Monday, October 20, 2008

[Feature] Weekend in Montreal

This weekend, I took a trip up to Montreal with my friend Stella (who I went on my Paris trip with earlier this year) and her fiancee Adam. Anyone who has talked to me since my Paris trip knows that I am in love with the City of Lights, and want to go back as soon as I can. Now, while Montreal is NO Paris and should not be confused for it, the facts that they have great architecture and everyone speaks French were good enough reasons for me to jump on this opportunity. We were only there for a 2 days, but you can see and get a lot done in a short time. Be sure to pack your GPS, walking shoes, and passport!

Quick Facts:
* Montreal is the largest city in the Canadian providence of Quebec.
* Official language is French, and it is the largest French-speaking city in North America, the second largest French speaking city after Paris.
* From NY, Montreal is 1 hour by plane, 7 hours by car.

Old Montreal
The historic part of Montreal that is located downtown feels distinctively European. Great and looming facades of old buildings and cobbled local streets give it that Parisian feel. The City Hall is a beautiful building, and so is the Notre Dame Basilica (pictured on left), which reminded me of Paris's Sacre Coeur. Apparently there is a light and sound show, but we didn't see that, just the spectacular outside.

For us, the main attraction was Rue Saint-Paul, a cobblestone lined street that is probably the heart of Old Montreal. Lamp-lit buildings, tiny boutiques and souvenir shops, and restaurants line this street. It is decidedly very romantic (sorry I was the third wheel, Stella and Adam!) especially at night. The street is also the home of Bonsecours Market, which is a 2-story domed public market. It's almost like an artists' co-op, where jewelry makers, furniture designers, clothing and accessories designers, and other artists show and sell their art.

Montreal on Wheels
Ok so this was my favorite and least favorite part of the trip. One of my 30 things to do before 30 was to learn how to ride a bike. I kinda accomplished that last Saturday, where I learned and rode around for 10 minutes before I had to call it a day. Well, exactly a week later, this past Saturday, we ended up renting bikes and biking around half of Montreal. Um, scary, considering I still am a newbie and am still scared of riding! Montreal on Wheels rents out bikes and rollerblades at $9/hr, and there are bike paths along the St. Lawrence River, which is what we did. We biked along the river past Habitat 67, which is a series of housing that looks like piles of blocks on top of each other (picture on right). Very experimental, very cool, very modern.

On our bikes, we ended up all the way on the other side of our starting point at the Biosphere, which was first built as the American Pavilion for Expo 67. It's a geodesic dome that is an amazing sight to see, and now houses a hydrology museum whose interactive kids section was the most fun for all of us. So all in all, from the bike rental place to the Biosphere and back was probably 3 miles. I DID IT! Minus my blisters, my butt hurting from the seat (TMI, I know), and my weird penchant for biking into oncoming bikers (I'm going to work on that) this riding excursion defined my Montreal experience for me.

Definitely above all else, try the Montreal bagels. My friend Howard told me to do this, and also requested that I bring some back for him. They're less doughy than New York ones, but still really good. We went to Fairmount Bagel, which apparently is one of the best places to get an authentic Montreal bagel, and has been in business since 1919. We managed to beat the morning rush, but right after we grabbed ours the line was out the door.

Fairmount Bagel is also near Boulevard Saint-Laurent, also known as the hipster area. We visited on Sunday so a lot of the stores were either closed or opened late, but there was definitely a hip vibe among the people out and about as well as in the storefronts. Lots of unique boutiques and furniture stores, worth a walk around while munching on your bagel.

So, that's it. Remember, Montreal does not equal Paris, but for the road trip and the fact that you're that much closer to a European country without ever having to leave the North American continent makes the trip worth it. It's totally do-able in a weekend, so grab people you like, a gas-efficient car with a reliable GPS (we relied on ours THE ENTIRE TIME), and go! I think summer is the hot season for tourists, but I loved the drive up with the leaves changing color, and Montreal is also beautiful this time of the year.


sang said...

What happened to our road trip to Canada? I need a job so I can hop in.