North America 2013: Montreal

Back across the country again, this time to Francophone Montreal. This particular point was underscored in baggage claim when a woman came up and asked me a question in French—I had to apologise for not speaking the language1, and she apologised herself but explained that there are now laws requiring you to speak French first! (I assume this only applies to service personnel, but I don’t know for sure). I also got to witness some proper Latin passion and anger, as the storms that delayed our landing and many others, coupled with only a single baggage crew, meant our bags were delayed by several hours.

This trip was easily the longest I had ever taken on my own, and I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to go. Until now it hadn’t even been an issue as I caught up with friends in Vancouver and stayed with others in Alberta, and only had a few days to myself in Toronto. By pure fortune I was again blessed with company in Montreal; a good friend from Vancouver had just moved to start attending MacGill University with a few days free before term started, and a friend from home put me in touch with a friend of hers now in Montreal, who then spent 3 days showing us both around!

The company and the good times made Montreal one of my favourite cities of the trip, but I’d like to think that it would have been fun regardless. Toronto had been nice to explore, but perhaps I had had misplaced expectations or didn’t stumble over the right parts as it didn’t feel like anything more than that. On landing in Montreal at night though I checked in and headed out to find dinner, and there seemed to be a real crackle, and electricity in the air. I’m sure the brutal winters are a different story, but the summer certainly seemed like fun!

Graffiti Galore

New friend Liv picked me up from the hostel and introduced me to the Bixi Bike bike rental system. I later saw the same bikes under different names in later cities, but this was my first encounter, and what a brilliant system it is, even if the weather restricts their use to only 6 months in Montreal. Montreal also proved to be quite bike-friendly, and we followed a number of bike paths to brunch.

Well-fed, we wandered the old quarter, then headed north checking out funky shops and landmarks. There had recently been a graffiti festival and there were great works everywhere.

That night all three of us went to dinner in the gay village nearby… apparently it was fetish weekend, and the street fashion parade was nothing if not educational (no photos, sorry).

Tam Tams

After a much-needed sleep-in I met up with Vancouver friend Alissa and we walked up to the Tam Tams on Mount Royale. The mountain park looks over the entire city and we had quite a nice view from the top. The Tam Tams themselves is a summer weekends gathering, including several epic drum circles, lots of circus arts, DJs, some ancient battle reenactments, and generally a vibe somewhere between a hippie festival and the beach.

For all the colourful sites, the pick of the lot might have been watching the drum circle when I noticed an older shirtless guy stick a joint in one nostril, cover the other with a finger and inhale with such effort his head was on his knees by the time he’d finished his drag, then repeated it with his other nostril. I don’t think I’ve ever seen eyes roll that far back into someone’s head.

Joined again by Liv later that evening we hit up a whisky bar for a while, then a brew pub, then finally at 2 or 3am—my very first poutine. Surely there can’t have been a more appropriate time or frame of mind for it! (There was quite a queue for it too)

Ile St Helen

Feeling rather subdued the next morning, I met Liv again for the famous Schwartz’s Smoked Meats. This is one of those institutions that has a lengthy queue outside and ultra-efficient staff inside. Fortunately with local help I knew how to order (they ask how fatty you want it, for example). When it arrives it’s essentially a few tiny bits of bread, utterly dwarfed by the mound of meat inside, and of course nigh-impossible to eat without it all falling apart.

Even with that now lining our stomachs the residual hangovers, the grey weather and a public holiday to boot all meant today was not going to be energetic. Picking up Alissa we caught the subway over to Ile St Helene, now probably most notable as the somewhat-decaying former site of Expo 67. We listlessly explored the biodome, before jumping on the subway again to check out Atwater where we explored the market and found dinner.

Atwater

On my own for my final day, I managed to find a hair cut then set off to explore the Italian district. This didn’t excite me as much as I’d hoped, and I worked my way slowly back down, exploring on the way, then cycled back to Atwater for more of an explore.

I checked out a restaurant tip for my final dinner, where for some reason I was the only customer (apparently it is normally pumping) and the bored waitress was quite chatty and gave me plenty of tips for my next destination… New York!

remains, sadly.

  1. I did study it for 4 years in high school too. Not a skerrick 

Mark Hepburn 01 January 2014
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