Today’s post is 1600 words, 30 photos, an 7 minute read. Enjoy!
Last week, I took a break from my series of posts about Canada to acknowledge the publication of my 400th blog. For me, a person who likes to get stuff started but soon loses interest, it’s quite accomplishment. If you missed that blog, click here.
This week, we are back on the road through eastern Canada with a two-night stop in Montreal. I wrote four posts about our enjoyable time in Toronto, click here, here, here, and here if you missed them.
The 335 mile drive from Toronto to Montreal is considered one of the most scenic drives in southern Canada. As we drove along Highway 401, Lake Ontario then the St. Lawrence River were off to our right, peaking out between groves of trees, buildings, and small towns. Off to our left were farms and more forests. It was a pleasant, beautiful ride through the Ontario countryside.
The driving became more challenging as we entered the city of Montreal. It seemed, to us at least, that nearly every road was under construction. The road signs didn’t help much, they were in French and the nice lady on the Maps app was totally confused. So were we.
But first, a little about Montreal
Montreal proper is inhabited by nearly 1.8 million people with about 4.2 million in the greater metro area. It’s the second largest city in Canada after Toronto, and the largest city in Province of Quebec. Montreal was founded in 1642 by early French colonists. Prior to their arrival people of the First Nations, primarily Iroquois, Ojibwa, and Mohawk, lived in this place at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. The origin of the name, Montreal, appears to be a French derivative of the prominent physical feature in the city, the triple peaked Mount Royal. Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy during our short stay so a visit to nearby Mount Royal Parc is postponed until a future trip.
When traveling around Montreal, either by car or on foot, one is struck by the “Old World” look of much of the city. Here are a few photos taken in the neighborhood where we stayed to show some of that charm. While Toronto has a plethora of skyscrapers, there are far fewer in Montreal.
After its founding, Montreal was an important center in the vast North American fur-trading business. Today, this predominately French speaking city is a center of commerce, finance (think Bank of Montreal [BMO]), industry, technology, culture, and film and tv production. The Port of Montreal handles millions of metric tons of grain, sugar, petroleum products, and consumer goods.
Old Montreal, on the edge of the St. Lawrence River, is filled with picturesque squares, cobblestone streets, and old-world architecture. There are shops, art galleries, and restaurants with river views. Chinatown is nearby offering a taste of the Far East. One of Montreal’s most famous exports, the Cirque du Soleil, returns to their hometown once every two years to put on a performance in a huge tent in the Old Port. So there’s a lot to see and do in Montreal. Keep reading to find out why we didn’t see much Old Montreal.
By the way, did you know that Montreal was briefly under the occupation of the fledgling United States during the Revolutionary War? It’s a piece of history that I’d forgotten or never learned in school. Generals Benedict Arnold (before defecting to the British) and Richard Montgomery invaded Quebec to win the support of the French-Canadians for the American cause. They were soundly defeated by the British and sent packing back to the U.S colonies.
Pardonnez-moi, je ne comprends pas le français (Pardon me, I don’t understand French)
After weaving our way all the construction into the city, we finally arrived at our Airbnb. Our nicely appointed apartment was in the basement of this refurbished apartment building. Even with the fees, it was considerably less expensive than a Downtown hotel.
Prior to our travels, I asked our host about street parking. He responded to the affirmative. So I found an open spot about a half block from our lodging. I parked under this sign.
Little did I know that my ignorance of what this sign said would eventually result in not one, but two parking tickets! First, I learned the next day that only cars with permit number 26 were allowed to park in this area. I didn’t have one. Second, on Wednesday, our only full day to explore Montreal, there was no parking between the hours of 1-2 PM for street cleaning. When we figured this out, we were having lunch near the Notre Dame Basilica in the historic district of downtown Montreal.
We quickly finished our lunch and took the subway back to the Mont-Royal station and made a mad dash to where our car was parked. Yup, it was 1:20 PM. We were too late, ticket number 2 was under our windshield. Distraught, we searched for a place to park our car for the next 24 hours. After a hour search, we finally found an underground parking garage about an 8-minute walk from our lodging. It was $25 CAD ($18.75 USD), much less costly than our two tickets that amounted to $180 CAD ($135 USD). A lesson learned: Use Google Translate app to translate the French message on the sign into English.
By the time, we fixed our parking problem, it was too late in the day to ride the subway back to Old Montreal, the Old Port, and Downtown area. Besides that, a cool intermittent light rain began to fall. We were glad for our rain jackets that kept us dry and warm.
We discovered on our walk to the Mont-Royal subway station that several blocks of Avenue Mont-Royal were blocked off for the summer season. To make the best of our unpleasant situation, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking the Avenue, popping into the many small shops to look around and get out of the drizzle.
On our walk, we came upon a couple of people applying artwork to the street. From what we could gather, they were preparing the area for a street performance of some type, hence the plywood stages being built.
We noticed that several buildings had elaborate murals painted on their sides. I believe it added to the ambience of this interesting neighborhood.
My Traveling Partner checked out the only fabric store on Avenue Mont-Royal. She liked what she saw but came out empty-handed!
I noticed this store, first thinking it was an Apple Store. But on closer examination, I realized it was a sophisticated adult entertainment store. I quickly moved on!
After that experience, we needed a drink so popped into this pub that displayed this sign. Apparently, we qualified as they readily showed us to a table and took our drink orders!
I had the recommended beer, a Carlsberg pilsner brewed in Denmark. It’s self described as “probably the best beer in the world.” Ok, it was pretty good but I’d put it up against Wisconsin’s Spotted Cow any day of week.
We continued our stroll down Avenue Mont-Royal and couldn’t help noticing a McDonald’s among the many local restaurants. We quickly moved on.
On the other hand, there are Tim Hortons everywhere. They are said to make the best, affordable coffee serving over 5 million cups a day. About 80% of Canadians visit a Tim Hortons at least once every year. Along with that coffee, they serve donuts and other pastries.
While we are on the topic of food, Montreal is known for its Montreal style bagels, especially those made by St. Viateur Bagel Shop. Their bagels are made by hand in small batches and poached in honey water before being baked in a wood-fired oven. On our first morning, I made a walk to the nearest St. Viateur’s shop for a few bagels for our breakfast. I agree they are very good and recommend at least one stop during your stay in Montreal. Apparently during the pandemic, St. Viateur’s made bagel deliveries throughout Quebec and Ontario.
Montreal is also known for its poutine, the French-Canadian dish made with french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. I like all three of those things but together, not as much. And being from Wisconsin where cheese curds are a staple at farmer’s markets, grocery stores, convenience stores, and served in many restaurants, I’m not sure the Canadian curds meet the Wisconsin standard. I’ll leave it at that, I don’t want to start a feud between the Canada and the United States, we have enough other problems to work on!
Back to Avenue Mont-Royal, this fellow was doing landscaping in the tiny front yard of a home or apartment building. I wondered how they will mow the grass, maybe with a trimmer or a scissors?
Down the street from our lodging was this vet clinic with big blue dog out front and a little natural foods store where we shopped for our dinner the first night of our stay.
After making several thousand steps on Avenue Mont-Royal, we chose to dine at the KazaMaza, a Middle Eastern restaurant, located next door to our Airbnb. Even though the small place was crowded and we didn’t have a reservation, the maitre d’ quickly found us a table for two. The attentive waiter brought us water, took our drink and food orders. The food and service was excellent, a nice way to top our stay in Montreal.
So that all I have to say about Montreal. I think it deserves more of our attention on a future visit to Canada. For the next few weeks, join me for a look at Quebec City.
Until then, happy travels!