If you are going to be one of the lucky few to make it to a grand prix this season, and one of them happens to be the Canadian GP, here are some tips to keep in mind. If you happen to be on Twitter, be sure to follow others attending the GP to stay in the loop on what is happening where and for information on F1 Tweet-ups.
Montreal is actually an island which edges on the eastern parts of central Canada, smack in the middle of the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway in the province of Quebec. The changing landscapes and geographical positioning provide a whole spectrum of different weather conditions. Always bring a light jacket and carry an umbrella or poncho with you. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montréal, QC) is on a neighboring island, Île Notre Dame.
What to Wear
Montreal is generally considered to be a somewhat fashion forward city, so bring your club duds for a hot night out of dancing and fun. There are a number of F1 inspired events around the city at this time, so dress to impress and be ready for anything. Be sensible; bring comfortable clothing and most certainly comfortable shoes. There will be much walking, either in or around the circuit, downtown Montreal and down by the old Port (vieux du port) also known as Old Montreal.
You will find a myriad of terrain, from asphalt and concrete walkways, to cobblestone roads within the city, grass, dirt (mud if wet), asphalt etc. on Isle Notre Dame (the island where the circuit is located). Pack your sunscreen, if the weather cooperates, you don’t want to be without it. Over the years, I have had the top of my thighs and knees, ears and nose sunburnt more times than I care to remember. Most fans wear hats/caps to guard against sun-stroke and help with the glare. Tip: bring a knapsack so your hands are free at all times and remember, you are free to bring your own food and beverages (beer included) to the circuit.
If you’re looking for team gear and want to avoid the line-ups at the circuit, go for a stroll in Old-Montreal and visit my friend Max at the F1 Boutique. Even Bernie shops there. 28 St Paul E. If you can’t make it to the shop, they will also have a boot on Crescent Street.
It seems almost every street, boulevard and rue has some event running across the race weekend. As always, the centre of the F1 fan universe is Crescent Street, which is closed to local traffic. Booths, tents and displays are erected along this stretch. There are live bands playing outdoors around the city and it is not uncommon to find roads closed to make way for Formula One weekend events.
There are many F1 parties around the city which are by invitation only but if you’re clever, you can find a way to get yourself on the guest list. Here is a tip for a massive F1 closing party on Sunday night, check out TheCode20.com for an evening you won’t soon forget.
Montreal offers a number of specialty stores, not unlike those in main European cities. Prices are reasonable overall and selection is usually pretty good. There is a distinct difference between the shopping found downtown Montreal versus that which you would find in Old Montreal and certainly just outside the city which is slightly less expensive. Check out the Eaton Center and various shops along Ste. Catherine street in the city centre and along the cobblestone roads of Old Montreal.
Montreal offers a very diverse culture and thus a menu that will please every palate. Typical Canadian\Montreal fare is available for the experience, such as Poutine (which I call a “Heart Attack in a Bowl” comprised of French fries, smothered in cheese curds and gravy). You will find French Bistros, Italian restaurants, pubs, fast food chains and number of healthy selections including Kosher and Halal options. Beer is cheap in general and stronger than some may be ready to handle. I’m not suggesting the consumption of beer but plan to stay hydrated.
Jardin Nelson: One place I absolutely adore is Place Jacques Cartier. By the old port in old Montreal, this square is often full of life, restaurants and buskers. If you’re into charming outdoor dining, you simply must visit Jardin Nelson, www.jardinnelson.com
Sapore Di Napoli: Italian home-style, for those looking to get out of the city-centre madness and enjoy good food with no fan-fare. Ask for Actor/Comedian and owner Guido Grasso and tell him Ernie sent you for the Nutella Pizza. 1465 Rue Dudemaine 1-(514) 335-1465
Hurley’s Irish Pub: one of the best pubs in the city (in my honest opinion) in the heart of the action 1225 Crescent St Montreal, 1-(514) 861-4111 – It’s often the regular site for tweet-ups where fans can find F1 personalities and pundits enjoying a pint with fans.
The Pub St. Paul: St Paul ,124 St-Paul East, Old Montreal – along the picturesque streets of Old Montreal, this pub is local favorite and often plays host on Friday night of the Grand Prix weekend to An Audience with Joe Saward.
Les 3 Brasseurs Resto: – Microbrewery Pub: Good pub food, decent prices and service, located all over the city: visit les3brasseurs.ca for locations
Rubens and/or Schwartz’s Deli: One cannot visit Montreal and not visit one of these two Deli/Restaurants. Succulent and delicious Montreal smoked meat sandwiches so large they’re tricky to hold with one hand. www.schwartzsdeli.com, www.rubensdeli.com
Cocktails and wines and frothy beer steins:
Buvette chez Simone: a warm and inviting place that always puts a smile on my face. The wine list is readily available on the wall and the savory aroma of the rotisserie chicken induces a wee bit of mouthwatering. Check out the website for more: www.buvettechezsimone.com
Bar Furco: Sleek and fresh atmosphere with great cocktails and perfectly chilled white wine. This is a great place for pre-dinner drinks to start off the night right. www.barfurco.com
Philemon Bar: Located in Old Montreal this place is almost always jumping. Dimly lit with an industrial vibe, this casual bar transforms into a loud club-like scene that keeps the party rocking late into the night. www.philemorebar.com
Dieu du Ciel: Serious about your brew? Unique “Craft” beer at its best can be found here. A haven for young University students with an adventurous palette, located in the Mile End district of Montreal which is best known for being home to poets, writers, artists and those with strong creative inspiration. www.dieuduciel.com
Hotels sadly jack up their rates during the GP weekend. It is not uncommon to pay more than twice the usual rates. Some hotels charge a fee to park your vehicle each day so beware of this hidden cost. Try to book a hotel either in Old Montreal, or anything in the downtown area. Alternatively, you may want to stay closer to the Airport to save on accommodations and to avoid the mad rush on Sunday night and Monday morning. Aim to be as close to possible to St. Catherine and Crescent Street which is the hub of the action. Always pick a hotel on the subway line (Metro or Tube as it is more commonly known).
If you’re flying into Montreal, take a taxi to your hotel, most offer a flat rate around – $40.00 CAD – Taxi fare from Trudeau airport to Downtown. While in the city, pick up a three-day Metro pass for less than $20. You can use it all weekend long to get anywhere in the city and you never have to worry about having that extra pint. Keep in mind, the only way to get to the circuit on the neighboring island is by subway (underground public transit). Give yourself plenty of time to get to and from the circuit as it will be very congested. Avoid driving if at all possible, the traffic is stifling and Montreal is full of less than hospitable road warriors.
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is usually full of events and booths and beer tents. There are more than a few places to spend your money but beware. The prices at the circuit are not cheap, especially when buying F1 licensed merchandise. Go for a walk around the circuit if you get a chance before the weekend’s events. Walk around the grounds to get familiar with the locations of the portable toilet facilities, food stands and entertainment areas. There is always a stage setup with pretty dancing-girls and a DJ giving away free t-shirts and other fun gear right by the beer tents while loud music gets your feet moving.
You are allowed to bring your own sandwiches and beer to the circuit as long as it’s not in glass bottles. Check the website for the dimensions of the cooler that is allowed to ensure no problems are encountered. To be extra safe, bring wet wipes and some napkins to use as bathroom tissue in case you happen to use the facilities and realise there is nothing to wipe with. (www.circuitgillesvilleneuve.ca)
Where to Sit
The casino hairpin offers perhaps the best view of the cars as you see them approach the hairpin from near top speed and violently braking before tip-toeing around one of the slowest corners in Formula One before they hit the apex and bury the throttle to unleash every ounce of horsepower available. The sound used to send shivers up my spine, in part because the aluminium bleacher style grandstands tremble as the cars launch down towards the main straight.
Grandstands 21, 15, 24 and 34 offer the best view of the Hairpin. Avoid Grandstand 22 unless you want to get whiplash. Alternatively, you may want to try Grandstand 33 for a mix of high and low speed action as well as Grandstands 12 and 11 in the Virage Senna just after the pit straight which I prefer.
After the circuit activities are abundant. Although the gates open up between 7am-8am each morning (beer tents are open for breakfast) and the circuit activities last until 6pm or so, many fans still somehow have energy to stay out most of the night and party until the wee hours. Montreal will not disappoint as there are a number of parties all over the city. Ste. Catherine Street and Rue Crescent is the hub (as mentioned), but any street within a 10 mile radius and beyond will be hosting parties, some of which will be closed to transportation including Peel Street.
There are night clubs and bars with guest lists as long as the line-ups outside and private celebrity parties that you just might be able to find yourself stumbling upon if you happen to bump into the right people. It’s all possible if you just keep your ears open and socialize.
In 2010, I bumped into the president of the Peel Street merchants association that organized the party and live bands for the street festival. While chatting with him, I got wind of a private party and jokingly asked what time I should be there. I was handed a little red ticket with an address. That was it, the rest is history and the pictures are posted online but are well guarded to protect the innocent.