Monday, June 8, 2009

Montreal Bike Fest

Montreal, the short story

Kilometres cycled: 20+52+a bunch of our own = ~100km
Road Trippin Tune-age: Passion Pit
Beverage: Belle Gueule original lager
Food groups: crepes, Smoked Meats, poutine, traditional french fare, ju jubes
Change found: $0.15

Montreal, the long story

Montreal, it turns out, is totally rad. I was there this past weekend for the second time ever, although the first was a school band trip I took in grade 9 so I'm inclined to not count that (and can't remember any of it anyway). It pains me to say, I might have continued postponing my return to la Belle Province's hippest metropolis had it not been for Velo Quebec and a little good luck. I was the winner of the Bike Fest draw they held way back in the spring at the Bike Show.

The prize included two nights accommodations at Parc Suites Hotel Apartments and registration for two in a duo of Bike Fest rides — one on Friday night (La Tour Nuit) and one on Sunday morning (Tour de l'Île de Montréal).

So what's Bike Fest anyway? It's pretty much a series of activities that happen every spring celebrating the bike as a way to get around their fair city. This year, they were celebrating their 25th anniversary! People come from all over but the main group populating the two enormous rides we were on came from Montreal. It's not a race, and it's not a charity-ride. It's really just people out riding their bikes for nothing but the fun of it. It boggles the mind, I know.

And when I say enormous rides, I mean it. There were three thousand riders out for a 20km loop on Friday night's Tour la Nuit, and Sunday, there was a reported 30,000 out for the 52km Tour de l'Île de Montréal. The city shut down the roads so cyclists reigned supreme. All along the routes, Montrealers lined the streets, stoops and balconies cheering, clapping, and using all sorts of noise-making paraphanalia to cheer us on our merry way. They decorated their lawns and gardens with lights, balloons and streamers. All this commotion just for the fun of bikes? I think Montreal is mecca.

The prize was a trip for two, so Gerhard and I shared in this surreal bike-friendly experience (the jaded Torontonian said). Our only regret was that we didn't bring our own costumes and noise makers. But we did remember the beer!

Bike Fest wasn't the only thing going on in Montreal that weekend. Coincidentally (?) Beer Fest was also going off. Our hotel was right in the thick of things so when we weren't Bike Fest-ing, we found all kinds of exhausting ways to spend our time between eating.

Friday night we hooked up with friends we discovered were also in town. We converged on Bar St Sulpice in the Latin Quarter on St. Denis. It wasn't until we were about to go in that I realized I might need ID to get by the bouncer. And of course, mine was in my hotel room. A bit of palm sweat, some palpitations and a clever, karma-bank -withdrawal-story about "leaving my wallet at the poutine place" and I was in. Didn't even have to bat an eyelash. Thank goodness because I would have felt pretty silly if we'd walked all the way down there just to get a coffee. We quickly discovered why Saint Sulpice is the shit. Four words for you: Largest Patio In Canada. Hit it up if you're in town.

So our "it's cool with me to just take it easy" Friday night ended up being a stay-til-close affair. That meant sleeping in on Saturday which worked out perfectly because the sun waited for us to finish our crepe breakfast before it got out of bed. We strapped on our hikin shoes and headed down to Old Montreal to walk off mild hangovers and take in the sites. Even the graffiti in Montreal is beautiful. After a good walk around, it was time to eat again. So we grabbed bikes and toured around a little more stopping at La Banquise for poutine. Which was retardedly amazing, with squeaky curds and everything. Mine had fries, curds and gravy, sure. But also bacon, sauteed mushrooms and smoked sausage. After carbo loading, we headed up to check out the view from Mont Royal. It was a bit more uphill riding than I bargained for.

We finished Saturday off with a traditional french meal of lamb and duck in Old Montreal. The waiter was a kind old fellow, who made a wonderful wine recommendation for us. The food was amazing, and both of us said it was one of the better meals we've ever had. I was blown away just by the rice. It was my first time having duck and I think I'll be scared to order it again because I don't see how it could live up to [insert forgotten restaurant name here]'s. After a wonderful dinner, we leaisurely made our way through Place Jacques Cartier, stopping to watch the street performers before hailing a cab back to our well appointed hotel room.

All too fast, Sunday arrived with an early start. We were delighted to find that the start of the big tour was right outside our hotel's entrance so we didn't have very far to go to meet up with the thousands of riders headed out for a spin. The sun was shining, but the temperature stayed perfect and we rode our tour like champions (in french, champions).

What better way to finish the trip than with a stop at Schwartz's for some smoked meats? We walked right in (rare that there's no line!) and feasted on beef and pickles. As we left Montreal, the clouds came out, and the rain started falling. Certainly helped curb the urge to just turn the van around.

A great weekend ... and new annual tradition? Riders (and eaters) wanted!

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