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Bonne Journée, Montreal!

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Another 91 days have come to an end, and this time we bid adieu to Montreal. The cultural capital and financial powerhouse of French-speaking Canada proved to be an interesting home for three months, with some great food, incredible festivals, bad weather, colorful neighborhoods, and welcoming people.

Montreal Sunset

Montreal was the sixteenth location we’ve visited over the course of our travel project. By this point, we’d recognized a dependable pattern in our feelings towards our temporary homes. Usually, we fall in love immediately, overwhelmed by the novelty of our new location and blind to any of its faults. But as the 91 days wear on, our emotions will begin to cool. In Montreal, however, the opposite occurred. This is the only city we’ve ever visited, that we enjoyed more in our last week than in our first.

It’s because we arrived in April, during one of the worst Montreal springs that anyone could remember. Freezing temperatures, sleety snow and unrelenting gray skies were constant companions for our first few weeks. We were able to go to museums, and that was fine, but it was too cold to spend time outside, and we weren’t able to get a true feeling for the city. After our first month, we felt no love whatsoever for Montreal. How could we? We hadn’t really even met it yet.

Our feelings began to change as we entered summer. The sun emerged for longer periods, the people came out into the streets, and festival season began. All of a sudden, there was an abundance of exciting things to do and, as June blazed by, we started to panic. It’s nice out today, so should we explore the neighborhood of Saint Henri, go to the Fringe Festival, get lunch down at the Old Port, or spend the evening under the pink balls of Le Village? Actually, we had better do all of these things, because we’ve only got a couple weeks left! As our departure date sped toward us, we were just starting to discover what makes Montreal so special.

We don’t often walk away from a place with such an equal balance of positive and negative memories. With better planning on our part, Montreal might have been one of favorite cities ever; with worse planning, we might have hated it unreservedly. So perhaps the mixed emotions with which we concluded our journey are appropriate.

We took our leave of Montreal just as the city was hitting its stride. There were still a lot of neighborhoods we hadn’t seen, a lot of festivals we’d have liked to attend, and a lot of day trips we might have enjoyed. So I’m sure that we’ll be back someday… but only in the summer!

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July 19, 2016 at 4:27 pm Comments (5)

The Montreal International Jazz Festival

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The Montreal International Jazz Festival invites over 3000 musicians together from dozens of countries, for well over a thousand performances, most of which are free. We wouldn’t have the chance to see much of the festival, as it began during our final night in Montreal. But we did get a taste.

Montreal Jass Festival

The Montreal Jazz Festival was first celebrated in 1980, and has since grown into the world’s largest, certified as such by the Guinness Book of World Records, in 2006. But looking at the lineup, you’ll notice right away that it’s not all jazz. In fact, the invited bands and musicians represent a wide range of genres, including rock, soul, hip-hop and folk.

My heart raced as I looked through the program, which featured acts like Brian Wilson, Danny Brown, Jamie Cullem, Lauryn Hill, Noel Gallagher, Peter Bjorn & John, Rufus Wainwright, The Tallest Man on Earth and Wynton Marsalis. I’d have liked to see all of these! But since we were leaving the city on the festival’s second day, the only act we were able to catch was Cat Power, who was playing a solo show at the Metropolis.

Out of all Montreal’s summertime festivals (and there are tons), the Jazz Festival is the undisputed king. It’s centered around the Place des Arts, where you can enter for free and check out performances by lesser-known artists throughout the day. This is in the heart of the city, and traffic is completely cut off for the duration of the festival, which draws millions of music-lovers.

Every single time we told a Montrealer that we’d be leaving at the end of June, we heard some variation on the same theme: “Are you stupid?!” We’d be missing July, widely agreed upon to be the best month in the city. And that meant we’d be missing the Jazz Festival. It was a little frustrating to be reminded of this fact over and over again, but we didn’t really have a choice. I’m happy that we experienced a bit of the festivities… and we can always return. I have a feeling the Jazz Festival will be around for a long time to come.

Location on our Map: Metropolis | Place des Arts
Montreal International Jazz Festival: Website

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Montreal Jass Festival
Montreal Jass Festival
Montreal Jass Festival
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July 19, 2016 at 2:08 pm Comments (0)

Our Home in Montreal

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The most difficult part of our travel project is the search for a suitable temporary home. 91 days is a strange amount of time, neither short- nor long-term, and it’s always scary to book an apartment in a city we’ve never visited. So, when we luck out with a place as nice as our home in Montreal, we feel like we should share.

Our studio apartment was found in the very heart of Old Montreal, literally around the corner from the Basilica de Notre-Dame. Despite its prime location in a zone so inundated with tourists, the apartment manages to be quiet, because it’s on a side street without much traffic.

And the building is itself a part of Montreal’s rich history. It was constructed in 1900 for the Canadian Pacific railroad company as their telegraph building. The top floors were used as offices for receiving and sending messages, while the lower floors were designed as apartments. The foyer is a thing of beauty, and the building is today a historic landmark that appears on walking tours of the Old Town. It’s kind of cool to return home to a building that a group of tourists are taking pictures of.

The apartment itself is a large studio, with a wall separating the bedroom from the living room, and a fully-equipped kitchen. It’s not gigantic, but large enough for two people to live comfortably. There’s stable, high-speed internet, a television with dozens of channels, an iron, coffee machine and all the other types of amenities you might expect. And crucially, the apartments stays toasty in the winter. Additionally, there’s a community rooftop terrace, with incredible views of the old town.

We loved our stay in the Canadian Pacific Telegraph Building. It was really convenient for us to be in the center of Old Montreal, close to so many touristic sights. And the nearest subway station is just a five-minute walk, so we could easily zip around the city. The apartment’s owner, Mauricio, is a great guy; responsive, friendly, and easy to communicate with. If you’re interested in a historic place to stay while in Montreal, check out his Airbnb page, and get in touch!

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July 17, 2016 at 4:14 pm Comment (1)

Montreal’s Real Underground – The Saint Leonard Caves

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Montreal has a man-made underground city, through which millions of people pass every day. But there’s also a place you can see a more natural underground setting. In the northern neighborhood of Saint Leonard is a set of small caves which long ago opened up in the earth.

St Leonard Caves

Jürgen and I love visiting caves, and over the past few years have explored them in places like Iceland, the Yucatán, Curaçao, Macedonia and Sri Lanka. The Saint Leonard Caves of Montreal don’t exactly measure up to any of these others, but the very fact that they’re found in the middle of a major metropolis makes them noteworthy.

St Leonard Caves

A visit to the caves can be arranged with the Société Québécoise de Spéléologie, who will provide a short introduction to the field of speleology before the tour. This is a French-speaking organization, so if your group is English-only, make sure to mention that when you reserve your tour.

The St. Leonard Caves consist of two rooms. The first is just a few meters underground, and looks almost like a mining tunnel. But this is a natural cave, created during the last ice age. You can see that the walls on either side would fit each other like puzzle pieces, and the rocks overhead must have been dragged into place by retreating glaciers.

The second room is more exciting, because it involves climbing. Here, you scale down a pair of ladders until ten meters beneath the surface of the earth. There’s not a lot of space in this area; it’s no wider than a couple feet, and you can’t progress far in either direction. You can, however, scale back up like Spider-Man, pressing your hands and feet against the narrow walls.

The Saint Leonard Caves are more a curiosity than a legitimate caving experience; there are no stalagmites or stalactites of any real interest — the biggest we saw was about four inches long — and besides some white mold, we didn’t spot anything living. But if you’d like to check out a totally different side of Montreal, it’s an interesting option.

Location on our Map
La Caverne Saint-Léonard – Website

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St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
St Leonard Caves
July 13, 2016 at 1:19 pm Comments (0)

The Big Orange of Gibeau Orange Julep

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Every city needs a ridiculous roadside attraction, and Montreal’s is the Big Orange of Gibeau Orange Julep. Found on the side of the Décarie highway near the metro station Namur, this three-story orange sphere is impossible to overlook. We decided to stop by and see if its famous julep was any good.

Giant Julep Montreal

The Big Orange has been part of the Montreal landscape since 1945, when it was built by Hermas Gibeau next to the highway to advertise the frothy orange beverage he’d been selling since 1932 in downtown Montreal. The structure proved a hit, and soon Gibeau was erecting similar giant oranges throughout the city.

Today, only the original Big Orange on Décarie remains. It’s still a popular restaurant, serving up greasy-spoon style burgers and fries. The food is pretty good, but the reason people come here is for the julep. This creamy drink is served with every meal; in fact, you’re not even given a choice when ordering your menu. It’s safe to assume that if you’ve come to the Big Orange, you’ll be drinking the julep.

Giant Julep Montreal

As far as I can tell, the drink of Gibeau’s is practically identical to the Orange Julius we have at Dairy Queens across the USA, although I’m sure there are some connoisseurs out there who would be aghast at the comparison. The julep is made with milk, orange juice and loads of sugar. It’s delicious, and I wasn’t surprised to see people waiting in line with big plastic containers to fill up and take home.

For a long time, the Big Orange featured rollerskating waitresses, although that practice stopped a few years ago. It’s become known as a gathering spot for classic muscle cars and motorcycles, and hosts a few events every year. In the summer, it’s open around the clock and, despite having only outdoor picnic-table seating, remains open all year long. Not even freezing temperatures and snow are going to keep Montrealers from enjoying their favorite drink.

Location on our Map

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Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
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July 12, 2016 at 6:23 pm Comments (3)

The Metro Stations of Montreal

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The 1960s were an exciting decade in Montreal. The Quiet Revolution was underway, secularizing government and returning power to the city’s francophone majority. Huge skyscrapers were being erected in downtown, including the Place Ville-Marie which was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth. The World Expo was coming to town. And in 1966, the city inaugurated its underground mass transit project, the Métro de Montréal.

Today, Montreal’s Metro is the third busiest in North America, behind only those of New York and Mexico City. With four lines serving 68 stations, over a million people use the system every day. That’s a lot of cumulative hours spent underground, which is perhaps why the city has made an effort to make its stations as interesting as possible.

Architecturally, many of Montreal’s metro stations are works of art, with odd design elements or large-scale installations. It’s unlikely that the weary commuters who pass through these stations daily even notice them anymore, but many are really beautiful. While traveling around Montreal, we’d even occasionally hop out of the train just to check out the design of a particular hall.

We didn’t have time to see all of Montreal’s 68 metro stations, but here are some of the ones we thought were special:

Georges-Vanier (Orange Line)
Angrignon (Green Line)
Montreal Metro Agrignon
Montreal Metro Agrignon
Montreal Metro Agrignon
Montreal Metro Agrignon
Montreal Metro Agrignon
Montreal Metro Agrignon
Montreal Metro Agrignon

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Monk (Green Line)
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
Metro Monk
LaSalle (Green Line)
Pie-IX (Green Line)
Metro Pie IX
Metro Pie IX
Metro Pie IX
Metro Pie IX
Metro Pie IX
Metro Pie IX
Metro Pie IX
Metro Pie IX
Place-Saint-Henri (Orange Line)
Metro Place St Henri
Metro Place St Henri
Metro Place St Henri
Acadie (Blue Line)
Metro Arcadie
Metro Arcadie
Metro Arcadie
Metro Arcadie
Namur (Orange Line)
Metro Namur
Metro Namur
Metro Namur
Metro Namur
Metro Namur
Metro Namur
Metro Namur
De La Savane (Orange Line)
Metro De La Savane
Metro De La Savane
Metro De La Savane
Metro De La Savane
Metro De La Savane
Metro De La Savane
Metro De La Savane
Villa-Maria (Orange Line)
Metro Villa Maria
Metro Villa Maria
Metro Villa Maria
Metro Villa Maria
Metro Villa Maria
Metro Villa Maria
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July 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm Comments (2)

Montreal’s Best Food … Is Asian?

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In the future, when we look back on our favorite culinary experiences in Montreal, we’re not going to be thinking about the city’s bistros or pastisseries. We won’t even be remembering poutine all that fondly. No, we’ll be thinking about the restaurants of Chinatown, where we ate constantly and never once had a bad meal.

Montreal does have great cuisine. I mean, this is a city with its heart in France, so food is a central part of its identity. But we didn’t always love the traditional French-Canadian meals we ordered in the city. Often they were overpriced, simply not that good, or both. And we found that poutine, while delicious, is always served with heavy sides of self-disgust and regret.

But there was one place where we were always able to find a meal that was delicious, affordable and relatively healthy: Chinatown. We lived close to this neighborhood, and whenever we didn’t feel like cooking, or had just dropped way too much cash on another uppity hipster joint, we returned here.

It’s not just Chinese food that you can find in Chinatown: there are restaurants specializing in Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian and Hong Kong cuisine. We had incredible ramen, hot-pot, dumplings, bibimbap, shabu-shabu and pho. We loved every restaurant we ate at, and although we quickly gathered a few favorites, we never ran out of new places to try out.

If you’re looking for great places to eat in Chinatown, here are some of the restaurants we can recommend:

Nouilles de Lan Zhou – Found above an excellent Asian supermarket, this is a small place with incredible hand-pulled noodles served in huge portions, with a rich broth. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Sumo Ramen – Japanese ramen done correctly is always difficult to find, but Sumo Ramen knows what’s up. They also make a Sumo-style poutine. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Orange Rouge – The only Asian restaurant in Chinatown where the staff and clientele are almost entirely white; it’s more expensive than its neighbors, but the food is outstanding. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Chez Bong – Excellent Korean food. We had bibimbap and kimchijjigae, and felt both were as good as the meals we had while living in Busan. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Kagayaki Shabu Shabu – Stylish and fun, with delicious boiling pots of broth, this is a great place to come with a small group of friends before a big night out. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Mai Xiang Yuan Dumplings – Scarfing down dozens of fried dumplings is probably not the healthiest option in Chinatown, but sometimes it’s worth it. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Pho Bac 97 – They put the pho in front of me. I dunked my head into the bowl and didn’t take it out, until all the pho was gone. It’s called a “pho-chug” and, yes, that’s something I just invented. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Nudo – More incredible hand-pulled Chinese noodles, and the nicest staff you could hope for. Massive portions for such a small price, and extremely delicious. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

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July 8, 2016 at 12:54 pm Comment (1)

The Maison Saint-Gabriel

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One of finest colonial-era houses in Montreal is the Maison Saint-Gabriel, found in the neighborhood of Pointe Saint-Charles. Purchased in 1662 by Marguerite Bourgeoys for her congregation of nuns, this farmhouse allowed the sisters to be self-sufficient, and provided a place where they could educate community children. In 1966, the house opened its doors as a historic site.

When it was acquired by the Congregation of Notre Dame, the Maison Saint-Gabriel was on the outskirts of the colonial town, then still known as Ville-Marie. Over the centuries, Montreal has grown exponentially, and swallowed up the farmland which once surrounded the house, turning Pointe Saint-Charles into another of its many densely-packed neighborhoods. But, when you step onto the property of the Maison Saint-Gabriel, it feels as though you’re stepping back into the past.

This illusion is encouraged by the maidens who are waiting to greet you at the gates. All of the employees of the Maison are dressed in colonial-era garb. During the summer, they’ll occasionally put on skits, or demonstrate some craft or aspect of life in the olden days.

Although the original farmhouse burnt down in 1693, the reconstruction dates from 1699, making it over three hundred years old. Seemingly little has changed throughout the years. The tour takes you into the kitchen of the house, the basement, the common room, the attic, and the men’s dormitory — although this was a congregation of nuns, some men lived on the farm to assist with the farming. We got to see some of the tools used by the nuns to harvest wheat and grains, and hear the 17th-century “telephone” they used to communicate with sisters on the island across the Saint Lawrence River: a long, trumpet-like megaphone.

We were fascinated by the story of the “Filles du Roi,” or, the “King’s Daughters.” In the earliest days of the colony, there were a disproportionate number of men, which was making it difficult for New France to populate its new territory. To alleviate this problem, King Louis XIV conscripted young peasant girls to cross the ocean and serve as marriage fodder for his struggling colony. Many of these girls provisionally moved into the Maison Saint-Gabriel, under the auspices of the nuns, until they were paired off with a man.

We really enjoyed our tour of the Maison Saint-Gabriel. It’s not just another history museum, but a living window into the past. The girl who gave our tour was as friendly as you’d expect a 17th-century maiden to be, and the condition of the house is stunning, considering its age. It’s definitely worth a trip to Pointe Saint-Charles to check it out.

Location on our Map
Maison Saint-Gabriel – Website

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July 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm Comments (0)
Bonne Journe, Montreal! Another 91 days have come to an end, and this time we bid adieu to Montreal. The cultural capital and financial powerhouse of French-speaking Canada proved to be an interesting home for three months, with some great food, incredible festivals, bad weather, colorful neighborhoods, and welcoming people.
For 91 Days