It’s been three years since my original trip to Quebec and 1.5 since my partner last saw his parents. So we figured it was as good of a time as any to visit the land of the French speaking Canadians, especially as our timing coincided with the Formula One in Montreal, Canada’s only Grand Prix.
We would attend the weekend of racing at its finest: “the highest class of single-seater auto racing”. For those unfamiliar, it isn’t just about going fast around a track. There are a set of rules to adhere to regarding how specialized drivers race and what they race in. The vehicle’s build, the engine’s make up, and the tire’s composition are just a few of the moving parts to consider. Then there is the matter of when to change the tires, how to maneuver to keep all participants safe, and everything in between. The sport invites all walks of fans, visiting various locations all around the world, in splendour. Each location on the tour is its own “Grand Prix”. This is a full weekend of racing with a grand champion at the end of the 3 days, with podium celebrations and the spraying of champagne to end each. I won’t be getting into more of the logistics here, but let’s just say it is more than just watching fast and low cars going round and round. And take it from a first hand account, fans of the sport go deep into these regulations, enjoying the ability to follow stats and the rules that keep it “interesting”.
We attended two days of the four day occasion: the qualifying match and the actual Grand Prix. This being our first time, we really didn’t know what to expect, so weren’t as ready as we could have be. Therefore we went for the general admission tickets, only to learn spending more for the grand stand set seats is well worth the elevated cost. Though it is often $100s of dollars more for these better seats with the best views. But when travelling we were looking to save and ended up still spending quite a bit: $65 each for general admission on day one and $98 for general admission on the second.
General admission meant unassigned standing room, and the need to go early to mark your claim. This also meant that we spent our entire day guarding our spot in one of the designated general admission areas. This ended up being track side behind two layers of chain fencing. For our protection from debris, but to our visual dismay. So without any elevation, we were only able to see the cars drive by on our peripheral area of track. Luckily the televised monitor high above, was within our eye line and we caught most of the action from it. We choose our position by the hair pin of the track. A position where the cars comes at the corner from a straight really fast; then they break hard, only to accelerate again on the straight after.
After the first day on our feet, with flatten bottoms from the hard concrete; we learned the necessity of comfort. We procured cheap folding chairs. $9.95 for each gave us hours of ease and sitting. They also functioned as place markers, although if you are not seated in them, these can be easily moved aside by anyone looking to improve their vantage point. Overall a great investment as we spent the entire day on the track. 9am to 6:30pm on the first day and 8:30am to 4pm the second day.
Friday was the less busy day out of the two. All the races were qualifying matches, set to decide how each of the cars would position themselves on the actual race day. Although all the grand stand seats did sell out on this day as well as the next. It was just less busy because there were just less looky loos wandering the compound with their general admission tickets. This toned down traffic allowed us the time to explore the expanse of the compound early, engaging in some activities and casing out our ideal spot (the one described above).
There was lots to see and do, more than just watching the races themselves. And plenty of time to line up and do them on in between matches, with often 1-2 hours in between.
We visited a few of the booths that had race simulators, offered photo ops with F1 vehicles, and gave out free merchandise for doing a survey. We most enjoyed trying our hand at the Red Bull Test pit stop. In two man teams you remove a tire and exchange it for a new one, just as the real pit crew would during a time sensitive race. The fastest time (the professional time) recorded is a microsecond over 2, this was a large discrepancy from ours. We fell far short in our three attempts at 11 seconds.
There was also plenty to shop with F1 and auto themed stalls offering merchandise like caps, shirts, and printed posters. And of course food vendors were on-site offering all day-ers the option of tacos, burgers, hotdogs, and rotisserie chicken for their three meals in the day. Naturally this wasn’t the cheapest: arena quality at arena prices. A dried bun, cold hot dog cost us $6.50. A serving of poutine with half cooked fries, runny gravy and not enough cheese cost us $11. So disappointed by its look, I didn’t even capture the former.
There was also plenty to quench your thirst with, given the clear skies and the hot sun this proved necessary. Energy drinks, pop, cocktails, and beers. But to avoid having to use any of the porto-potties excessively I avoided drinking too much. Although keeping it just water and sipping only as needed still proved pricy. $4.25 for a bottle, and to not get dehydrated cost us over $25 for the day. We got smart the second day bringing our own snacks and drink.
I did appreciate that there were plenty of portable washroom stalls around popular gathering points. There were even certain portos designated for men and women; and due to there being less women than men at this event, there was often no or little lines for them. Although clean to start the day, this would deteriorate as the day wore on. Many ran out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, with no one to replenish either. Either way going in one of these is never a fun experience.
There weren’t set ticket quantities for general admission, so the traffic and my complaints swelled Sunday (our second day). This was to the point that there were lines to walk about. And some of them were longer than the lines for the washroom or to purchase food from vendors. No paths to pass, no room to walk up and down stairs, with patrons claiming steps and rails as their “spot”. This continue even after security tried to maintain a path and some order. Therefore we were very fortunate for our claimed position, being able to inch up as the day wore on, on Sunday. Just walking pass the bodies shoulder to shoulder squinting at the monitor from afar we could not imagine paying $100 for their view. Though we did work hard for it. With sore legs from standing, sun burnt backs, and bug bites.
As for the race itself, highlights and better photos of the action are available on any sporting network. So instead enjoy what I saw, taken from my phone, by shoving it through one of the holes in the chain link fence.
I enjoyed how they had mascots shooting tee shirts into the crowd with guns. They were your favourite race car drivers in their driving suits with blown-up cartoon bobble heads. The Lewis Hamilton one was spot on.
After the F1 qualifying there was the Ferrari Challenge and Porsche GT3 cup qualifying races. We didn’t stay to watch that show, but instead rushed to where they pitted so that we could watch them roll in after their match. It was a parade of Ferrari 488s and Porsche GT3s all set to the same specks. Meaning, the race is based on the better driver and how well the garage maintains its vehicles. Each race ends with rigorous tests to ensure the strict regulations are met. It is down to tire pressure, amount of fuel in tank, ride height, alignment settings, etc.
It was a behind the scenes affair where you were able to talk up the mechanics that serviced these impressive vehicles and the men who worked for the companies that sponsored them, such as Pirelli the only tire manufacturer that services all of Formula One and the Ferrari Challenge.
On the second day we were able to watch these amazing vehicles round the track. Not that I wish for any, but complications and accidents make for better entertainment during these races. There were so many crashes in both series that it kept fans on their feet, urging on their favourite driver to pass one another. Whereas once the F1 race started the top three held their places and from lap 40-60 nothing happened.
We ended up leaving the actual F1 race with 10 laps left, hoping to make our way closer to watch the podium ceremony live. However given the thickness of the crowds and the traffic we would have to endure, we thought it best to just escape the park and ride the subway home as soon as possible. In hindsight this was the right idea. Surprisingly this didn’t take us all that long, the city was prepared for the influx of bodies. The subway stop, the park, and the track are only in use during F1, so the additional bodies on foot isn’t cutting into anyone’s commute time.
In fact, the city celebrates the weekend, acknowledging the tourist boom the event brings. Stores invite people in with black and white checkered flags and pendants cheering on their favourite drivers. Popular roads were closed off with makeshift patios to eat and drink on. We visited “Corneli” on Friday for a late lunch. It is a restaurant and pizzeria within Montréal’s Little Italy. It is located on Saint Laurent, one of the popular streets shut down for the Grand Prix weekend. We took advantage and sat on their covered patio.
Our meal began with a complimentary loaf of ciabatta, served with a spicy pepper and olive oil mix.
The “Margherita pizza” is prepared in their stone oven with tomato sauce, melted mozzarella, and fresh basil. It had too much cheese, more than what is enough for the tangy tomatoes and dried basil. I found it too salty, and in need of something refreshing like real tomato slices and fresh basil leaves.
We had their “Fettuccini Alfredo con pollo” without the red peppers that was listed on the menu. The broccoli was a nice healthy touch and the grilled chicken was tender. Both were well covered in their thick enough cream sauce with fresh Parmesan. It was good, but a little too watery and light in flavour for my tastes.
The “Spaghetti bolognese” was more hearty, a classic with their homemade meat sauce and served with a giant meatball on top.
We also explored downtown Montreal Saturday night. Many more streets were closed off for their night time block party. Here all car enthusiasts were cruising these busy streets showing off their expensive rides, and you were lucky if you could find a place to stop yours.
Restaurants had their wood and metal patios set up to attract party goers with candlelight and wine. There were displays of show-cars lining the sidewalks for carboys and cargirls to gawk at. But most impressive was the makeshift stage and night club with a second floor made from shipping containers. Here the DJ blasted the music, and even though you didn’t pay for cover, you could enjoy the ambience and dance house music from your sidewalk perch.
After exploring Saturday night, we grabbed a beer at “Bier Markt”. There would be no hope of getting a patio table on the busy streets, without reservations or knowing the right people. “Bier Market” is a chain restaurant offering over 150 beer from 25 different countries, 40 of the beers are from Quebec.
I grabbed a beer flight and made sure to order the one from Quebec. Brasseurs du minded l’Infuse three tea white ale – 5.4%, Jukebox new wave milkshake ipa – 6.1%, Peche mortel imperial stout – 9.5%, and Frampton brasse nuit d’automme dark strong ale at 10%.
And after that we visited one of the most noticeable landmarks in Montreal: “Gibeau Orange Julep”. A giant orange that serves as a fast food snack joint. They are open until late making them the ideal place for car meets and late night snacking stops. And luckily we were able to represent with the 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross that we had on loan from Mitsubishi of Canada. We put it to go use travelling around Montreal, Quebec, and Thetford Mines with it,
At “Gibeau Orange Julep” we tried one of the orange smoothie drinks. It is light and creamy like a creamsicle, similar in flavour and blend to that of “Orange Julius’” orange drink. To go with it, I had one of their stuffed pretzels. A doughy bite filled with extra cheese.
We didn’t do much else during our time at Montreal, it was very F1 focused so I barely took in any sights or ate from any of the restaurants that was recommended to me. But during our limited time stay, we did visit two very French Canadian themed restaurants.
The first was “Mache” at “Berri-Uqam” station. It was a more stereotypical Canadian restaurant with wooden planked walls and art prints of wild animals and vintage skis and sports equipment hung on it.
I had their “Le ginger bitter” with rhum blanc, old fashion bitter, ginger ale, and bleuet et romarin. It tastes like a fruit and herbed flavour sparkling water beverage. Thirst quenching, but not alcoholic-ly satisfying.
And given that the name of the restaurant translates to “mash” in English I went for one of their name sake’s shepard’s pie. Although in French what is shepard’s pie directly translates to “Chinese pie”, despite its origin being the United Kingdom. This is their “Le “new” style”, an interpretation on the traditional potato mash, ground beef, and sweet corn mix. Instead this was a combination of pulled pork, leak, corn, and mashed sweet potato. It was interesting, but lacked everything I liked about shepard’s pie, and was a little too watery and bland for my liking. Luckily ketchup was the easy fix here, like it would be for traditional shepard’s pie.
My partner had the “8oz seasoned Canadian beef sandwich” with a side of fries. In between their spongy soft bun was two stacked battered onion rings, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and spicy mayo. The fries were amazing, burnt slight and crispy. I liked the juicy homemade beef patty, but there was a flavour in its seasoning that just didn’t jibe with the otherwise delicious handheld.
And a trip to Quebec just isn’t the same without a stop at “St Hubert”. In my books modern Quebec cuisine is made up of three pillars and “St Hubert” has all three: cheese, potatoes, and chicken.
This is their classic rotisserie chicken platter with dark leg meat (my preferred type of meat). Their chicken is roasted for 3 hours and served with sides. The bowls of their popular coleslaw are unlimited and come in either normal or creamy. It is hard to tell that we got the latter, given that it tastes as dry at it looked. Their famous bbq sauce is prepared in their kitchen every day using their original recipe that was created in 1951. It is watery in texture and tangy in taste. Not bad, but I prefer a thick and meaty gravy, or a sauce that is sweeter for chicken. Ironically both my partner and I liked the plain and simple, toasted half white hamburger bun the best, enough to order another two. The last side is your choice between fries, salad, rice, vegetables, or any of their upgrades for extra. I got the mashed potato, thinking I would like the gravy more and it would be good to pair with the mash. It wasn’t.
My partner got their ribs with the same sides I did above, and his choice of fries. The ribs fell off the bone, texturally they were perfect, but like the chicken they were tasty, but you just wanted more of its taste to come through. More zip, more pop, it tasted bland and it is already established that I don’t like the gravy.
For dessert we had a choice of five different sweet and cakey treats. “Chomeur pudding” is a Quebec classic. An upside down cake with vanilla ice cream and a sugar cream sauce topping it. This was far too sweet for me. I find my partner tends to eat his desserts too sweet, and now know why, it’s because he was raised on it. This was like eating a soggy sponge cake with chunks of burnt sugar and cream in melted vanilla ice cream.
On our way back to Vancouver, we once again stopped in Montreal. Here we would be catching our Air Canada flight back home. But not before a brisk meal at “La Carreta Suchitoto” for some El Salvadorian & Mexican cuisine. I like how many such small bistros create their own patio with fencing and artificial turf on the sidewalk. It makes eating with them feel like a garden party.
Deep fried plantains served with a spicy sauce. The mustard-like dip turned this sweet starchy treat into a savoury snack
“Trio tacos “La Carreta” with beef”. The beef was a little over cooked in this, luckily with plenty of tomatoes and a thick slice of avocado topping each, it helped to give the dish some moisture and freshness. And for some punch the tangy tomato sauce was a great drizzle.
Beef and Chicken fajitas. The chicken was very dry, the beef only a little better. Both a little flat on their own, but with a few scoops of the table side coleslaw, the dish found some crunch and personality,
The beef enchilada was the tastiest of them all. Well seasoned ground beef and diced veggies over a fried crisp tortilla. Best to eat this one right away before it gets soggy from the meat juices.
And with that, this ends the recap for my time in Montreal with the focus in and around Formula One. The recall for my time in Quebec will continue in my next post, focusing on our adventures in my partner’s home town of Theford Mines, 2 hours from Montreal.