American Travels recently journeyed across the northern border to Montreal, Quebec, for the Canadian Grand Prix, the seventh stop on a grueling, 19-country tour for Formula One, the world’s premier auto racing series.
Even though known as the Paris of North America, Montreal has many excellent restaurants and lots of old world charm. But we were there for one reason: Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton is the first driver of African heritage to win an F1 race, in 2007. In 2008, the young Brit became the World Driving champion at the tender age of 23, after missing the title by one point a year earlier. He is the Tiger Woods of auto racing, but without the back and other problems. Hamilton currently holds second place in the 2014 point standings.
After setting fastest laps in practice and best times in the first two rounds of qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, Hamilton lost the coveted pole position in the final round of qualifying to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by a fraction of a second.
Rumors of a rift between the dominant pair of Petronas AMG Mercedes drivers were dispelled during a pre-race interview with Hamilton and Rosberg. We saw Hamilton leaning on Rosberg’s shoulder as they answered questions together during the Parade of Drivers before the green light came on for the 70-lap race.
Ivor Bourne, who is responsible for logistics and driver support for both drivers, told American Travels that "Lewis and Nico are strong competitors who have tremendous mutual respect for each other. Both want Mercedes AMG PETRONAS to win the constructors championship."
Unfortunately, neither won the Canadian Grand Prix after running 1-2 for most of the race. Rosberg, the leader for most of the race, placed second after his brakes started to fail on the final two laps. Failing brakes also forced Hamilton’s early exit from the race after he had briefly overtaken Rosberg. Red Bull rookie Daniel Ricciardo of Australia was solid in winning his first F1 race.
“Montreal has been a good track for me so to come here and not finish is disappointing but there are plenty more races ahead of us this season so let’s hope for better fortune,” the 29-year-old Hamilton said in an apologetic post-race note on Twitter.
He won the Canadian GP in 2007, 2010 and 2012.
“There was nothing I could do about our issues really,” Hamilton continued in the note. “We were managing the loss of power but, as soon as I finally made the jump on Nico in the second pit stop, my brakes failed going into turn 10."
The only race in the United States takes place in Austin, TX on November 2, 2014 with practice on Friday and qualifying on Saturday. Three day general admission tickets start at $223.88. Hamilton won the Austin race last year.
If you have neither the time nor the money to travel to Paris, grab a flight from St. Louis for the smaller version. Montreal has beautiful parks, massive cathedrals, great museums, excellent restaurants, bicycling and running/walking trails, an efficient public transportation system, and the first language is French.
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For the trip to and from the airport, we don’t think anything beats the 747 bus for $10 dollars. It sped us to within a few blocks of our hotel in about a half hour. We finished the trip on foot.
For a place to stay, check in at Le Westin Montreal, in the historic district of Old Montreal. The hotel is located across the street from the Palais des Congres, the city’s largest convention facility. It boasts a spacious lobby with plenty of comfortable seating and complimentary flavored water, and inviting rooms with views of downtown Montreal. We filled up on the buffet breakfast, which was a little pricey but offered everything anyone could ever want for breakfast _ including delicious cold salmon. The hotel is also a short walk to the nearest subway stop, located inside the convention center. The underground trains quickly delivered us to Ile Notre-Dame where the race Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is located. One transfer was required.
For seafood, we don’t think any restaurant in Montreal can beat Chez Delmo _ and we only ate at two places! On short notice, our concierge secured a table for us at this small but packed restaurant on Notre Dame Street in Old Montreal. Unlike many restaurants in America, without any loud background music we could actually enjoy a conversation without having to shout at each other to be heard. We started with perfectly made martinis, followed by bowls of a delicious tomato soup studded with garlic crisps and croutons. The restaurant proprietor, Benoit Dessureault, then sent over a complimentary plate of duck bruschetta, which we had never had but quickly devoured because it was so good. Our main courses of grilled Chilean sea bass and fillet of halibut melted in our mouths.
For a little after-dinner, sight-seeing, we walked through the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, which overflowed with tourists like us. We looked up in amazement at the Gothic Revival architecture of the Notre-Dame Basilica, popped into a few of the many souvenir shops along the way, checked out the Port of Montreal, read restaurant menus posted on sidewalks and stumbled upon a street artist (named Mick) who plucked unsuspecting people from the crowd gathered around him and turned them into active participants in his way-too-long routine.
For air travel, American, Delta, United, and US Airways are all priced within dollars of each other with roundtrip one stop service from St. Louis (STL) to Montreal (YUL). A word of caution, Air Canada will charge a $200 change fee and a new fare if you fail to check in for your domestic flight prior to their 45 minute deadline before scheduled departure time. We were one minute late due to construction traffic and Air Canada wanted an additional $1,100 for a new ticket and a $200 change fee. When we protested, a manager reduced our pain to the $200 change fee per passenger. Our lesson learned was to check in either online or in person 45 minutes before departure.
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