Back in Canada: Montreal, Quebec

I have done a really poor job as of late in posting anything about actual travel, so without further ado here is some insight into my latest trip to Canada and this time I visited the city of Montreal, located in the province of Quebec. Just some background information for those of you who do not know, Montreal was originally a French colony in North America that thrived on the fur trade, but eventually became part of the British North American colonies at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763. However, the British quickly realized that they could not be successful without the cooperation of the French population living in the area, so to this day Montreal is very much a bi-lingual city and proud of its French history and ancestry. So if you want to travel internationally, but you are afraid of a language barrier, Montreal is the perfect destination to get comfortable because the signs are in both French and English. Also, most of the locals will switch from French to English once they realize you do not speak French and they catch on quite fast, especially when you give them a confused look.

Back to the trip, the journey to Montreal started last Thursday when I left Virginia and headed to New Jersey to park, take the train into NYC, and met up with one of my old college roommates, Tesla, who was going to Montreal with me the following day. I did not get to NYC until almost 5:00 pm, so I just went straight to the building where Tesla worked which is connected to Grand Central Station. While I waited for Tesla to get off of work, I got to see the main corridor of Grand Central and it became very clear why it should be on everyone’s NYC bucket list. In the picture below, you will see how they had these projections of space and the stars on the ceiling of the corridor. It was almost magical and I sort of felt like I was in a Harry Potter movie. Once Tesla got off work we made our way to her apartment via the subway, ate dinner, and then crashed early so we could catch a morning train back to Jersey the next day and finish the second leg of the road trip to Montreal.

Grand Central

As most road trips go, it had it’s share of bumps along the way, but overall it was smooth sailing until we reached Montreal. We hit Montreal during rush-hour traffic and had to pick up Tesla’s law school friend, Jessica, from the airport. On the way back from the airport we did get to bypass traffic in an HOV-3 lane which really lifted our spirits, even if it only lasted for a couple of miles. Once we got into downtown, getting to our Airbnb was slightly tricky with all of the construction and the GPS wanted us to pull up on the opposite side of where the access to the lobby drop off area was. So I just let Jessica and Tesla out, so they could check in and I could find somewhere to park. Looking back, my biggest regret was not looking into the parking options ahead of time, because anyone who knows me, knows that parking in cities gives me anxiety. I always go for parking garages or parking lots and I will pay whatever it costs. So I managed to park, but I would eventually relocate my truck to a different parking lot later that evening once I got a better feel for the parking options.

The Airbnb that we were staying in was listed as a penthouse apartment which was not necessarily incorrect. It was in a building called Evo which was actually a building for student housing and our host made us retrieve the key cards from a lock box, so I am pretty sure our host was breaking all kinds of rules. However, the loft style apartment was really nice and had an awesome view, so I guess it balanced out with the sketchy circumstances. Once we settled into the Airbnb, we decided to head out to grab a quick bite, which turned out not to be quick at all. Everything along the street we walked on was closed, apparently because of the Jewish holiday for the new year and we settled for the first place that we could find that was actually open, a Chinese restaurant. Afterwards, I relocated my truck because I did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the garage it was parked in.

Evo

We eventually made it back to the Airbnb and got ready to go out to see what the nightlife was like. I personally am indifferent about going to bars and clubs, but I do not mind going if I am traveling with other people. So we decided to go to a place Tesla found online located on St. Laurent. DISCLAIMER: I am just going to apologize right now because I will not be able to name most of these places because they were in French and I do not remember how to spell them if I even remember the names at all. I guess that makes me a mediocre travel blogger, but I do not care. I do not remember the name of the bar, but I do know it had the word orange in it to poke fun at the city of Montreal and how there is always construction going on. Once we got there, however there was a $15 CAD cover charge for the live band which none of us were feeling, so we decided to check out a place that our driver had suggested called Muzique. This one had a $15 CAD cover too, but we decided to check it out. What we did not realize was how young the crowd was going to be. The drinking age in Quebec is 18 years old, so we felt pretty old and the only thing that kept us around were the $1 vodka drinks and the rooftop area. Needless to say, we were not to impressed by the experience and we came to the consensus that those type of clubs just do not appeal to use anymore. We like a more relaxed and laid back bar option, so we threw in the towel since we all had a really long travel day anyways. Also, my last complaint was that they had pictures of rap and hip hop artists on the walls leading up into the club, but they played electronic/house music. So the music selection was disappointing, but I did get a selfie with Drake.

Muzique

The next morning, we headed to a breakfast spot that we had pre-planned the night before called the Mon Cafe which looked like a cute local spot. There was only one problem, when we got there it was closed. Apparently, they had a staffing issue and were forced to close for the day. So we were forced to wing it and found a pretty good breakfast diner, the name of which I cannot remember but the food was pretty good. We walked to the Notre-Dame Basilica to meet up with our walking tour guide. Typically, I am a fan of free walking tour companies because I think the guides do a better job since they only get paid in tips, but there were not any free walking tour options on the weekends in Montreal which was weird. That being said, our guide Bruno was born and raised in Montreal and he was very entertaining and informative throughout the whole tour. We were able to go inside the Basilica and walked past the wedding chapel area towards that back of the Basilica which gets booked up to one and half to two years out for weddings. He walked us around Old Montreal, explaining the history and pointing out food and coffee recommendations along the route. Overall, the walking tour provided a really good orientation to the city and foundation of knowledge in regards to its history. Whenever traveling somewhere, I am a firm believer that you should make an effort to learn about the history of the area you are traveling in and walking tours are a really easy way to do that and often times you get insider knowledge from local guides.

After the tour, we explored Marche Bonsecours (the Bonsecours Market) which used to be a food market, but now focuses on selling or displaying arts and crafts as Bruno explained it. It is pretty much a hot spot for tourists to spend all of their money on cool and trendy Canadian souvenirs. From there we traced our steps back to a really amazing cafe called Olympico where Jessica and I indulged this concoction of ice cream and coffee. After getting our caffeine buzz, we explored the Old Port and got a cheesy tourist picture of the three of us in front of the Canada 150 letters (they are in commemoration of the 150 anniversary of the Canadian Confederation established in 1867). The Old Port area was really nice and there are all sorts of shops, food options, and activities. For example, I decided to do the Montreal Zipline which allows you to soar over part of the Old Port area and over the water itself for $23 CAD per person. The view is really cool and the breeze was quite refreshing on this uncharacteristically hot day in September. We hit up an Italian restaurant across from Olympico for a really late lunch. I wish I could remember the name, but it was reasonably priced for the Old Montreal area and the pasta was really good. We went back to the Airbnb and unfortunately this old lady decided to stay in for the night so I could hydrate and rest up for the Montreal Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon early the next morning.

Old Port

I got up around 0515 to get ready, eat breakfast, and find my way to the metro so that I could make it to the start line without feeling rushed or panicked about running late. The race organizers gave all of the participants free metro passes for the day and it was really easy to navigate the metro system in Montreal. Also, the trains were really nice and clean. Even if I had doubts about how to get to the start line, there were plenty of people in their marathon gear to follow like a lost puppy to the start. It was also nice to see that there were thousands of other people who were crazy enough to wake up early on a Sunday for a half marathon because I was getting shit from everyone about it, even the Canadian border patrolman told me I was crazy for running while on holiday. The Rock n’Roll series really knows how to put a cool race and route together because the start line was located on top of a bridge and the views with the sunrise were absolutely stunning. It was a really hot race, but taking in all of the sights along the route provided a good distraction and there were plenty of hydration stations every few kilometers. Out of the the whole course, my absolute favorite part was probably running through the Gay Village because the entire street is lined with these colorful spheres that create a rainbow down the street. The finish line was located at La Fontaine Park and we all received our finisher medals which is probably the best one I have earned so far and they gave us a bag full of snacks, water, and juices. After I picked up my bag from the baggage drop area and used the restroom, I was then able to focus on meeting up with Jessica and Tesla.

Once I linked up with Tesla and Jessica, we began the walk to our breakfast destination, L’Avenue, which was about a 20 minute walk. Once we got the however, there was a huge line stretched outside and we quickly gave up on that option. We found a popular local bagel shop, St. Viateur Bagel, and waited for about 15 minutes before getting seated. Their bagel sandwiches did not disappoint and I am always a fan of any place that offers pesto on everything. They had some really good cold coffee options too. We had enough time for me to squeeze in a shower at our Airbnb before heading to our Brewpub walking tour. The Brewpub tour consisted of two beers paired with food at three different local brewpubs in Montreal and a small walking tour as we relocated from one brewpub to another. This tour was a great social experience because we got to know other small groups traveling from Boston, Texas, and Calgary. Also, our tour guide was originally from Wyoming and was now a dual citizen who had been living in Montreal for the past four years. I do not drink a lot of beer, but it was a really fun experience and I learned a lot of things about beer and Montreal. Whether or not you love beer, I think this tour is a really solid choice and you will get to interact with other travelers and make some friends.

After the beer tour, we walked to the Gay Village so that I could get a picture of the cool rainbow spheres that lined the streets and so we could find more poutine. Definitely, do not leave Montreal without trying poutine which consists of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. I have had it before, but Montreal poutine is definitely the best. We walked until we reached the end of the rainbow (pun-intended) and then we took the metro back to our Airbnb. The next morning, we all went our separate ways and I made sure I followed all of the check out instructions for the Airbnb before retrieving my truck and embarking on my next journey to Ottawa which is where I am currently sitting in a cafe typing this blog. Montreal was a very cool city and I definitely recommend traveling there. Montreal has some of the most affordable accommodations out of any city in North America which means you will have more money in your wallet to do fun things in the city. I would advise visiting in the summer because all of our tour guides informed us that there are lots of different festivals in the city during the summer. Also, I will leave you with this one last random observation I made while in Montreal, the man-bun hairstyle is very popular there. I have never seen so many man-buns as I did while in Montreal. I found it quite amusing. Hopefully, you will hear from me soon about my past few days in Ottawa, but I will not make any promises.

Gay Village

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