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Holiday, Vacation & Tour

 

Hello From Montreal: A Gourmet Dinner At Nuances Restaurant, Followed By Amazing Fireworks

My personalized tour of the Casino de Montreal was very interesting and taught me many different things that I had never known about casino operations. My learning experience was followed by an opportunity to sample the Casino’s hospitality first hand. Alexandre took me up to the top floor of the Casino and handed me over to Benoît, the restaurant manager at Nuances, the Casino’s gourmet restaurant.

I had a perfect table by the window with a beautiful view overlooking the ...

Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Las Ronde, Casino, Fireworks, food, restaurant

My personalized tour of the Casino de Montreal was very interesting and taught me many different things that I had never known about casino operations. My learning experience was followed by an opportunity to sample the Casino’s hospitality first hand. Alexandre took me up to the top floor of the Casino and handed me over to Benoît, the restaurant manager at Nuances, the Casino’s gourmet restaurant.

I had a perfect table by the window with a beautiful view overlooking the St. Lawrence River and the downtown Montreal skyline. The sun was just starting to set and the entire scene was bathed in golden hues. Benoît even took me out on to a terrace on the top level of the Casino that offered a completely unobstructed 180 degree view of downtown Montreal and the entire island. The vista was absolutely stunning. The Casino de Montreal is definitely one of the best places to view Montreal’s skyline.

Nuances is a highly acclaimed fine dining restaurant that has been awarded the coveted CAA-AAA Five Diamond Rating. This 72-seat restaurant has a sophisticated atmosphere and a highly dedicated staff. Once I got comfortable, Gérard, the waiter for my table, brought an “amuse-bouche”, a starter plate that featured frozen goat cheese on ice in a reduction of apple cider. The mixture of sweet and tart flavours definitely perked up my taste buds and got them ready for the culinary surprises yet to come.

As an appetizer I enjoyed mixed a vegetable salad and mesclun lettuce with vegetable chips and a sherry vinaigrette. This entrée was accompanied by three different types of bread with home-made butter, made from heavy cream. Gérard explained that the breads were a French baguette, a hazelnut/ honey / raisin bread and a so-called Lodeve bread from the South of France.

I also got a quick peak at Nuances' three different wine cellars: the wine cellar behind the bar features wines that are organized carefully by region and type of wine. One of the cellars holds extremely rare and expensive wines. I asked for Benoît’s suggestion to select a main course as well as a wine to match. He recommended that I try the Chilean sea bass. The black rice accompanying the fish is also referred to as ‘forbidden rice” since only the Chinese emperor was allowed to consume it. Benoît suggested a glass of German Gewürztraminer to go with this dish.

Shortly after I received my meal and enjoyed the delicate taste of the sea bass, accompanied by mixed vegetables such as wild asparagus, bok choy and parsnips. The fish was drizzled in a yellow wine sauce, made with wine from Jura in the French Savoie region. Some drops of parsley oil rounded out the medley of complementary flavours.

As I would have to rush off shortly to go to the fireworks which would start at the La Ronde amusement park, Benoît ensured the speedy arrival of my dessert: a Muscat wine jello with strawberries combined with a vanilla and Szechuan pepper mousse on a chocolate base with a pistachio sauce, a delicate treat. We even had a chance to visit the kitchen to meet the chefs who had prepared my gourmet meal. As I got back to my table and got myself organized, Benoît dropped by with a “petit four”, a “little oven” of baked goods that included miniature biscotti, fruit jelly, pistachio jelly and American chocolate. I just loved the creative French terms used, "amuse-bouche" and "petit four" are perfect descriptions for these culinary delights.

This multi-course meal combined with the personalized and highly attentive service and the stunning views of Montreal made my evening at Nuances a very special experience and a definite highlight of my trip. When I had to leave Benoît took me personally down to the main entrance of the Casino where he flagged down a taxi for me to ensure I would make it on time to the fireworks at La Ronde. The staff at the Casino de Montreal went out of their way to make this evening a memorable experience.

My five-minute taxi ride took me back across the bridge to Ile Sainte-Hélène where my driver dropped me off in front of the main entrance at La Ronde. La Ronde is Montreal's amusement park and first opened in 1967 as part of Expo 67, a world fair that really put Montreal on the map. Today La Ronde is a member of the famous Six Flag family of amusement parks.

My seat provided a perfect view of the soon-to-come spectacle and the huge crowd was filled with anticipation. What seemed like many thousands of people were located inside the La Ronde amusement park in different seating sections and many thousands more were planning to watch the fireworks from the Jacques Cartier Bridge.

The fireworks today were part of a competition series called “L’International des Feux Loto-Québec” which features a schedule of 10 pyro-musical events between June 17 and July 29, 2006. Countries participating in this competition include Switzerland, Italy, Argentina, South Africa, Portugal, Canada, the United States, France and Australia with a special finale on July 29.

Our presentation tonight was put on by the Cienfuegos Fireworks company from Argentina, which is a key player in the field of pyrotechnics due to its unique know-how. Tonight’s program was anchored around the personalities of Evita Peron and Che Guevara and enchanted with classic Argentian melodies and music from Central America. The stunning fireworks displays were choreographed in perfect harmony with the music and lit up the sky with stunning multi-coloured displays of light and sound.

This fireworks presentation provided a dramatic artistic ending to three and a half wonderful days of Canada Day festivities in Montreal. As I sat in the subway on the way back from Jean Drapeau Park I realized that I would only have a few more hours in this beautiful city before my train was going to leave tomorrow just before noon. But I was determined to take advantage of every minute here to discover yet another facet of this fascinating city and sneak in one final walking tour of the city before my departure.

 

Hello From Montreal: A Late Mexican Lunch At Mañana And A Fascinating Peruvian Immigrant Story

My lengthy explorations of the Olympic Stadium, the Botanical Gardens and the Insectarium, and my visit to the Jean Talon Market in Montreal’s Little Italy had definitely stimulated my appetite for a good meal. By this time it was mid-afternoon and I had taken the subway back to the Latin Quarter in the St-Denis area, one of Montreal’s major entertainment districts. The streets are packed with restaurants, bistros, cafés, hip boutiques and galleries and the Quartier Latin is ...

Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Food, tour, adventure, lunch

My lengthy explorations of the Olympic Stadium, the Botanical Gardens and the Insectarium, and my visit to the Jean Talon Market in Montreal’s Little Italy had definitely stimulated my appetite for a good meal. By this time it was mid-afternoon and I had taken the subway back to the Latin Quarter in the St-Denis area, one of Montreal’s major entertainment districts. The streets are packed with restaurants, bistros, cafés, hip boutiques and galleries and the Quartier Latin is definitely one of the places to be in Montreal.

I exited the subway at Sherbrooke and headed one street west and I ended up coming out right across from the Square St. Louis which is a beautiful neighbourhood park with benches and a fountain in the centre. On the east side of the street was a restaurant that caught my attention with its colourful outdoor tables and chairs. I checked it out and saw that it was a casual Mexican restaurant called Mañana. It looked like a great place to grab a late lunch and was in the perfect location since I was planning to relax a little in the park after the meal.

I sat down and stretched my legs and a young server came to serve me quickly. I glanced at the menu and figured I couldn’t go wrong with the “Table d’hôte (the menu of the day): I ordered a reasonably priced combination of cactus gratinado (gratinated cactus hearts, sautéed in garlic butter, served on a tortilla) as an appetizer, a very tasty burrito vegetariano (flour tortillas filled with veggies, accompanied by salsa, black beans and Mexican rice) and for dessert a passionfruit mousse.

Ever the curious travel writer, I asked the waitress to connect me with the owner or manager, so a few minutes later I had a chance to meet the person behind Mañana: Angel Broncales, originally from Trujillo in the north of Peru, came to Montreal 23 years ago. Angel and I conversed the entire time in Spanish since his English is extremely limited. He explained that the Trujillo region is a beautiful area with gorgeous beaches and it is very inexpensive, but not very well known.

When Angel first came to Montreal, he worked in different factories and later moved into the restaurant business as a dishwasher and also learned how to cook. Throughout his time in a variety of different restaurants, he has become an expert in French, Brazilian, Italian and Mexican cuisine.

Mañana has been in existence for about 15 years now and Angel purchased it recently from the former owner about 6 months ago. He had already been the chef at the restaurant, so he was thoroughly familiar with the menu. But he added that now he has to think a lot more with his head and he has the responsibility for his entire business on his shoulder. Those are the biggest changes that he has experienced since becoming a restaurant entrepreneur.

I was fascinated by Angel’s story who has worked himself up from very modest beginnings as an immigrant with no English and initially little French, to becoming a successful restaurant owner in one of Montreal’s hottest entertainment areas. I really enjoyed talking to this quiet, shy and humble man who wasn’t much into self-promotion. His work ethic and determination were clearly his success factors and Angel added that he loves Canada; he said the security and safety of this country simply doesn’t have a price.

As a restaurateur, Angel works long hours, usually until 2 or 3 am in the morning, seven days a week. He has a Mexican chef that helps him and added that there are many Mexican immigrants in Montreal. Unfortunately many of them don’t have official papers and some simply have too much trouble adjusting to the cold climate, so many of them leave and return to their home country.

Fortunately for Angel he has great staff members whom he trusts. His serving staff at Restaurant Mañana are trilingual, they speak excellent English, Spanish and of course French. His wife is also from Peru and assists him with the bookkeeping for his business and his 17-year old son, a “real Quebecker” in Angel’s words, helps him during school Holiday, Vacation & Tours. During weekends Angel has a local guitarist who, in the Mexican tradition, goes from table to table and serenades the guests in exchange for a gracious tip. His guests come from all over the world, and many of them are travelers from Toronto. Some of them love to come for Valentine’s Day, the “Dia de los Enamorados”.

It was heartwarming hearing about Angel’s story, how a simple man from Peru with limited language skills could become a successful restaurant owner in one of Montreal’s most popular entertainment districts. I couldn’t help but feel that there is a place here for everybody, and you can make it here if you are determined and willing to work hard enough.

Angel’s comments were still resonating in my head when I strolled out the door to enjoy a little break in the park area of Square St. Louis. There is something beautiful about being an immigrant country…..

 

Hello From Montreal - A Wonderful Introduction To A Charming Unique City

Despite the fact that Montreal is one of the closest and most easily accessible cities from Toronto, I had really only been there once, for a couple of days ten years ago. We also did stop in a couple of times for lunch in Montreal on our way home from our ski trips in the Eastern Townships, Vermont or New Hampshire. But I knew Montreal deserved a much longer visit. So I set off to plan a four-day extended weekend over the Canada Day festivities to explore this city.

Both ...

Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Walking, tour, adventure, old Montreal

Despite the fact that Montreal is one of the closest and most easily accessible cities from Toronto, I had really only been there once, for a couple of days ten years ago. We also did stop in a couple of times for lunch in Montreal on our way home from our ski trips in the Eastern Townships, Vermont or New Hampshire. But I knew Montreal deserved a much longer visit. So I set off to plan a four-day extended weekend over the Canada Day festivities to explore this city.

Both Tourisme Montreal and Tourism Quebec were extremely helpful in making suggestions as to what to see and do and I really started to look forward to my urban explorations. On June 29, 2006 I headed off in the comfort of a first-class Via Rail train – no traffic, no stress, just an opportunity to relax. Following a bucolic ride through the green countryside of Ontario we entered Quebec and shortly after I arrived at Montreal’s Gare Central. Following the check-in at my extremely centrally located hotel I set off on my first personal encounter with Montreal: a driving tour of the city with a personal guide which gave me a great idea of the lay of the land. We visited all the key sights of Montreal and had a delicious lunch in a well-known French Bistro. After several more hours of exploration I had a comprehensive overview of the city and was ready for a stroll through Old Montreal. On my first evening I also enjoyed a memorable dinner with jazz music in the background at Modavie, a historic restaurant in Vieux Montreal. My knowledge of Old Montreal and insight into the early French settlers got even better as a result of taking the Old Montreal Ghost Tour which brought me up close to some interesting characters from Montreal’s history.

Day Two introduced me to the architectural jewels of Old Montreal and our local walking tour guide Louis impressed our group with his knowledge of social history and architecture (that extended way beyond Montreal). Stimulated by this educational outing I then had a delicious lunch at the Café du Château and just as a major thunderstorm unleashed its fury I decided to explore the Chateau du Ramezay, a museum featuring diverse artifacts from more than 350 years of Montreal’s history. In the evening I took a relaxing stroll through the beautiful Latin Quarter and finally settled for an extremely satisfying dinner at La Iguana, one of Montreal’s premier Mexican restaurants, where I had a chance to chat with the owner and find out what this restaurant is all about. A packed day of exploration was capped off by a walk along St. Catharines Street to get a glimpse of Montreal’s Jazz Festival – the largest festival of its kind in the world, attracting hundreds of thousands of revelers every year.

July 1 – Canada Day: The festivities were unbelievable. I got an early start and explored Vieux Montreal before I participated in the Official Montreal bicycle tour where a certified tourist guide took our entire group through various neighbourhoods of Montreal. Bruno introduced us to the major sights as well as to the beautiful and unique living areas of this diverse city. As an avid bicyclist I was delighted when I was able to keep the bike after our tour finished and I continued on my own on the extensive bicycle trail network along the Lachine Canal. I enjoyed a re-energizing lunch at the historic Marché Atwater and had a nice chat with a local. After I returned my bike I sat down and talked with the owner of the Ça Roule bicycle shop about his business and about bicycling opportunities in Montreal.

All this physical exercise had stimulated my appetite and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Galiano’s right in the heart of Old Montreal, and the owner gave me a first-hand overview of this popular and historic restaurant. The streets of Montreal were just absolutely packed with revelers. The Old Port of Montreal was buzzing with activity which included concerts, street performers, a huge entertainment area for children, even acrobatics on skis. The highlight of the evening was a concert that featured a variety of performers, from flamenco, to Cuban rhythms to Brazilian percussion and other world music. Finally the star of the show appeared: Gregory Charles, a multi-talented singer, piano-player, actor and media personality. The crowd simply went nuts and thousands of people kept streaming into Old Montreal even at 11 pm at night. This city knows how to party!!!

My third day in Montreal was a little quieter. I started off with an exploration of the Olympic Stadium and took the funicular to the top of the world’s highest inclined tower. Then I explored the critters at the Insectarium and a variety of flowers, plants and trees at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. In the mid-afternoon I took a quick jaunt to the Jean Talon Market in Montreal’s Italian neighbourhood and followed it up with a delicious late lunch at Mañana, a Mexican restaurant just across from beautiful Square St. Louis. In my chat with the owner I heard a heart-warming, inspiring immigrant story that has seen a simple man from Peru who came to Canada with hardly any French or English language skills, become a restaurant owner in one of Montreal’s most popular entertainment districts. I then had a bit of extra time to relax in the park where I made a connection with other out-of-town travelers and explored the beautiful neighbourhood around historic Square St. Louis.

My evening program was also packed: I got to explore the Casino de Montreal, located on an island in the St. Lawrence River. My personalized two-hour tour educated me about casino operations and brought me up close to one of Montreal’s big attractions. This special evening continued with a gourmet meal at Nuances, the Casino’s fine-dining restaurant, which offers the most amazing view across the river of downtown Montreal. The crowning touch was the international fireworks competition at La Ronde, which featured a team of Argentinian pyrotechnical experts who combined music and fireworks in a breathtakingly choreographed performance.

Unfortunately my extended weekend was rapidly coming to an end. On July 3 my train was scheduled to leave shortly before noon, but I managed to squeeze in a few more hours of exploration. I went on a walk downtown and got a chance to admire some of Montreal’s architectural jewels, including several stunning churches and cathedrals, an Art Deco skyscraper, a historic department store and a Richardsonian Romanesque train station that has today been converted into a hotel and office complex. I was in awe of the architectural richness that I saw in such a small area.

Montreal truly enchanted me with its European flair, the gorgeous and diverse residential areas, and the stunning sights in Old Montreal and Downtown. I connected with some interesting people in Montreal: expert tour guides, hospitality entrepreneurs and travellers from other places. Having had the chance to explore Montreal by car, on foot and by bike was a phenomenal introduction to this unique city and I can’t wait to get back to take in more of Montreal’s special charm.




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