On Sunday, March 18, I flew nonstop to Montreal on a “real” ticket (thanks to McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law, IASL). Landed, zipped through border formalities, and into a nice T-t-S with Isabelle, an Air Canada flight attendant. Told her my “first-visit-to-Montreal-51-years-ago” story and a couple of other tales while we waited for the STM (public transit) express bus to downtown. The bus runs non-stop, but was not express – weekends are for freeway rebuilding, so it took an hour. I was deep in my iPhone screen, but when I looked up close to the center I immediately knew where I was, and said to myself “this place is really familiar.” Nice to have a collection of places that feel well known.
Hopped on the Metro for the last couple of miles and walked to my digs. First stop was lunch at Kantapia, a now-familiar Korean hole-in-the-wall close by. Slurped a bowl of noodles in spicy broth. Ambled back to my suite on the top floor of La Citadelle, McGill student housing, watched a bit of March Madness basketball, and took a nap.
Out the door about five. The wind was howling, and it felt like single-digits Fahrenheit. Onto the #24 bus, then the #165, skirting the western flank of Mount Royal, the big, forested hill right in the middle of town. It had been more than three decades since I was on Chemin Côte-des-Neiges (literally, the “Snowy Side Road”), but again it felt familiar. Hopped off in the neighborhood adjacent to the University of Montreal and several other schools, and made my way to Saint-Houblon, a brewpub. I had been to the other location, in the Latin Quarter east of downtown, many times, frequently enough to make friends with Michel, a manager.
Sat down at the bar, and there was Michel. Instant recognition (yet more evidence of a familiar place!). He explained that he normally worked the other venue, but was training a new server/bartender. Michel explained that since my last visit five months earlier they had started a microbrewery, and he brought me a couple of IPA samples. Yum, especially the “NEIPA Passion,” a New England IPA, fruity and hoppy. It was not busy, and we had a long yak. He was 26, what in America we call an “Army brat,” both parents in the Canadian Forces. Dad of Italian ancestry, Mom a Quebecker. We talked about the Saint-Houblon enterprise, the four owners, the new brewmaster who Michel said was “almost despicable” for his unwillingness to compromise with his produce. Saint-Houblon (“Saint Hops”) serves great food in addition to fine beer, and I tucked into baked cod, cauliflower couscous, and beets. So good. Said au revoir to Michel, thanked the new server, and headed home via Metro (it was too cold to wait for two buses).
Up at dawn Monday morning, out the door, and a few blocks to Tim Horton’s for breakfast and a large coffee. Met my McGill B-school host Mary Dellar in the classroom at 8:20 and delivered a talk to her Services Marketing undergrads, an engaged group. At the end thanks came in loud applause as well as a Tim Horton’s prepaid card. Yippee! Mary had a midterm to proctor at 11:35, which gave us time for brunch and a good catch-up yak. She’s a swell person, a true Canadian in the best sense.
Worked for a couple of hours, and at one met my law school host, Brian Havel, the new head of IASL. I was still stuffed, but enjoyed a bowl of cream soup with scallops and corn in the McGill Faculty Club, housed in the ornate former mansion of a successful German industrialist. From two to four I held a colloquium about aviation careers and the airline business with masters’ of air law students, informal and enjoyable. Walked back to the hotel, took a short snooze, and headed back to campus for one more gig, 6:00 to 7:30, to the undergraduate marketing club. A full day. Back to the suite, into jeans, onto the #24 bus north on Sherbrook a mile to the Latin Quarter and another fave brewpub, L’Amère a Boire, for a beer and a rabbit burger. Yum!
The flight home was in early afternoon, so I paddled around the suite, worked a bit, and headed out for a Tim Horton’s breakfast, then a couple of bus rides around town (the STM three-day pass, including the ride from and to the airport, is under 14 bucks), admiring the old neighborhoods; Montreal has a lot of architectural texture. Last ride was back on the Metro. Grabbed my suitcase, walked down the hill to the airport bus, zipped west, and flew home. I never tire of that city.