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Montreal Promises a Great Vacation and All That Jazz

By Barbara Morgan (barbaramorgan@wwwiz.com)

 You can have it all in Montreal and if you time it just right, a vacation in this fabled city offers everything from hot jazz to the cool splash of scenic lakes and natural beaches. Once again I decided to do just that. I planned my trip around the 21st Annual Montreal International Jazz Festival, which runs for 11 days beginning the last week of June.

            Our Air Canada nonstop flight was smooth and as always the food on this airline is a cut above the rest.  Service is friendly and efficient.  For complete schedules to Montreal go to www.aircanada.ca/.

            We touch down at Montreal's Dorval Airport in the middle of a summer thunderstorm and by the time I check into the Hotel Le Germain it's past 11 p.m.  The ultra-contemporary Le Germain expresses the best in minimalist design and is one of the city's newer properties with soft atmosphere, warm decor and excellent service. Since the kitchen was closed when I arrived, the very kind young staff offered to bring me something to eat from one of the nearby restaurants. A short time after I made my selection from the takeout menu, a staffer delivered my order to my door.

Although it's only a year old, Hotel Le Germain has already won several major awards and it's definitely one of the most comfortable properties I've ever experienced. The cloud-soft bedding alone is reason to book a visit. Click on www.hotelgermain.com/ for more information on this outstanding hotel and on www.tourism-montreal.org/ for information on other accommodations. If you want to catch a glimpse of your favorite musicians, book your reservations at the Wyndham Hotel; it's the headquarters for the Jazz Festival and most of the artists stay there.

As I pick up my press credentials at the Wyndham, Angelique Kidjo sweeps through the room in a blaze of French ebullience while Al Jarreau is being interviewed in the lounge.  The hotel is part of the Complexe Desjardins Shopping Mall and is located right next to the all the outdoor festival action along Rue Ste-Catherine. Throughout the festival, the Wyndham also offers a great jam session every night at 11 p.m.  This year the sessions were hosted by the tasty straight-ahead jazz of the Steve Amirault Trio.

If you choose to stay at the Wyndham, you'll need to book several months in advance of the festival. Montreal in the summer is a perfect setting for a festival. The warm afternoon sun and the hot music coming from the outdoor stages washes over the thousands on hand for the continuous free performances.  There are many families with small children in the crowd. That's the great thing about this festival, young and old can enjoy the music. The entire downtown area turns itself into a non-stop musical venue with its open-air stages and nearby ticketed venues that feature an all-star lineup of world-class musicians.  This year there were more than 2,000 artists serving up a menu that included every musical style from mainstream to techno jazz.

I was fortunate enough to catch Al Jarreau who opened his set singing ``Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself," a wonderfully versatile self that always runs the gamut from scat to gospel to the most soulful soul on the planet.

            For the second straight year, the crowd was treated to the daily Louisiana Parade to celebrate the Crescent City as the cradle of jazz.  Festival information can be accessed in early May throughout the run at www.montrealjazzfest.com/.

            There were more than 450 concerts and this festival boasts an enviable safety record; there is never any violence.  In addition to the music, you'll find all kinds of activities for children: there is highly creative face painting, jugglers and the new iSci Center, which opened this spring in Montreal's Old Port and is the city's first interactive science and entertainment center. Children are encouraged to touch and experiment with the interactive exhibits.  The Immersion Interactive Cinema is also very popular as is the Imax 3D Cinema featuring the fabulous Cirque Du Soleil. To immerse yourself in all the iSci Center has to offer click on www.oldportofmontreal.com/.

            Another Montreal family favorite is La Ronde, Quebec's largest amusement park.  The Monster roller coaster claims to be among the scariest in the world. In case you need another reason to plan your vacation around the Jazz Festival, La Ronde is also the scene of the annual Benson & Hedges International Fireworks Competition that runs concurrently with the festival.

Located directly across from the lovely Parc Drapeau on Parc Des Isles, families can picnic in the lush and beautiful greenery of the park, enjoy bicycling, sailing, inline skating or just relax on the sandy beach, then check out the rides at La Ronde and stay for the fireworks show.  For complete details visit www.parcjeandrapeau.com/Anglais/Anglais.asp.

            If you're traveling with children, you can also expose them to some of the finest art museums. I viewed the magnificent French masterpieces exhibit, from Renoir to Picasso at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art.  For a complete exhibit schedule go to www.mmfa.qc.ca./

Many hotels offer babysitting services so parents can have the best of both worlds; spend the day exploring and sampling the many activities the city has to offer and catch their favorite jazz acts by night. The free outdoor shows go on until past midnight but if you still hunger for more music, you can catch the jam session at the Wyndham that goes on until the wee hours of the morning.

And speaking of hunger, no trip to this great city would be complete without sampling its world-class cuisine. You can go as high-end or as thrifty as you like.  There are all kinds of food stands surrounding the outdoor stages by my favorite quick-bite venue was the Complexe Desjardins Food Court.  Here, you'll find everything from falafels to frites (freshly cooked French fries).  A burger, frites and drink will cost less than $5.

            An affordable culinary treat is the Lobster Fest in Chinatown, another event that runs concurrently with the Jazz Festival. A heaping plate of Chinese lobster will cost a mere $8!

My two favorite restaurants were both French and located in Old Montreal.  Boris Bistro, a delightful eatery with a pleasant courtyard has a wonderful menu. I ordered the superb Chicken Bouillabaisse.  Have a look at the mouth-watering choices at http://www.borisbistro.com/.  My other favorite gourmet find was Restaurant Le Bourlingeur, a delightful country French venue on rue St. Francois Xavier.  If you take a window seat, you'll look out on the old world charm of cobblestone streets and restored warehouses that are more than a hundred years old. Many have become artists' lofts.

A great way to tour Old Montreal is to rent a drawn carriage. This will cost about $60 per hour.  It's also really fun to walk down St. Paul Street, Old Montreal's most colorful street. It's filled with interesting boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and bars.  Visitors can pick up wonderful paintings and the prices are surprisingly affordable. All galleries and shops offer shipping services.

            The Civic Center is a short distance away and so is the Notre Dame Basilica, one of Montreal's most glorious churches.  Built between 1824 and 1829, it is a splendid example of Gothic Revival architecture.  The paintings, sculptures and stained glass are breathtaking. The church is open for tours year round. For a comprehensive overview of Old Montreal, visit www.tourism-montreal.org.

You really can have it all in Montreal, especially at Jazz Festival time.  You could be one of the 13,000 who attended the sold-out Sting concert or you could be one of the 250,000 getting your salsa at the mega street party featuring Timbalada's Brazilian Carnival or you could opt as I did and let the jam session at the Wyndham mellow you out.

 

Barbara Morgan is a writer living in Los Angeles.

 

horiline

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