I recently traveled to Montreal with P as part of a mini-road trip for my graduation. I live relatively close to Montreal and somehow lived my 24.5 years having never been to one of the country’s most beautiful cities. P and I set out in our rented Kia at 9am on a Tuesday morning and – after a brief detour for coffee – we never looked back.
We arrived mid-afternoon to our beautiful accommodations at the Hotel L’Auberge Manoir Ville-Marie. During check-in we were informed that the building was originally a post-office and then was converted for use as a convent before it became a hotel. Overall the hotel retained very little of the character that the facade of the building contained – however, the service was impeccable (heck, we got a free room upgrade!) and we had a really pleasant stay.
Once we settled in, P and I wanted to check out a bit of the city and have some dinner. Unfortunately for us, the weather was uncooperative and we got caught in a pretty heavy downpour. We continued to wander through the streets of the gorgeous Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. I was pleasantly surprised to find some of the most beautiful architecture in Montreal: the streets are lined with houses that are vibrantly coloured, featuring spiral staircases, and houses with spire-like towers…very bohemian indeed.
BEST CHEAP FOOD
We came across a lovely restaurant recommended by our guidebook called Patati Patata and headed in for some good eats and shelter from the rain. I settled on a $2.00 tofu slider and a side of fries with mayo (YUM!) while P had the most delicious looking poutine I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Naturally it had beef gravy – not so friendly for your resident vegetarian – but that didn’t stop me from having a bite or two. Afterwards we each got a brownie for dessert and headed on our way. The relentless rain drove us into a local brewery for a pint and then we found our way back to our hotel for some shut-eye.
Day two was much kinder to us in terms of weather. We are early risers on vacation because we are hungry to see as much as we can! We headed for Old Montreal and the Place Jacques-Cartier where we saw some amazing sculptures, old buildings and shops as we strolled along the cobblestone streets. We were too early to truly take advantage of the street vendors and performers.
We ate at the most delicious restaurant for lunch. Olive and Gourmando was recommended to us by our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook and it did not disappoint. We loved the ambiance of the restaurant. It was a busy place the entire time we were there, but we ordered our food immediately (a strange set up: you find your seat, decide on what you’d like to eat, and then you go to the counter to order. Your meal is brought to you a short time later). We did not wait long for our meals and we were not disappointed. This restaurant takes a lot of pride in their food. Our meals were truly works of culinary art. Again, I highly recommend you make a trip to Olive and Gourmando on your next trip to Montreal! It was an absolute delight – and affordable too!
Next we headed to the Place-D’armes for a guided tour of the Basilique Notre-Dame. You might recognize the name of this basilica because it is where Celine Dion had her high-profile 800-guest wedding. Anyway, this is certainly a high-light of any Montreal trip. The stunning interior is as beautiful as it is historical and if you get a good guide – like we did – you will be filled in on interesting facts about the architect, what the images in the stained glass represent, and some of the history of the settlement of Montreal. Certainly a worthwhile activity – and probably the most beautiful place we visited in Montreal.
When we were finished here we headed to the Old Port to walk along the Promenade du Vieux-Port. The views of the water were stunning but the sun was beating down on us something fierce so we quickly headed into the Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire Pointe-á-Calliére.
This museum is remarkable. It is recognized as an official historical and archaeological site because it is built around the remains of old buildings dating back to the late 1600s when Montreal was originally founded. (That is to say, when it was originally founded by European settlers, not by the Aboriginal peoples who had been living on this land for centuries).
The museum itself is in multiple buildings that are connected through a series of underground exhibits and archaeological remains. P & I began in the “crypt” and worked our way up through two of the three buildings. Some of the other temporary exhibitions we saw included The Tea Roads – an exhibition that traced the origins and trade of tea around the world. The collection included fantastic information about the cultural importance of tea in all regions of the world and featured a stunning collection of tea pots and tea cups. We were even able to smell different varieties of tea.
My favourite exhibition though was – of course – The Beatles in Montreal. For those of you who don’t know – I’ve loved The Beatles since I was about 14 years old. I began a love affair with music from the 1960s 1970s and 1980s with a particular focus on any- and everything with a political bent. The Beatles – and all of their music & movies, as well as all of the books, plays and movies based on their lives – have fascinated me for years. So, you can imagine my surprise and glee when we accidentally stumbled upon this exhibit. It featured incredible photos and the soundtrack to their Montreal performance. John Lennon’s flowery car is also a spectacle to behold! An entire room was devoted to all of The Beatles paraphernalia that one could dream up! From boardgames to bobbleheads to rugs and curtains – literally absolutely everything in this entire room was Beatle-i-fied. It was a true fan’s dream! We could also sing karaoke on a makeshift stage next to cut-outs of each Beatle. It totally fucking ruled and it’s around until March 30, 2014 – so there is plenty of time for you to plan a trip to Montreal!
BEST ART GALLERY
That evening we decided to go to the Musée des Beaux-Arts that evening because the Chihuly exhibit was on for a discounted price. For those of you who don’t know (and this included me before I went to see his work) Chihuly is a world famous artist who creates ornate blown glass sculptures. I’ve featured a few of my favourite photos from the exhibit to show you just how spectacular his work really is. My favourite part of this exhibition was the “glass ceiling.” Each viewer has the chance to rest on the most comfortable bean bags you’ve ever sat on and admire hundreds of blown glass pieces on the ceiling. Incroyable! (All Chihuly photos were taken by P!)
If you make your way to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, don’t forget to visit the outdoor sculpture garden, as well!
WORST ART GALLERY
If you are short on time, I would recommend avoiding the Musée d’Art Contemporain. P & I decided to venture in because it is a free museum. We felt immediately out of place upon entry simply because this appeared to be a poplar place for young 20-somethings to come and drink during the evenings. And, for the most part, they weren’t drinking and enjoying the art. They were sitting in the atrium or down empty hallways with groups of friends with their beverages. It was neat to see this, sure, but we felt a little awkward. That didn’t stop us from wandering around the museum. There were so many head-scratching pieces in this museum – I won’t recount them all to you here. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around most contemporary art pieces. Somehow, baby powder shooting out of a hole in the wall doesn’t exactly register with me. But, there were some thought-provoking movie shorts and art pieces with an environmental agenda that I got something from. But, it was probably my least favourite of our destinations while in Montreal.
As P & I are very active travelers, we had our sites set on climbing Mont Royal. In order to get to the base of the mountain from where we were, we walked through the beautiful campus of McGill University. The Arts Building is the oldest on campus and dates back to 1843. It has a gorgeous cupola on top and features large columns. I suddenly wanted to be an undergrad again. We reached the bottom of Mont Royal and were pleasantly surprised at the serenity of it all. There were a number of joggers and dog-walkers out and about but it was relatively quiet. The tree lined trails up the mountain were heavily shaded and so we were not too warm on our ascent. There are three places of note on the mountain: Lac du Castor (Beaver Lake), The Chalet Du Montreal and the Kondiaronk Belvedere Lookout, and The Cross.
Lac du Castor is an underwhelming man-made lake. I was pretty disappointed with it but it was a nice quiet spot to take a break while we were climbing.
The Chalet du Montreal and the Kondiaronk Belvedere Lookout were the highlights of the mountain for us. You have a scenic 360 degree breathtaking view of Montreal. It was so perfect. P & I spent some time identifying buildings on the skyline and figuring out where we had visited in the city. The Chalet du Mont Royal has a stunning façade and a gorgeous rustic interior. I told P it might be nice to have a wedding here (wink wink, nudge nudge…) but all jokes aside, it absolutely would be. And, there was even a proposal that took place at some time in the past, right on the lookout.
Afterward we headed over to The Cross. This is a 31.4m (103 or so feet) structure that was installed in 1924. It is covered in graffiti but is an interesting site to see, nonetheless. We headed down the mountain after seeing the cross and – after a few failed attempts – we finally found the correct pathway down the mountain.
Our final destination was the mini-island that is home to the Biosphére and Biodome (two very different structures). The former is a structure dedicated to the environment and was erected in time for Expo ’67 but is currently an interactive museum. The Biodome, originally a velodrome for the 1976 Olympic Games, is now home to replicas of American ecosystems. P & I were not really interested in touring either structure and so we purposefully ventured out to the island after closing time. We walked around a gorgeous flower garden and saw the Montreal Casino
I loved this city and have always wanted to take a trip here to visit the historical and cultural sites. It was an absolute delight to cross this off of my Bucket List. From Montreal, P & I were headed to New York! This would be my 4th trip and P’s 3rd. But, there was something EXTRAORDINARY about why we were headed there this time. Stay tuned to hear all about it!