewish life readily and deliciously available, and where there are tons of fun things to do both for adults and children? Add on the cherry on the top, which would be the fact that the Canadian dollar is worth $1.34 to the American dollar (today’s rate). Do you need more convincing?

Fortunately for all of us, the Covid restrictions have been lifted so that is no longer a concern. Most important to know is that one must have a passport to enter into Canada. Children under 18 must also have a copy of their birth certificate and may require additional documents (see https://tinyurl.com/2xcsvp75). The drive from Northern New Jersey is a mere six hours and for those who are groaning about how long that seems, you should know that there are many interesting things to do along the way. I prefer to get into my car and just get there, but you can certainly stop for activities. There are, however, daily flights from all three major local airports as well.

Assuming that you are driving, once entering the Northway at Albany, better known as Rte 87, be aware that there are certain points where gas stations are few and far between. That issue does not actually occur until you drive past Lake George. Passing through Albany, be aware that the Price Chopper on Central Avenue has a kosher department with sandwiches, salads and various treats made fresh on the spot. Keep in mind that throughout your drive to Montreal, once on 87 most major cities will have a Price Chopper without a specific kosher department but lots of kosher options, as would be the case in any supermarket these days.

Along the drive one passes Great Adventure, Lake George, Saratoga, Lake Placid and Howe Caverns, enough to distract anyone who considers the trip too long. Many of these mean getting off the highway and in some cases, such as Lake Placid, driving an additional hour and a half before reaching your destination. For the shoppers among us there is an outlet mall in the Lake George area.

A suggestion would be to fill your gas tank prior to going across the border—the closest exit to Canada is Champlain and gas in Canada is exorbitant (much worse than here) and is sold in liters. The temperature is also reported in Celsius, so keep in mind that when the weather forecast says it is 32 degrees outside, do not fear that you are going on a summer vacation to freeze. Rather, 32 degrees is close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, once in Canada all signs describing speed limits and distance are in kilometers, which means that when limits are posted as 100 kilometers per hour they are actually telling you to drive 62 mph.

Get ready for signs entirely in French once across the border into Quebec. Keep in mind that arret is the word for stop, pont is the word for bridge and sortie means exit. One needs to go over a bridge to reach Montreal as it is an island and most will take the Pont Champlain. There are miles and miles of construction everywhere. It is really annoying, just as it is everywhere else. Don’t forget that due to the freezing and snowy climate in the winter, Quebec is trying to get as much done in the summer as possible.

Montreal is a very easy city to get around. Distances are not great. Even downtown by car is not more than 20 or 25 minutes away from most Jewish areas. Montreal has several different Jewish areas. I can say quite emphatically that I never experienced any type of antisemitism while living there.

For many, a big decision is where to stay once arriving in the city. If I was going with my husband alone and wanted to have a romantic getaway I would definitely choose to stay downtown in one of the more elegant hotels, which I feel would be a total waste if I were traveling with young children, or any kids for that matter.

There are several new hotels which families would probably be most comfortable at. They are within easy proximity to kosher restaurants and have amenities such as suites, free breakfast (finding kosher is not difficult: cereal, yogurt, fruit, coffee, juice, etc) and parking, which according to New York rates is extremely inexpensive. On Shabbat they are walkable (but not next door) to either the Lubavitcher Yeshiva or a Chabad minyan, or an Ashkenazi shul. Some have pools.

These would be the Marriott Residence Inn (within eruv), the Homewood Suites (not within eruv and only two blocks away with similar amenities), and the Hilton Garden Inn and the Marriott also share properties with their above brands (just no breakfast and no suites).

For downtown suggestions please contact me privately. If you chose to stay downtown you are only 20 minutes away from the Jewish area.

We as a people seem to be obsessed with where to eat, so please note the sidebar to this article with all of the restaurants. There is an easy breakfast, omelet, salad, sandwich restaurant not far from these hotels as well. One would drive to it. District Bagel is a delicious option for a hot breakfast if you wish. Pizza Pita is easy and close to the above mentioned hotels. The world famous poutine is one of their specialities, as well as tons of dairy delights. There is no eating within their establishment and there are tables along the sides of the restaurant for outdoor picnic style eating or, of course, food to take out.

The yeshiva community is located off Van Horne and de Vimy. The Chassidish community (Montreal has the second-largest population of Chassidim in North America next to New York) can be found between Park Avenue and de Vimy and between Van Horne and Ste. Catherine. The majority of Sephardim live in Cote St.Luc or St. Laurent, where they have their own schools, shuls, kollels, shtiebels, etc (and the most delicious bakeries).

The majority of the dati leumi community lives in the Hampstead/Cote St Luc area. The Cavendish Mall, which is in Cote St Luc, is home to the only almost-completely-kosher food court in North America (The American Dream cannot compare as they only have a small percentage of kosher eating places). There are at least five to six kosher establishments in the food court. Sfingy’s is a first-of-its-kind doughnut store (There are no Dunkin Donuts in Montreal). The only remaining non kosher restaurant there is Subway. There is an indoor playground directly adjacent to the food court and family members have the opportunity to sit at the same table and choose from so many different options. There is a kosher pizza store, sushi restaurant, deli, Chinese food establishment and a falafel and shawarma restaurant. There are also two dairy restaurants in the mall serving paninis, pasta, sandwiches, etc. The IGA (supermarket) in the same mall has an only-kosher bakery, take-out food department, meat department and fish department, all under hashgacha. It is worth checking out. There is also a ladies’ clothing store in the mall with the appropriate name of Tzniut. There is a large Chabad community in Montreal, with pockets close to the Lubavitch Yeshiva as well as many other suburban communities. Keep in mind that the Sefardi community has become an integral part of the Jewish world and everyone appreciates their culture and gastronomical delights, which are everywhere. My mouth is watering as I write this.

The best known coffee spot familiar to most of us is Starbucks and, believe it or not, in Canada all cake sold by Starbucks is kosher! More frequently, one might see the best known coffee spot in Canada, known as Second Cup, where all coffee drinks are kosher. Several Second Cups in the downtown area do have kosher danish and muffins, but one must ask if they have them or not. They are always kept in a separate compartment. There is a Second Cup downtown on McGill College Street which does offer kosher sandwiches and cakes, but one must be sure to ask which they are. It is imperative to note that things change on a daily basis. Please always ask. Important to also note are the significant Montreal kosher symbols—MK for Montreal Kosher; COR, which is from Toronto; and KSR, which is the local Sefardi hashgacha. All are acceptable.

A trip to Montreal is not the same without visiting Cheskie’s bakery on Bernard. There is nothing you can buy there that will not be delicious. It is best known for its rugelach and cheese crowns. Right next door is Deli 365 and the famous smoked meat and charcuterie that is well known in Montreal can be purchased there.

Take a tip from me. Stop at Cheskies, buy yourself a treat and then walk up two blocks on Bernard and sit outside Second Cup with your Cheskie treat and a yummy coffee drink.

There are many summer festivals in Montreal. Two of the best known are the Jazz Festival and the Just for Laughs. Throughout the downtown area during the time of the festivals there are many activities going on in the streets which one can observe by walking around or by buying tickets for various performances. All of the activities can be checked out online.

Walk the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, taking in the sights and sounds of Old World charm with some modern innovations. Keep in mind the success of the Cirque du Soleil, which began in the Old Port of Old Montreal. Its large white tent stands proudly. The founder of the Cirque, Guy Laliberte, still lives in Montreal and his innovative approach has changed and charmed people’s ideas of the circus forever.

Sadly no food for us in Old Montreal, just lots of cafes. The architecture is stunning and proudly in the center stands the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and the Palais de Justice (courthouse). Take a caleche (horse and buggy ride) through the narrow streets of Old Montreal and I am sure that your driver will fill you in on much of the history of the area. One can rent bikes in Old Montreal, whether they be for two or for six. It is fun to ride them along the river, which in this case is the Champlain River. Bike paths are everywhere. By the way, bikes can be rented on almost any street downtown and dropped at other locations. Also in the Old City is the Montreal Science Museum, which children and adults love. It is fun to be in Old Montreal at night, with artists, musicians and pantomimists lining the streets.

The equivalent of 42nd Street and Times Square would be Peel and Ste Catherine. There is a tourist office on Peel Street where all of your questions can be answered. Whenever in a new city I prefer to take a bus tour in order to get an idea of the city itself. If you do so, make sure that it is in English. Take your kids on the amphibus, which tours Old Montreal and then proceeds to go into the lake.

In the center of the city is a mountain known as Mt Royal. From the top of the mountain, which can be reached by car, bike if you are very physically fit, or by bus, it is possible to see the Adirondack Mountains of New York on a clear day, as well as the Olympic Stadium and other well known Montreal landmarks. There are lookouts for cars to park and enjoy the view. Watch out for the raccoons!

Visit the Biodome with children, where they are able to walk through four different seasons and ecosystems—one minute they will be freezing as in the Arctic and the next moment they will be walking through the Tropics. From the Biodome one can walk over to the Olympic Stadium and Tower. Tickets can be purchased as a package, and the Botanical Gardens are just a few steps away in the middle of the city. In case you haven’t figured it out, Mt. Royal for Montreal!

I am a big fan of going to Mont Tremblant for Shabbat. The recreated village in the Laurentian Mountains is beautiful and lovely. Getting there from the city by car should be about 1-1 ½ hours depending on the traffic.

A great advantage of staying in Mt Tremblant over Shabbat is the thriving Chabad, which is run by Rabbi Yisroel Mochkin. Each Shabbat afternoon the Mochkins host guests from everywhere for a generous and lovely lunch. Minyanim take place in the Chabad House.

There are a variety of hotels and condos in Mt Tremblant. It is easy to pick up food in Montreal to have for Shabbat, as there are many delicious choices for both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi palates. Mt Tremblant offers beautiful walking trails, a lake and a gondolier, which can take people all the way to the top of the mountain. It is great for both couples and families with children as activities abound.

For those interested in shopping, it is a well known fact that most of the “frum” children’s clothing that is sold in Lakewood, Monsey, Boro Park etc is manufactured in Montreal. All of the manufacturers have factory store outlets and are open on Sunday. They all take credit cards and are open to the public. One of them, Lollipop, now has a storefront. The others are all located in office buildings.

For those who prefer to shop downtown, Simon’s Department Store would be a worthwhile stop. Montreal streets are connected for some miles underneath due to the brutal winters. This indoor world is called the Underground City. One can travel for miles indoors without having to go outside.

Montreal is a clean and safe city. A suggestion which I emphatically make frequently is whatever you are doing in Canada (not just for Montreal), try to book directly with the Canadian sites so that you can benefit from the exchange rates which your personal credit cards offer. By purchasing anything on an American site you will be charged for a hotel or event in US dollars which is definitely not to your advantage. If you were to book a hotel on Hotels.com, for example, what currency are they charging you in? Be sure to check. Better to have that 30 % conversion in your pocket than theirs!

I am not sure if my passion for this amazing city has been given its proper due through this synopsis. I have not touched on so many things to do for families: museums, La Ronde, McGill University etc etc etc as well as the many possibilities of what to do on the return trip home. I have not zeroed in on the amazing blending of Sefardi and Ashkenazi cultures and palates. I have not emphasized enough the safety and cleanliness of the city.

For anyone who needs further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at The Link and I will be more than happy to help construct an itinerary that would best suit your needs as well as your choice of where to eat and stay. Kosher restaurants abound, as do parks, choice of synagogues and minyanim, both in and outside of the city.

Nina Glick can be reached at [email protected]

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