Let me start by saying, I love Canada.
I grew up in Upstate New York with the border being only a few hours drive. Canada is the home of the Tragically Hip, Unibroue, Ryan Reynolds, Nathan Fillion (heart be still…), Niagara Falls (the better side), peanut butter (yes, a Canadian had the first patent in 1884), lacrosse, Labatt, Banff Film Festival , General Lafayette, SCTV and Kids in the Hall, the movie Strange Brew, Cirque du Soleil, and a slamming craft beer week in Vancouver…how can you not love this country, eh?
When I flew back home in September to be in my best friend’s wedding, I decided that it was time to visit Montreal. I had been to Toronto, Oshawa, Kingston, and Niagara Falls. But the farthest I’d been north was Plattsburgh and Potsdam in NY State. It was a beautiful wedding in the Adirondack Mountains. Old Forge to be specific. It’s a town untouched by time, which makes me love it even more. To top it off, it was a peak time to see the leaves change. I forgot how amazingly beautiful it was. The swell of colors…reds, oranges, yellows, browns, and green. It’s absolutely stunning. And the wedding was a complete hoot!
After the wedding, in my little rental car, I hit the border with eager passport in hand. The day before I had made a reservation in a hostel in Old Montreal, by the port, named La Masion du Patriote (more of a youngsters hostel). Talk about bohemian love. This place was a slight challenge to find since it has no awning, sign, or other indication that it’s there. Which is nice because it makes you feel more a part of the city than just a tourist. Read the walls. Talk to the other guests. I met the two coolest guys that are totally straight but I thought were gay while staying there. That’s a story all its own. I still talk with them. I have wonderful memories of a comedy club, late night shawarma, a horribly funny “light show” in a church, and playing twinkle twinkle little star on my violin with guitar back up. Tom and Justin, you totally rock. Definitely go hang out by the river and the port. It’s beautiful.
Mont Royal Park is 200 hectares of wooded awesomeness with the peak of Mount Royal being 234 meters above the city. I hiked all over Mount Royal Park seeing spectacular views of the city especially at the Chalet du Mont Royal. Be sure to have a map with you inside the park because it’s easy to get lost on the multitude of trails(and steps) that weave through the park. Eventually I ended up on the east slope to see the Sir George-Étienne Cartier monument, where on summer Sundays a drumming and dancing festival happen. Attached to the park, is the enormous Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery and I found a weeping angel there (for all you Dr Who fans). Cemeteries are great. They’re so peaceful. After my little jaunt, I was headed back to hostel for lunch on a trusty bicycle.
Of course a bicycle! Instead of walking or driving all over the city, you can get a Bixi. The Bixi is Montreal’s bike sharing program which is easy to use, has tons of stations all over the city, is economically priced, and allows you to cruise the city in style while getting some good exercise. Montreal does have hills, but don’t let that deter you. There’s tons of bike lanes and tons of bikers!
After seeing the Sacre Couer in Paris, going to visit the St Joseph Oratory in Montreal had that deja vu feel. Lots of steps, a big dome on a religious center, on top of a hill, and oh yeah…lots of steps. When you first enter the oratory, it has a very modern feel. Going into the bottom part where the original chapel and catacombs is much more interesting. In the catacombs, there are tons of crutches and canes on the walls from people who have been healed due to Brother Andre who passed in 1937 and deemed a saint. Don’t forget to check out the view from the terrace. All those steps are worth it.
But I did mention poutine. Dear goodness…there are few things as awesome as poutine. At least in my world. What is this thing I speak of? It sounds really simple: french fries, gravy and cheese. For some reason, the French-Canadians have this down to an addiction. I dream of Montreal’s poutine. If you’re not sure which place to go to for poutine, just ask. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has an opinion about which place has the best poutine. That’s no joke. Don’t worry if you can’t speak French either. I was speaking what little I know and when they figured out it wasn’t my native language, they asked “would this be easier in English?” But of course, it was still fun to try to continue in French!
Just outside the city is a little town named Chambly which is the home of one of my favorite breweries, Unibroue. Unfortunately, I forgot that on Mondays alot of place s are closed…like museums and historic buildings and sites and breweries. So my trip to Chambly was an epic fail. I saw the outside of Fort Chambly (awesome), the outside of Bedondaine and Bedons(craft brewery), and since Unibroue doesn’t have a publik house or tap room, I only saw heaven from the outside too. So sad but I still highly suggest a side trip to Chambly.
I know I’ve been rambling so here’s my suggestions of what to hit in Montreal:
- Mount Royal Park
- Notre Dame de Neiges Cemetery
- St Joseph’s Oratory
- Any brasserie (including Benelux because they’re a micro-brewery too)
- the town of Chambly (not on a Monday)
- Comedy Works Montreal
- Cafe Pi (especially if you like playing chess)
- Notre Dame Basilica
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (it’s free but donations are welcome)
I only spent 3 days there so I tried to pack in what I could. I felt lucky that it didn’t rain the whole time I was there until the day I left. Oh Montreal, I’ll miss you too.