The second stage of our trip took us to Montreal. I’ll be honest, Montreal is a city I’ve never really thought about visiting, but the more I read about it, the more I got excited about visiting.
Our journey to Montreal started on the train. We weighed up the options and looking at car, train and plane – the train won. For one it was pretty cheap, and two, it was the simplest. It’s a 4-5 hr trip from Toronto to Montreal on the Via rail, which seems a long time if you’re used to our scratchy, cramped UK train seats, but these are spacious, big windowed trains, with giant leather seats. And you can check your luggage in too so you don’thave to worry about finding somewhere to put it either. On the plane it would have probably taken as long with check in times, and in a car we’d have had to navigate there, and worry about the impending storm warning that had been issued for the Ontario area.
Oh, yes, we arrived in Montreal under massive storm weather warnings – and whilst the storm didn’t materialise, the -20 temperatures it had promised to bring with it did. I think the warmest it was during our whole stay was -5, the coldest about -25. So on our first evening we didn’t venture too far from our apartment, but as we were staying in the middle of the cool neighbourhoods Mile End and Le Plateau Mont Royal we had loads of restaurants to choose from.After doing a bit of Google mapping we settled on one called Sparrow, which was just a 5 minute walk from us, for snacks and beers before heading back to get our bearings, plan the next day and watch the Walking Dead on catch up! Zombies don’t stop zombing for a holiday you know!
One of the things that struck me the most was how ‘French’Montreal is. I knew people spoke French, and I knew that the packaging in Canada is dual language because of Quebec, but I hadn’t considered how French it would be. But you walk into a restaurant, or shop, or bar and you’re greeted in French. (And then when seeing my puzzled face, perfect English is second.) Road signs are in French first. The public transport is just in French. Conversations between diners on the next table to you are in a perfect mix of French and English. Like they are just one language. Which adds to the beauty of the city.
Our time in Montreal was mostly spent wandering, looking at the city. We didn’t have many specific aims, or places we HAD to see which was nice as it meant we didn’t have a huge agenda and got to dart about the city as we pleased. Jim had a few places he wanted to eat, but that was about it. And luckily for us, the mega storm that had been anticipated hit elsewhere in Canada and we had one real day of snow and a bit of an overcast afternoon. The rest of the time we had bluebird skies.
Our first day started with an epic breakfast at the cafe, Faberge, a few metres from the Airbnb we were in, I had the Smores waffles, Jim had mac n cheese eggs beni! Then we headed into Montreal for a look around. It was a bit of a baptism of fire with the cold. Our first day was about -15 most of the day with a pretty brutal wind blowing too occasionally, so walking around sight-seeing was interspersed with dashing inside places for warmth and derobing because it was so warm!
We walked to Old Montreal, which, whilst pretty wasn't quite what I expected, we visited the colourful Palais des congrès de Montréal, we rode the underground out to the Olympic Village and then headed back to Mile End for happy hour snacks. There were tacos and gin at Cartel Streetfood, and then we found the coolest little bar, Chez Simone, for beers and charcuteries. I think this might have been my favourite bar find of the holiday. The beers were served in the most beautiful, simple, glasses, and the charcuterie was really good. Plus, it was so French. The staff spoke French before English, the customers were 90% French speaking and there was just an air of cool about the place!
On day two in Montreal we were met with snow. Not loads of it, but enough to white wash the city and require another layer of clothing and hiding even our faces from the elements. Thank goodness for my fleece lined hiking boots. We had a plan to walk to a deli that Jim wanted to try, through Mont Royal Park, but as we got there we realised that there was an international cross country ski competition on, and the park was shut, so we skirted around it and made our way to Schwartz Deli, a place Jim had seen on the TV for smoked meat sandwiches and giant pickles.
Lunch was a followed by a tube ride to a far flung neighbour hood in search of the perfect doughnut and let me tell you, they were pretty perfect doughnuts from Leche Desserts. And then when Jim watched the football that afternoon I took the time to do a little bit of shopping, hitting up Sephora and Hudson Bay and wandering round LuluLemon.
Our day ended with some (giant jam jar for me) happy hour cocktails and goldfish crackers at La Distilerie, then we headed back to Mile End for dinner. Our last drink of the night, which was really not required if we're honest about it, was at a little old jazz bar round the corner from the apartment. it only opened at 9pm and even though it was a Wednesday by the time we left it was getting busy!
Our final proper day in Montreal started early for me, with an 7.30am wander round some of the beautiful streets of Mont Royal for about an hour and a half. It was a stunning bluebird sky day but man, it was cold. I had two pairs of gloves on and my fingers were still frozen. But my camera and I had a great time and there are about a thousand photos of beautiful houses waiting to show you another day!
We decided to try and find the underground city that morning, which resulted in us looking super confused at our phones and trying to figure out why when it said it was underneath us, we couldn't find a way in. In the end we walked into an office block to ask directions and there was an entrance! The undergroud city is slightly misleading title because most of it is not actually underground, but it's a series of tunnels, tube stations and shopping centres all connected - so in the midst of winter you can go to work, do your lunch break shopping and get home all without actually going outside. Perfect for those people walking about in their work gear - less so for Jim and I who had thermals on under our clothes!
After an hour or so walking through the shopping centres we caught the train out to the Île Sainte-Hélène to check out the Biodome. It has been decommissioned and the 'skin' has been removed which I'll be honest makes it all the more beautiful, especially with those skies. I mean, seriously, just look at that sky!
Our day was finished off with some giant bowls of Poutine at a place called Poutineville. You can't go to Montreal and not eat Poutine, can you? I think it might be illegal to do. We followed up the Poutine with some happy hour drinks around Mont Royal, our favourite bar being a little place called Bar le Lab on the edge of the park. Their cocktail menu was epic!
I was so sad to be leaving Montreal, it is such a cool, beautiful and interesting city. It felt like such a cosmopolitan city but also small enough to get to know your way around in a few days. I'd love to go back at some point, and explore more of the city, but maybe at a time we can take advantage of all the super cool roof terrace bars!
You can read about the first section of our holiday, in Toronto, here. And stay tuned for our time at Niagara Falls later this week, and the start of our time in America next week.
_____________________________________________Travel Info – where we stayed, how we got about, that sort of stuff;
Where we stayed – our Airbnb was a small studio in the heart right between Mile End and Le Plateau Mont Royal. It was small, but had everything we needed. And cost us £25 a night too.The only problem we found was it is was a basement flat,it was a little noisy at going to work time! And the wifi was super spotty. To the point we had to pop to a café to call our cab on the last day!
The area though was pretty cool and one I would really recommend to stay in if you’re in Montreal. It was close-ish to the underground stations (Laurier and Mont Royal were our closest) and had loads of bus connections with everywhere in the city we seemed to be coming from.
How we got about – We got to Montreal on Via Rail, and took and Uber from the train station which cost $17 and then again to the bus station for $16. Traveling about during our stay. We bought a 3 day travel pass for $19 each. It worked on the trains and the buses and meant we could hop on and off them as we pleased and we most certainly got our monies worth as we used public transport for everything.
Some of our favourite places we ate and drank - Once again, Jim did a lot of research into where to go, but we also use the MTL Blog to find out about coll places to visit too. Some of our favourites were Faberge for breakfast. La Distillerie and Bar le Lab for cocktails. Chez Simone for french cool and Scwartz deli for a classic Quebec Smoked Meat.