Musings in Montréal

I had the pleasure of swinging by Montréal recently and a thought dawned on me: it had been quite a while since I visited a city that was truly new to me. I had gotten stuck in a routine of repeat visits to cities and countries I’ve been to before (all which I loved) – but I had forgotten what it was like to dive into a place where I had no idea what to expect and no pre-conceived notion of its history or culture.

I have to admit, the prospect of a whole new playground to explore gave me quite the rush. And not just because it was in Canada. 😉

As is tradition when I visit major destinations for the first time, I present this documentation of my exploration in superlative form. Locals may not agree and this list is definitely not comprehensive, but it is what I’ll remember from this latest trailblazing effort in Montréal, the “Paris of the North”.

  • Smallest Chinatown: that one block of Boulevard St-LaurentMontreal Chinatown
  • Best bakery for a morning croissant: Au Kouign-AmannCroissants
  • University with the most gothic architecture: McGillMcGill
  • Most difficult-to-enter mall: The Underground City
  • Most Canadian-brand retail in a row: Rue St. CatherineRue St Catherine
  • Least active athletic center: Olympic Stadium
  • Best takeaway poutine: La BanquiseLa Banquise
  • Most hyped ramen joint: Ichigo Ichie
  • Most hyped smoked meat joint: Schwartz’s Deli
  • Best building re-purposing: Old Royal Bank Tower turned into startup incubator and cafe
    • Runner-up: St. Jude Church turned into gym + spaOld Royal Bank Building
  • Best free lookout tower: top floor of the Museum of Archaeology and HistoryLookout tower
  • Best staged photo op: in front of Hôtel de ville de MontréalIn front of City Hall
  • Best place to set up a champagne waterfall: from the top of Parc Mont RoyalChampagne pyramid
  • Best place to learn about bugs: the Insectarium inside Jardin Botanique
  • Best place to buy lavender: Jean-Talon MarketJean-Talon Market
  • Most abandoned monuments: inside Parc Jean-DrapeauBiosphere
  • Most valuable land area dedicated to art: Place des Arts, smack in the middle of downtownPlace des Arts

At the start of one of our day tours, a guide asked me what word I would use to describe Montréal. I chose the word “fusion” because I felt that Montréal had consistently impressed me with how well it was able to blend so many pairs of concepts into something unique: European gothic architecture with North American glass skyscrapers, the urban core with the natural landscape of Mont Royal, the creative arts community with the huge banking and commerce centers… not to mention the food, which is a striking blend of French, Portuguese, and British influences!

The people of Montréal also consistently impressed me. Whether it was going 15 minutes out of their way to help us lost tourists, or jumping in to stop a robbery that I was too scared to interfere with – the Montréalers were quintessential Canadians, and then some!

(In case you’re wondering, I didn’t interfere with the robbery because I’m American and I immediately assumed there was a gun involved. But of course there wasn’t — it was Canada! :D)

At the end of my brief time in Montréal, I definitely felt that this was a city I could see myself living in… if only I spoke French. 😉 I was so enamored with this city that I felt compelled to ditch my companions (on multiple occasions) to maximize my ability to see more of it. (In retrospect, that was a douchebag move – sorry about that, guys. 😦 )

In the future, I hope to find a longer block of time to return and really feel the pulse of this city, building upon the limited exploration described here. Slow travel is really the way to go for places with as much to offer as Montréal.

Useful references

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