I have been watching Formula 1 for I don’t even know how many years. Over those years I have attended the United States Grand Prix four times. Two back at Indianapolis (2006 and 2007) and then two in Austin (inaugural event in 2012 and 2016). The contract was not renewed for Indy so after 2007 and until Austin in 2012 there was no United States Grand Prix. Being a huge fan seeing a Formula 1 race in a foreign country has been on my bucket list for a while. It is a global phenomenon that I just have to see one in a different country. What do they always say: location, location, location.
It didn’t take much convincing for Jeremy to commit and so we decided Canada would be a good first race outside the US. While not far, it is technical another country. Being relatively close to the US would help keep costs down which was a bonus. Any fan will also know that the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a pretty spectacular track. The super long front straight, the ultra tight turn 10 and the wall of champions just to name a few highlights. Not to mention some pretty incredible races and if you throw in a little rain, watch out. Things can get crazy. Visiting Montreal has also been on my list for a while so double win on that.
For months I had been waiting for this trip to come. It was going to be a seven day, six night trip to Montreal. We decided that if we are going this far lets bookend the race with some free time in Montreal and really get to know the city. We flew out on Wednesday and would fly back the following Wednesday. Race events happened Friday through Sunday so that meant two full days doing whatever we wanted.
Before the fun could start we had to get there. My flight from Portland was routed through Newark and then onto Montreal. Some freak weather in Newark early in the evening delayed my flight from Portland and cancelled the flight to Montreal. Thankfully I didn’t leave my house before all this went down so a quick call to United and I was routed through Calgary via Air Canada. I was very thankful everything worked out. The one downside was I arrived just after midnight.
It was such a long day of travel getting to Montreal but I was so happy to get there. Jeremy beat my by a good margin and was already checked into the hotel. That night we caught up for several hours before we went to bed. This was going to be a fun trip and it had only just started.
The next morning was a free day and we both agreed, lets just wake up and figure it out tomorrow. That evening I just didn’t have the brain power to come up with a plan. All I could think about when I got there was sleep.
After some fuel for the body we headed out to experience the city. We started by just walking around. It was a work day and mid-afternoon so the streets where packed with workers and tourists alike. A very metropolitan and diverse city which was really great to see. When I see a lot of diversity like Montreal has it makes me feel good. We need more diversity, not less. Our first stop was to the cannabis store. Canada recently legalized cannabis so I was interested in seeing what they had.
Next objective was to come up with a plan for the rest of the day. We decided on the Musee des beaux-arts de Montreal and the opportunity for a little culture. There is something about art museums I love. The fine art museum is really a bunch of smaller buildings with different themes that are all interconnected. During out visit they had several special events going on. You could tell that because Formula 1 was in town lots of money had followed and all over town everyone was trying to grab a bit of that freely spending cash.
The most memorable exhibit was the one on coutur fashion. Anyone that knows me knows I have no sense of fashion. I can appreciate it, I just choose to spend my money on different things. This exhibit has several famous works of clothing. Often I would recognize the outfit and then Jeremy and I would try to remember what it was from. A pretty decent exhibit and something I would not have expected to see in an art museum. But then again this is one reason I love art museums. Anything and everything is and can be art.
We spent the rest of the afternoon simply exploring the city and seeing as much of it as we could. There was just something about mingling among all the people that was just great. I really felt welcomed by the city. Walking around is something I do a lot of in Portland and I was happy it easily transferred to Montreal. That night we walked around till we found La Maison Bulgogi for dinner. Really good stuff and it was cheap as crap. We went with the full experience and cooked our own meat.
Finally the day has arrived. It is Friday and that means the start of practice. We got an early start to make sure we didn’t miss anything and took the metro right to the doorstep of the track. Everything was super organized and the flow of people was very well controlled that morning and in fact all weekend. I was very impressed with the use of soft power to control and direct the crowds. You could tell this was not their first large event and ran like a well oiled machine.
Anyways once we got to the track we did our typical day one stuff, we walked the track. We quickly found there was no way to walk completely around the track. Being on an island, and a public park as well, there just isn’t enough space. The track guides visitors pretty well and limits what you can see. We couldn’t walk around the entire track but we managed to explore every place we could till someone told us to stop. We also found that the general viewing areas are pretty limited. Mostly because of the limited space but also because of all the trees. So many trees.
We got a good look at the track that first day. We walked around the lake and relaxed for a while. We both agreed that a trip to the park in summer would be a good trip. The casino in the middle of the park is pretty interesting. Lots of fan zones and places for people to congregate. Along the back straight they still have in place the rowing venue. We even managed to find a nice shady spot near our grand stand to hang out.
All day we walked around to get different vantage points of the track from the support races and F1 practice. The track is know for all the trees and I will admit that it makes seeing the cars with a general admission ticket pretty difficult. We found a good spot around turn three. Also along the back straight before turn 10 is a nice grassy knoll with some shade. Typical race track vantage points but again, not a lot of GA spots to watch the action.
Time at the track that first day was pretty limited but it was nice to get a feel for the layout and where everything was for the weekend. We headed back to town and started looking for food. We decided on tacos and Burrito Borracho not far from our hotel hit the spot. Surprisingly we didn’t have a problem getting a table even thought it was in the fan zone. The taco’s where pretty amazing. We got an order and split it. As soon as the first plate was delivered I ordered second set of tacos and glad I did because it was all so good.
All day I had wanted a cigar so I treated us to some at La Casa del Habano. I got an cappuccino to go along with mine and it was a damn tasty combo. We had the NBA finals in the background that night. Raptors at Golden State and the Raptors won 105 to 92. They ended up taking the championship. While the cigars might be over priced it was totally worth it to just hanging out smoking cigars with Jeremy. We even met a really cool dude named Ramie who was a local. He gave us some tips on a good Montreal pastrami place and a poutine place.
Saturday and things started to heat up. It was go fast day. The hotel was full of race fans that morning at breakfast. Getting to the track was a little busier with more people crowding the track to see the cars. But just like Friday the weather was a perfect late spring day in Montreal. A fine day to push cars to the limit and go the fastest.
Because we couldn’t really walk around the track and there are limited viewing areas we caught FP3 from the side lines but went to our seats for qualifying. Waiting for qualifying we went to the Casino Montréal so I could give away my money. That turned into a cluster fuck but we didn’t really know it at the time. We apparently came in from the back exit. The guy at the gate didn’t speak English and of course we don’t speak French. He kept trying to tell us something but eventually gave up and let us through with a stamp on our inside wrist. Come to find out that was crucial to us getting back into the track. I also went back with more then then I walked in with. Oh happy day.
Typical casino like you find all over the world. Bag check and security to get in. A few race cars before the security to help lure people in. Nothing but slots on the first floor. We went to the second and immediately turned around because it was all table games. At the end of our time at the casino I found a Flintstones double seater slot machine and out in CA$20. Because qualifying was getting close and I had money left I started making big bets. Well one paid out so instead of loosing twenty I walked away with 60. I poured that back into the local economy like any good tourist.
Our seats from the casino were pretty far and we still hadn’t had lunch. We eventually stopped for some hot dogs and got shit service from the teenagers working the stand. We actually missed the start of quals because they just didn’t give a shit. I was pretty hot after our mishap, causing us to miss the green flag. I just wanted to get to our seats and sit down.
When we finally got to our stand I didn’t have much hope for good seats. While I did buy them as early as I could I ran into delays purchasing the ticket. When we got to the top of the stairs I looked down at the steps as they had the letters of each row. We where X. What I saw in front of me was MM and below me was GG so that meant we had to go up. And boy did we go up. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve does it backwards meaning single letters are higher so Z is the top row. We arrived late because of the food snafu so we just sat in the middle of the stairs. I was not about to fight crowds and all I wanted to do was sit down and eat my hotdog.
Getting back to downtown was rather easy considering the size of the crowd that night. Based on Ramie’s suggested we headed north from our hotel to Schwartz’s Deli and the home made pastrami. We didn’t know it but all of Boul Saint-Laurent was closed for a street festival. Just a mass of people out in the street perusing the vendors on what turned out to be a gorgeous Saturday night. When we finally got to Schwartz’s the line was well out the door. It wasn’t good enough for us to stand in line so we went to Restaurant Jano. A Portuguese restaurant specializing in grilled meat. Not the best I have had but certainly a good inexpensive meal that hit the spot for comfort food.
Finally race day was here and we were super excited. We made a super earlier start getting to the track that morning. At breakfast the place was packed with fans doing the same thing. Sunday was certainly the largest all week but the flow as pretty good. The use of soft power by the police really helped with crowd control I must say. We got to our seats with plenty of time to catch the start and not missing anything which made me happy. We had packed a bunch of food along with water so we also didn’t need a reason to leave our seats during the race.
Vettel started poll and lead the entire race. About two thirds of the way through the race he made an off track mistake. When he corrected to get back on track he impeded Hamilton as he was about to pass. The stewards declared this an unsafe return and penalized Vettel 5 seconds. Hamilton all day was right behind Vettel but never with enough power or breaking to pass him. This penalty however gave Hamilton the win and you could see the frustration on Vettel’s face after the race.
All in all not a very exciting race but a beautiful day to be outside enjoying some world class driving. After the race we hung out down by the water under the shade in a place we spotted the first day. Nothing was going on after the race either so eventually we just left. Sunday took longer to get out but we did eventually make it back to the hotel. We had reservations to La Queue de Cheval Steakhouse & Raw Bar that night and I didn’t want to be late.
Last time in Austin we had a great steak dinner and I wanted to do that again in Montreal. Unfortunately this place was not the place I hoped it would be. The waiter was rather boring and didn’t have a personality. You could tell that he had given the same speech over and over again and had lost the emotion behind it. It was more routine then anything else and was rather annoying. The steak was also not as good as I had hoped for the price. It was poorly season and even for a rib eye it was to fatty. The sides where good but way to small which was disappointing. If I knew that I would have gotten more. Just not what I was hoping for the price I paid for that meal. Live and learn and when we go back to Montreal we will be certain to pick another place for steak.
The saving grace to the day was another cigar at La Casa del Habano. This was a given considering the steak meal we had and the perfect night cap to the end of race day. Vettel lead all day but managed to come in second, the steak was pretty terrible but at least we had fine cigars. I got another cappuccino to savoir with my cigar and good company. Eventually three gentlemen from New Jersey sit who are also here for the race. One in particular was really knowledgeable about F1 and he was a joy to talk to.
Monday thankfully was not a travel day for us. We didn’t have to rush out of town like many thousands of others. We got another full day in the city to explore and check things out. This also included sleeping to whenever the hell we wanted which was nice.
We explored and visited new neighborhoods and saw a totally different side of the city. Our first stop of the day was The Biosphere. This is an environmental museum which was pretty interesting. Skip the video, we gave up after about 15 minutes of just plan weird stuff. Lots of small exhibits but nothing that will blow your doors off. The observation deck is one of the coolest things about this place besides just being inside this giant sphere.
I wanted to hit a brewery and get some food so to start our culinary adventure we headed to Brasserie Dieu du Ciel again north of us. The brewery was a few blocks from the metro station so we got to see what this neighborhood was like. Rather nice place to walk through with not only a lot of homes but small shop as well. More on that later.
The food was rather good her and the beer was pretty adventurous I must say. Nothing that really blew my doors off but some good weird ales which was a nice change of pace. It was great to see how majorly different the styles are in Montreal compared to here in Portland or even to northern Virginia. The food was pretty simple but flavorful and a nice touch for a brewery. The place inside is a lot of exposed wood and tables. Small brewery operation is in the corner. They actually have a basement which had additional brewing operations which is interesting.
While in the neighborhood I did a search for stationary and found two places. The first one isn’t worth mentioning, such a disappointment. The second was Au Papier Japonais which was a way better store. They had all sorts of things imported from Japan or inspired by Japan in their shop. Some stationary but what I fell in love with was the paper. I found this super thin sheets of paper with Japanese maple leaves pressed into it. I have been looking for something like this for a while so I was excited to stumble across this place. The cleric carefully wrapped it since I had to carry it with me on the plane.
From here we headed down to the water front. We decided to just hang out in a park along the water. From the metro stop the piers are not that far. We ended up on a grassy knoll overlooking the channel. It was pretty peaceful with a handful of others just relaxing in the park like we were. I took this opportunity to get a little writing done and simply enjoy the world around me.
Not making it to Schwartz’s Deli on Saturday we decided to try again on Monday and hope for better luck. This time Boul Saint-Laurent was still closed but no line out the door. The sandwich was pretty good I must say. The pastrami was all done up in Montreal seasoning which was a little different but in a good way. It didn’t work on the steak but the pastrami was a different story. Cash only at this place but they do accept American money which is convenient.
After that satisfying meal we headed back to the metro station with a long stop at Square Saint-Louie. This is a very nice tree lined park with a big fountain in the middle. Tons of benches so we took the opportunity to take a load off and have a smoke before getting back to the hotel. It was another relaxing evening in Montreal that night.
And this too must end. It was great visiting Montreal. They certainly know how to put on a large event with efficiency. The race could have been better but it was a great time at the track. All the support races where great. The food was simply amazing all week and the cultural events were hard to beat. It is a very walk able city and you throw in the great metro system you can get anywhere quickly. The people are nice with a diverse mix of cultures. A really great city and I look forward to coming back.