Experiencing all that Montréal has to offer isn't difficult, and if you are willing to stray from the Centre Ville you'll take home even more memories. Too many Vermonters limit themselves by asking, "How far is that from Place des Arts?"
Be adventurous. Are you willing to travel to west Montréal to visit East Africa? Accept this challenge and you'll be introduced to Ethiopian food at Messob d'Or, and experience some non-touristy neighborhood charm.
Ethiopian food is basic but complex. Chicken, lamb and beef are slow-cooked with a variety of spice combinations — built on cumin, cardamon, allspice, fenugreek, cayenne and tumeric — the most famous version of which is the berbere sauce. Luckily for vegetarians, the same spice combinations are applied to chickpeas, lentils, and green and yellow split peas. The art of cooking at Messob d'Or is such that none of the several combinations taste even remotely alike.
Don't drop in from the Metro without washing your hands first — Ethiopian food is not eaten with utensils. Spongy flatbread, called injira, is layered on a serving platter, and the cooked dishes are spooned onto it. Extra rolls of injira are served on the side. Tear off a piece and use it to grab a morsel ... and another. At the end, eat the injira right off the platter, soaked in sauces.
We ordered the Kitfo — raw sirloin mixed with spices ($9.95). A slightly cooked version called leb-leb is available, as is another served with a mixture of dry cottage cheese, chopped spinach and berbere sauce ($12.95).
We also had a combination order, which included spicy ground beef (Minchet'abish) and a spicy, creamed yellow pea dish (Yeshiro wat). A lamb dish (Alitch'a) and a classic chicken dish served for special occasions (Yedoro wat) are the least spicy of the meat offerings, but most of the veggie "salads" are flavored with onions, green pepper, lemon or olive oil instead of peppers, and are served chilled. Several combinations are available. For two people, these offer the best introduction to the many wonderful tastes, and at $9 for two dishes, are a bargain, too.
We noted a sweet, slightly fermented flavor to the mild ground beef dish, and learned it came from the addition of a honey wine, which our waiter insisted we sample after the meal. Spiced tea was all we could manage to end the evening, but decadent Western desserts are available. Go for a Montréal microbrew instead of the "plonk" (house wine).
The service is warm and attentive, and the plain restaurant is decorated with travel posters, authentic paintings and basketry. It's a far cry from the tony St. Denis Italo-fusion scene, but then, so is Ethiopia.
Messob d'Or is a bit of a drive from downtown — about ! 5 minutes west of Place des Arts. It's easy to find, however, as it is located on Monkland, the "main street" of the neighborhood west of the Decarie Autoroute known as "NDG" (for the main church there, Notre Dame de Grace). Follow Sherbrooke west to Decarie (the street is a couple of blocks east of the trench that is the Autoroute.) Turn right and proceed to Monkland. (You'll see the Villa Maria Metro stop on the corner). Turn left on Monkland, and you are four blocks away. The neighborhood is very safe — in fact, full of trendy new "restos." The staff of Messob d'Or speak lovely English, and the menu is bilingual. Hey, as long as you're driving two hours to Montreal, why not drive another 15 and really leave your own culture behind?
Passes: If you expect to make more than two round-trips in a day in Montréal, the one-day and three-day tourist passes are a very good value. Unlimited rides on all buses and Metros are $5 for one day and $14 for three consecutive days.
You can buy passes at the InfoTouriste Center (Peel St. between Rene Levesque and Ste. Catherine — follow the brown information signs as you enter the city on the Bonaventure Autoroute). During the summer, passes are also available at Metro stations Peel, McGill, Place des Arts, Place d'Armes, Bonaventure and Pie-IX. Scratch the silver coating off the day and month you are using the pass (like an instant lottery ticket), and flash it at the Metro booth or to the bus driver. Stock up for future trips — they're good indefinitely.
For single rides, the best value is a lisiére [LEE-zee-air], a strip of six tickets. The lisiére tickets save almost 75 cents per person for each one-way trip. (You'll need one strip for the kids, and one for adults.) They don't expire — buy a strip now and use the tickets to travel any time.
Parking: According to the tourism bureau for Montréal, there are 40,000 parking spots in downtown, including indoor, outdoor and street parking. Sure.
An excellent map of parking lots is available, designating the indoor and of the "underground Montréal" shopping areas. "Parking in Downtown Montréal," is available at the Info Toursite center. Pick up this guide on your next trip to the city and save yourself a lot of aggravation.
It's easiest to leave the car and explore downtown on foot, or the rest of the city by Metro and bus, so look for the purple bull's-eye logo with the caption, "Destination Centre- Ville." These lots charge only $4 every evening, and all day on Saturday and Sunday. (The parking map highlights these cheapies.) Watch out for the prices at the indoor parking at hotels and office buildings — we once spent $12 for the privilege of parking at Bonaventure Center for two hours.
Be careful parking in Montréal neighborhoods. Many of those closest to the popular districts (like the Prince Arthur restaurant street) have recently gone to resident-only (RO) parking. Sometimes sections of the same block are both open and RO parking. RO parking areas are marked by street signs displaying a little red square with a numeral in it for the district, and an ambiguous arrow pointing toward the off-limits sites.
Other street signs will tell you the days and hours when any parking is forbidden. Times are given in the 24-hour clock, and the days of the week are abbreviated as follows:
If it says "Lun au Vend," it means you can't park Monday through Friday, but if it says "Lun Vend" it means just Monday and Friday.
The fine for illegal parking is steep, and streets are regularly patrolled. Don't think you are immune because you're a tourist. Somehow (probably another side-effect of the dreaded NAFTA) Montréal police now can trace you to Vermont if you get a ticket. (We owe $43 for violating RO, that's how we know.)
There is no right on red in Québec, and a green "straight ahead" arrow means just that. Turn right or left on green only if you have a full green light. (This gives pedestrians a chance to cross before you turn.) A blinking green light means you have a protected left turn. Think of it as learning another language.
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