An insider perspective on Montreal, Canada

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the parenting column

The workday had ended, and I told my husband to get in the car because we were going out to celebrate. He thought we were heading to a restaurant or out for drinks. Instead, I took him to the airport, with hidden suitcases packed in the trunk, and we flew off to Miami to ring in his 30th birthday in style. We went dancing until the sun came up, nursed our hangovers at the beach, visited fabulous art museums and consumed gastronomic perfection while surrounded by art deco architecture. I'm pretty sure I even smoked a fat cigar.

Three years later, I was up at bat and ready to mark my 30th year in a grandiose way; however, we had a toddler and a newborn. What's a girl to do? The obvious answer, to me anyway, was to get the kids passports and travel to Montreal, Canada. The adventure didn't have to stop because we had kids; it just had to change.

One of my girlfriends, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada as well as a flight attendant for Air Canada, believes Montreal to be one of the most kid friendly Canadian cities.

"The French heritage and language is very important to Quebec and the Canadian government helps and encourages families to grow. Most restaurants and public places welcome children and families and even tailor their menus and services to them," said Allison Christensen, a Northbrook mother of two. "There are so many fun family activities such as skiing, hiking, swimming and taking trips to the Jardin Botanique and the Biodome. The Biodome, originally built for the 1976 Olympic games, allows visitors to walk through replicas of four ecosystems found in the Americas-it's fantastic."

Repeatedly, I said to my husband that being in Montreal felt as if we were in a different country (yes, I'm aware that Canada is actually a different country). We were in Canada but it really felt like we were somewhere between Paris and Avignon. For a little longer than a two-hour kid-friendly flight, a Chicagoan could visit the largest multi-cultural city in the province of Quebec where French is the official language.

My husband and I strolled the kids around Old Montreal where 18th and 19th Century residences still exist and the neo-gothic Notre-Dame Basilica stands tall. We went to local parks, street fairs and festivals and we visited many inimitable shops and cafes. With our belly's satiated with café au lait and pain au chocolate and our ears full of soft French music, we shared several kisses under picturesque street lamps along curved cobbled streets. In short, it was one of the best birthdays I had ever had, and I was happy to be there with my expanding family.