Montreal had never really been much of a blip on my radar of places to visit one day. But the little I read about the city after deciding to include it on this little drive led me to believe that I would quite enjoy it – at the least, there would be good poutine (which was on my quite long list of “things I must eat while in Canada & the States”). A city of neighbourhoods, with excellent food it sounded good fun to explore for a couple of days.
We easily found our way on to the island (curiously, Montreal is an island in the St Lawrence River – I did not know that beforehand) and then to the apartment. Apparently, our neighbourhood was good for food so we just wandered out the door to the end of the block to peruse the local haunts – Jane spied a good looking cupcake shop that was noted for a later date. What followed at a rather too-hip-for-me cafe was the best meal I’ve had in ages – scallops on a barley risotto with vegetables done to perfection.
It turned out that one of the biggest & best markets in the city was only a few blocks away, so we headed down there after breakfast Saturday. That probably wasn’t the best idea as I was immediately hungry again – I shouldn’t go into detail of the huge range of produce & meat that was on display. I managed to cross a bagel off the list; Montreal bagels are supposed to be a little sweeter than most – either way, it was better than I used to bake. I think we managed to sample half as many plums as we ended up buying – delicious & many varieties.
Jane was aware of the Bixi public bicycle sharing scheme in Montreal from a previous visit. I was familiar with the concept from London & other European cities – a bit of research shows that the London system is a Bixi system (the largest, with Montreal second) – Bixi being a company set up by the city of Montreal. Basically, there are over five thousand bicycles at four-hundred docking stations all around the city – for the measly sum of seven dollars for twenty-four hours, one can have have as many half-hour rides as desired (if you take a bike for more than thirty minutes, you get charged extra). As it turns out, it’s an absolutely fantastic way to see the city. The bikes are very solid (tough, but pretty heavy), easy to ride, comfortable, internally geared (the range of three is plenty) & with a handy basket on the front. That is pretty much how we saw a lot of Montreal on the Saturday – interspersed by a fair bit of walking & eating too.
The local church
Not the kind of picture I usually snap while riding bikes, c.f. this
We ditched the bikes for a stroll, rather – a brisk steep walk, to the top of Parc du Mont-Royal – through plenty of leaves to kick around and brilliant colours.
It got a little cloudier
Looking over McGill University to downtown
We spent a fair bit of time riding near water – either along canals or over the river. Montreal was the biggest industrial centre in the country until surpassed by Toronto in the second half of the twenty-century – strangely, I always find old silos & other industrial relics fascinating. As I write that, I realise that is a little weird – but think of the hundreds of people that used to work there making all sorts of things.
We went downtown for a little while, but I wasn’t overly impressed as it was sort of European, but not properly so. The neighbourhoods were much more fun – so we walked back to where Jane stayed last time & found a great hot chocolate & more cakes. We returned to the same cafe for dinner – I got to have my poutine & it lived up to all expectations; I eat more meals without meat that I ever used to. I’m not sure this one really counted as it was probably so full of fat & such artery-clogging ingredients.
We worked out we’d biked & walked over forty kilometres the day before (just as well with all the food), so it was a little slower start on Sunday. With still some of our twenty-hours left on the Bixi bikes, we headed off to the botanical gardens in the autumn crispness. There were some cool lanterns in the Chinese Garden – although I suspect they are better at night. I narrowly avoided being eaten by a tiger.
There were a few bugs too
Up much too early, the Montreal stay was over as I dropped Jane off at the airport for her to depart to her new life as an optometrist (that bit’s not new) in small town Nova Scotia. It’s not really far to the border & I was gone from Canada again by eight o’clock.
I had no idea that I’d enjoy Montreal so much – but I fear if stayed longer I’d eat well too much and put back on all the weight I lost over summer, plus some more. The whole time I was in Montreal however I did find something very disconcerting about it. It’s so obviously North American with American cars, big wide streets laid out on a grid, Canadian brands and so on – but all the signs & speech is in French, everyone’s better dressed & the food so good, it feels continental. It’s very difficult trying to reconcile all this – will people get upset if I just assume they speak English (most seem to be bilingual)? Annoyingly, the rest of Canada seems to make an effort at being bilingual with their signs, but you get to Quebec & there is next to English on the major signs – that seems a little rude, so I suppose that fits in well.
Anyway, Montreal – well worth a visit for a few days at least, if not more.