5 Days in Montreal
It's been about a month and a half since I've shared anything on Wanderlynds. After Thanksgiving the end of our expat gig was in sight and with it came the very real vision of all we had left to do. Moving out of Canada, settling back into Houston - this time in our new and first home - and on top of it all, sneaking in a vacation to celebrate and maximize the time we had left in the North.
As much as I love to write this blog, it was necessary for me to take a step back and be present in every last moment we had together in Newfoundland. It's funny to look back at the last two years like they blurred by, when in the moment it felt as if time was crawling.
Montreal is a city James and I have been eager to explore. Our flights home were covered by James's company and like with all trips to Newfoundland from the States, required a layover. We managed to turn that layover into a 5-day stop over, giving us ample time to traipse the city in our snow boots.
If you follow my Instagram then you know James and I had to upgrade our winter wardrobe to accommodate an unusual December cold front that tackled Montreal spot-on our travel dates. Two years in Newfoundland and we managed to get by on some basic North Face winter coats, never seeing temps much less than -10C. Montreal was chilling at -30C (-22F) most of time we were there. Unreal.
Even though it was a struggle to stay outside for more than an hour without stopping in somewhere to warm up (thaw out) with a coffee or boozy libation, we managed to eat, see and do some incredible things in a beautiful city. Here's what you shouldn't miss:
Dinner at tiradito
An incredible and unique dining experience. Peruvian-Japanese fusion (Nikkei cuisine) in a trendy, boisterous, open-concept dining room. Stools line the perimeter of a large bar, where Peruvian tapas prepared in Japanese style are served up in front of you beside a long list of cocktails.
We started off with a pitcher of sake punch that was so perfectly balanced between sweet, spicy and tart that it warrants describing with as much detail as I would an entrée or dessert. Later we enjoyed the classic pisco sour, which was as delicious as it was sentimental; bringing back fond memories of our Peruvian beginnings.
We ordered five tapas, though I could only make it through sharing four of them. Two dishes I'd say you HAVE to order are the octopus anticuchos and the ceviche.
There are two highly raved about bagel shops in Montreal; St-Viateur and Fairmount. We could buy packaged St-Viateur bagels in Newfoundland and while I know they are not of the same quality as buying them fresh from the shop, it made the decision to try Fairmount an easy one. When I say this shop is tiny, I am not exaggerating. Width for one average-sized person to walk to the counter; squeezing past floor to ceiling stacks of bagels and the person trying to leave the counter as you make your way to the front. Be prepared to stand in line. Be extra prepared if you're there in the winter.
There's also no place to eat your warm, fresh, tout garni (everything) bagel. However, there is the sweetest Italian man running a coffee shop next door, whom upon your entering will bring you a plate and a knife so you can indulge in your breakfast with one of his hot, frothy cappuccinos. I thank this man.
Lunch at schwartz's deli
World famous smoked meat sandwiches and located in the oldest part of Montreal, you have to stop here while touring Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Work up an appetite browsing shops and architecture, but don't get too hungry. You'll be standing in line.
*PRO TIP* We wandered into a side door labeled "take out only" and found out you can stand in a much shorter line to get your food "to go" style and then just eat in the back of the restaurant! It might be standing room only, depending on when you get there, but James and I were able to find counter seats and eat lunch before we ever would have made it inside standing in the main line.
Sammi & Soupe Dumpling
I am really torn here. I cannot decide if it's this meal or Tiradito that stands out as my favorite of the trip. If you're thinking all dumplings are created equal, you are wrong. These are hands-down the best either James or I have ever devoured. There is a large Asian population in Montreal and more tasty, authentic restaurants than one person could ever try, but I must recommend visiting Sammi & Soupe.
Unfortunately the one iPhone picture I took here, in between giant mouthfuls of yumminess, is blurry because of all the sumptuous steam. So you'll just have to go see for yourself how savory these dumplings are.
There's a lot we probably didn't see given the extreme weather and holiday closings, but viewing the city dressed in its Christmas best is something to behold all on its own. Buildings and streets decked out in twinkling Christmas lights extended the holiday feels well into the new year.
The Notre-dame basilica of montreal
Even more dazzling on the interior than the electric exterior at night, the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal creates awe with its Gothic design. Located in Old Port, just a block from where we were staying, you'll typically find a line of expectant tourists running down the stairs and along one of the sidewalks. Don't be deterred. We were told this line moves very quickly. We were fortunate enough to hold out until New Year's Day and were able to walk straight in on a day there wasn't an entry fee. I think it's normally about $6 to enter.
Having visited Notre-Dame de Paris, I wasn't expecting to be impressed. But the vaulted ceilings, dramatic, golden staircase and deeply saturated stained glass windows deserve all the attention they attract. We noticed that the stained glass windows, typically bestowing scenes from the bible, seemed different. We learned it's because these windows instead depict Montreal's religious history, which made me all the more pleased we stopped by.
An architectural landmark and housing complex, Habitat 67 is an engineering marvel. It took us quite the hike from a bus stop to make it to the lodging, but views of Montreal's icy harbor from the opposite side made the trip a scenic one.
You can take a guided tour of the complex, where you'd receive a detailed history of the architect and design and be able to walk the suspended terraces. You do have to call ahead. Tours weren't available during our stay, but this was much more of a wander freely day for us anyways.
We stumbled upon the Biosphère a bit by coincidence, but I was stoked to get such a great view! After leaving the Habitat, we realized we had two options: 1) trek ourselves back to the bus stop in the middle of an industrial area, with no idea when the next bus would arrive or 2) continue our expedition to what we thought was a bridge that would take us back across the harbor.
Well, this turned out to be a disaster. The park Google instructs you to walk through to get to the Metro stop that would take us home was closed down for construction. So we took a comically cold and extended path that led us straight into this dome. Closed for the holidays, it wasn't convenient for anything but a picture, but we did eventually find the metro stop and managed to thaw out our toes and fingers. When open, you can tour the environmental museum's exhibitions related to air, water and climate change.
A skyline view of vieux port (old port)
This city comes to life at night. Specifically around Old Port. The vibrant lights of the Ferris Wheel and buildings below keep you wandering the city even when the temperatures have dipped well below zero.
Buy a metro billet (ticket)
We bought ours straight from the airport and only used Uber twice the entire five days we were there. Montreal has epic public transportation and your ticket will get you onto the bus and metro, granting you access to just about anywhere you may want to visit.
a beer tour!
I strongly encourage you to go on a guided tour, like we did with Montreal Craft Beer Tours. Their Brewpub Experience taught us much about the history of the area, the settlers and the styles of beer made at each brewery. Our tour guide was a doll and made the experience a lot of fun in addition to educational. Of course, the booze helped too! My favorite segment was ending the night with a beer and chocolate pairing. I never thought to combine those two, even with my love of dark, malty brews.
If you don't have the time or desire to take a guided tour, there's still a ton of options for an exceptionally sudsy experience.
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel is mentioned as one of Montreal Craft Beer Tour's favorite breweries, even though it was not part of the tour we went on. We happened upon it on our own the day before and really enjoyed it. Here you'll find a seemingly daily changing menu for what's on tap and a number of collaborations with other breweries.
We really wanted to try Isle de Garde Brasserie. However, our first attempt went amiss when we showed up for the beer tour and realized it was French-speaking only. I actually minored in French, but my rusty grasp on the language was not going to help us here and we ended up moving on to the downtown, English-speaking tour. Then, on our second attempt, the brasserie was closed for the holiday. So, someone please go and tell me how it is!
Peluso is a micro brasserie market. Wall-to-wall individual, unique micro-brews made it hard to pull James away. He wanted to browse the endless selection of sour beers, oak-aged beers, IPAs and more.
wander the farmer's market
Even if you don't eat here, though you'd be crazy not to, the Marché du Jean Talon makes for a wonderful hour or two of people watching and culture consuming. In a plus sign formation, you can start at one end with piping hot poutine across from the fresh fromagerie (cheese shop) and stroll down past meat markets, flower boutiques and all the way to a raw oyster stand. Then switch things up and move to the boundless rows of produce stands that lead you to the ultimate ending - multiple pastry pop-ups, beaming with everything from baklava to homemade pies. Did I say hour or two? Maybe three or four!
take in the arts
From the copious galleries that line Rue Saint-Paul in Old Port to the wide array of Jazz clubs, there's something for everybody looking for creative stimulation.
We actually stayed directly above Modavie restaurant, praised for their nightly blues renditions. Over a bottle of malbec and a delightful meal, James and I swayed to the rhythm of a sax and piano duo as snow sifted past our window seat table.
Not all art requires stillness or silence to appreciate it. This art installation in the form of "luminotherapie" is a group of about twenty light-up seesaws that play music as you bound towards the sky. Adults giggled like children in the Place des Festivals playground.
skate the Patinoire Natrel du Vieux Port
Themed music and the Ferris Wheel lights made this the perfect ending to round out our Montreal experience. Skate rentals are available on site and there's a small cafe if you need to warm up between laps. The rental skates are not the best, but did the trick and provided the instruments to a festive and fun evening.
We thought we were saying goodbye to the ice and cold when we left the next day, but Houston has had other plans for us. Those winter coats haven't been stored just yet.