My boyfriend and I applied for vacation just 4 weeks before we left for our holiday. At that stage, we had no idea where we would go. We were leaving right after the Olympics finished so South America was out of the question; Africa (which is high on our bucket list) was too expensive after my costly renovations and; other interesting parts of the world like Spain, Morocco and even France were – and still are – unsafe. So we quickly decided on a whirlwind trip to the US and Canada – San Francisco, Montreal and Quebec City…. all in the space of two weeks! Our inadequate planning also meant that I missed my lovely friend Nadia who now lives in Toronto. (We thought it would be a quick train trip to meet each other but it’s actually a fairly expensive 5 hour trip! Canada is a big country, like Australia, where places look close together on the map but are actually quite far away. (Nadia and I got to Skype in the same time zone over our morning beverages which was almost good as meeting at a café in person… almost!).
So I wanted to start my travel posts with Canada because I really enjoyed travelling in Montreal and Quebec City just a little bit more than San Fran…
Montreal is a little bit like Melbourne – very modern, livable and clean but the difference is that everyone speaks French! Most people speak English but found our Aussie accents difficult to understand. Apparently they speak French with an accent as well in Canada which is looked down upon by French people in France!
Montreal can be split into two parts – Old Montreal and Downtown. Old Montreal, which is a little town in itself, was my favourite place to visit because it was incredibly pretty and reminded me of Europe. Downtown is the newer part which is like any other city but there is a lot of construction for Montreal’s 375 year birthday celebration next year.
Overall, it’s a very outdoorsy city in the summer (which is when we went) with plenty of things to do outdoors and a lot of delicious food to eat.
Here’s my mini guide for Montreal if you only have around four days like we did. (This guide is for the summer… I have no idea what it would be like in winter, but I imagine it would be very pretty but much too cold for me!)
In Old Montreal there are lots of interesting boutique hotels inside converted buildings. Both of the hotels we stayed at were located in the heart of the town and walking distance to all that Old Montreal has to offer.
- The L Hotel is a building that used to be a bank and is owned by Guess’s founder Mr Marciano. Apparently he lives on the 5th floor and collects lots of art which is displayed inside, and outside the hotel.
- The Auberge du Vieux-Port is in a converted shop building with rooms overlooking the St Lawrence River.
Downtown – or the modern area of Montreal, there are more mainstream hotels.
- Loews Vogue Hotel is a classic, elegant and somewhat girly hotel in the middle of the shopping district.
- A history walking tour to get a lay of the land and learn about the city’s interesting history.
I loved this artist’s impression of an English man turning his nose up at the French built Basilica Notre-Dame and a French woman with her nose turned up at the old Bank of Montreal which was run by the English in the olden days. They are wearing masks because it’s meant to be a joke but I suppose there’s some truth to it… in the 1800s at least.
- We didn’t have time to do this, but I would love to have had coffee and lunch at this beautiful 1920s bank building (the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada) where you place your order where the tellers used to be.
- Admire the beautiful Basilique Notre-Dame.
- Wander along Rue St Paul which is fairly touristy but reminded me of Europe. There are plenty of cafes, souvenir and clothes shops along this street.
- Learn history in the evening through the Cite Memoir light exhibition. We didn’t have time to see all of the exhibits but it’s definitely something I would love to see again. It’s like Vivid in Sydney – but you download an app on the free Wi-Fi, go to the location, watch the projection and listen to the commentary on your phone. It’s an incredible concept which I hope Sydney will follow!
- Learned about Canadian history at the McCord Museum.
- Strolled in the shade of the Mont (Mount) Real (where Montreal’s name is derived from).
- Wandered around the Atwater Markets which is a farmer’s market near the Lachine Canal. We started to walk along the water but were told off by impatient Montreal bike riders (they’re not just in Sydney!) so we sat on the bank and soaked up some sun. Afterwards we strolled back to the markets and admired the beautifully packed fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese (which I can’t eat… but I can still look!).
- Randomly stumbled upon the Barbie Exhibition in a shopping mall. I’m going to share all the pics in an entire post I think.
- Sat on the lawns at McGill University and wandered what it would be like to go to university in a pretty castle – but in the snow…
- Poutine – potato chips, gravy and cheese curd. Theoretically it should be delicious, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. It’s probably best consumed during winter time or not at all.. And most meals come with a “side” of potato.
- Montreal bagels. Compared to New York bagels they are lighter, smaller (because the hole is bigger) and sweeter (because they are dipped in honey-dew water before baking). I would go as far as saying I like the Montreal bagels better but my boyfriend disagreed… I guess it depends on your taste but it’s a good idea to try one.
- We didn’t try smoked meat from the restaurant Schwartz (which is part owned by Celine Dion who made an appearance at the restaurant just days before our arrival) but my boyfriend tried it in Quebec. I’m not a fan of smoked meat, but apparently you need to try it in a sandwich with mustard and rye bread…
- French food at our favourite restaurant, La Gargotte in Old Montreal. It’s in a hidden corner towards the back of the town and is frequented by locals as well as tourists. We loved it so much that we ate there 3 times. The food was fresh and delicious with items like fettuccine Bolognese, Osso Bucco, salmon with vegetables and rice, steak with vegetables and potatoes and desserts like a trio of Crème brulee (berry, lime and mango flavoured), lemon meringue pie and profiteroles with ice cream. The service is super friendly and fast. The local diners are interesting and include a couple with two dogs who sat at the table…
- Crepes from any of the pretty cafes in Rue St Paul.
- If you’re at the markets, eat at one of the many pop up stalls or grab a New York pepperoni pizza and (slightly cold) empanadas.
- Maple sweets, ice cream and gifts to take home from Delices in the Old Town.
- Cappuccinos are hard to find but my boyfriend managed to find a few places (including La Gargotte) where they understood what a cappuccino actually is. Other places served black coffee with milk froth on top and called it a cappuccino….
- Tea is also a little hard to find, especially English Breakfast (my favourite!). So I had a lot of Orange Pekoe and Early Grey teas instead.
- We don’t drink alcohol much at all, but we did treat ourselves to a wine here and there. We particularly enjoyed – and recommend – the rooftop bar Terrase sur l’Auberge for a beautiful view of Montreal, chilled out tunes and good wines.
- Taxes aren’t included in the prices so always expect that everything will cost more than what’s on the price tag (including the hotels you book into).
- Expect at least two hours to get out of the airport. As soon as we stepped off the plane we had to queue for at least half an hour because the customs queue was incredibly long… I would suggest going to the bathroom on the plane beforehand because the next bathroom you’ll find is at least another 20 minutes later in the Customs area.
Have you been to Montreal? What would you recommend? What’s it like in winter over there?