Now, I was expecting to adore Montreal. I was expecting to come home, look for a new job and set up a new life with R in the French capital of Canada. We go on holiday to France quite often and I love it. I thought, what could be better? All the French influences – the food, the chic style – but with a language I can speak and mixed in with all the Canadian charm I had grown to love.
And I liked it, I really did. But it wasn’t quite what I expected…
We stayed in an airbnb apartment in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, which is meant to be the hipster neighbourhood in Montreal. The area was great, as were many other things about this delightful place, but something didn’t quite…click. It was good, no, it was great; but it wasn’t why-don’t-we-live-here great.
For a start, everyone speaks French and everything is written in French. R found it hilarious that I wasn’t prepared for this, particularly because everyone knows Montreal is in the French part of Canada and it was the thing I was most excited about! I love everything about France – including the language – but I can’t speak a word of it and I hate feeling rude and ignorant, so I thought Montreal would be the ideal place for me; the perfect blend of French culture and a beautiful language, but perfectly mixed with English translations everywhere so that I could start to learn the language slowly, by osmosis. I thought I’d be fine; I could get around and ask for help and no one would think I was a rude, ignorant Brit whilst I chatted away in English. As it turned out, everything was in French and I felt totally out of my depth which I just wasn’t expecting!
It also rained a lot whilst we were there. I know, I know, I can’t dislike a place because of the rain – I live in England for crying out loud! But we had such perfect weather everywhere else that the weather somewhat dampened the mood and I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed by the sites as I wandered around. I’d built up my expectations and as we explored this so-called perfect city in the rain, I couldn’t help but feel I wish we’d stayed longer in sunny Toronto.
Still, as I look back through photos and think about our 48 hours in Montreal, I’m reminded by some truly wonderful moments. There are definitely some things I want to recommend you do – and eat.
Firstly, the street art. It’s everywhere and it’s great.
I’m a bit of a fan of street art (check out my post on Ljubljana if you are too) so our grey skies were definitely brightened by the colour and creativity surrounding us. Toronto is known for its street art but I actually think Montreal smashed it – and every time I saw a blank wall I felt inspired to cover it in amazing art. (I didn’t do that, obviously, not least because I’m rubbish at art so it would be far from amazing.)
I also had three wonderful food experiences in Montreal. The first was a bagel at St Viateur which was absolutely delicious! Apparently there’s a bagel war in Montreal; St Viateur and Fairmount are the two main bagel restaurants, and apparently you pick your favourite and you stay loyal to it forever. I didn’t get to try Fairmount because, honestly, it was just too far away. St Viateur was right around the corner from out flat and it was so unbelievably yummy, why go anywhere else? I stuck to my standard love of cream cheese but there were so many bagel filling options, I could have eaten there for three weeks and not been bored.
The second food place you absolutely have to go to is Dieu du Ciel! It’s a small brewery near the centre of Montreal and it’s everything I love about France. It’s chic and trendy, everyone inside is beautiful, and there’s a lot of great wine and delicious cheese. We ate bread and cheese, cold meats, and – less typically French – nachos. It was all gorgeous and we spent the two nights we were in Montreal in a cosy corner participating in my favourite hobby: people watching whilst planning to run our own bar.
The third and final place you must must go to is Schwartz’s Deli. It reportedly does the best smoked meat sandwich in Montreal and, from what I experienced, the reports are true. It’s the only place I’ve ever been willing to stand outside and queue for (amazing pizza aside) and when we finally got in we were squashed into the back of a tiny restaurant which was absolutely heaving. Big, greasy men were shouting to each other across the room, excited customers were squashed together with no space between tables, and the menu was short but oh so sweet. Pick your meat, pick you sides, pick your drink, then wait a beautifully short amount of time for your food to come flying out of the kitchen. It’s a heavenly experience.
As an aside, I also had the most incredible Forrero Rocher ice cream in Montreal and also tried Poutine – something that really should exist in the UK.
There were a couple of other great things that happened in Montreal. There were some good statues – check out my instagram for a story about artwork representing the French and British cultures coming together – some really good architecture and some excellent cafes.
We were also lucky enough to be casually strolling past the harbour one evening and saw a big top tent being set up… on further investigation we found out the Cirque Du Soleil show Volta was coming to town. I adore Cirque and so we got tickets for that night. It was great! It was cold, wet, and in French – but great all the same.
In fact, on reflection, that’s probably a good way to sum up my 48 hours in Montreal.