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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.

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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)

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)

The Mont Royal Tam-Tam Festival

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Every Sunday, a curious gathering takes place on the slopes of Mont Royal, near the statue of Sir George-Étienne Cartier. Men and women bring their tam-tams, grab a seat, and spend the entire afternoon pounding out impromptu rhythms, smoking and dancing. You might be thinking, “This sounds like it’d be popular with hippies.” And you would be right.

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We showed up to the Tam-Tam Festival on a sunny afternoon, partly expecting to hate it. Not that we have anything against tam-tams; we’re just not the kinds of guys who “feel” this particular beat. There was absolutely zero chance of us hearing the bongo, and being overtaken by the primal desire to shake our bodies to the rhythm. There was, on the other hand, a very good chance we’d spend the day making fun of those who did.

The festival was everything we hoped and feared it would be. Think dreadlocks, hacky sacks, marijuana and barefoot dancing. But it was also much more fun than we expected, and we had soon dropped our snarky attitudes. Everyone was hanging out with friends, playing games, smoking, drinking and dancing, and there was a great energy to the whole event.

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Oh god, a “great energy?” I’ve been infected! But I mean it, man, there must be something about the rhythm of the tam-tam. After a few minutes of laying on the grass, with the sun warming my face, I kicked off my shoes. I could feel something inside me (was it my ka?) itching to get out and dance. In a delirious semi-trance, I shimmied over to the biggest group of drummers, and jumped into the middle of the circle, twirling and howling like a wolf.

Alright, that’s a total lie. Like I said, there was zero chance of such a thing happening. I did, however, spend almost an entire hour watching others dance, and could have happily stayed for even longer. The dance area had its own complex ecosystem, and it was fascinating to watch it evolve. There were cute girls hopping about, older hippies who still had enough energy to spin, guys doing strange movements with their arms as though they were trying to tell an epic story, and at least one shirtless creep flirting shamelessly with every woman in striking distance. And the drummers were just as fun to watch: a mix of every conceivable type of person. Tam-tam playing apparently doesn’t discriminate on age, gender or race (… or ability).

We had expected to show up, take a few pictures and leave this hippie-fest in a matter of minutes. But we ended up spending most of the day here, and were immediately talking about returning the next week. Our time in Montreal was coming to a close, but we still had one Sunday left, and spending it at the Tam-Tam Festival seemed a smart way to use it.

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June 27, 2016 at 1:58 pm Comments (0)

The View from Place Ville-Marie

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Built in 1962, the Place Ville-Marie was Montreal’s first skyscraper, and signaled the start of the city’s vertical construction boom. Its unique cruciform shape made an immediate architectural splash, and the building is just as impressive today. We visited its 46th-floor observation deck, shortly after it had re-opened to the public, following a period of renovation.

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If downtown Montreal could be said to have a heart, it would almost certainly be the Place Ville-Marie, the city’s most distinctive architectural landmark. Seen from above, its cruciform shape even resembles a big “X” marking Montreal on the map. The building is right in the center of the main business district and borders the massive downtown cathedral: Mary, Queen of the World.

At the time of its construction, the Place Ville-Marie was one of the tallest buildings in the world, and helped cement Montreal’s status as the metropolis of Canada. It has been the headquarters for major companies like Air Canada and the Royal Bank, and around 10,000 people work there today. The building’s height is 188 meters, making it slightly smaller than Mont Royal; a city ordinance prohibits buildings from surpassing the mountain in height.

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We visited the Place Ville-Marie’s brand new, 46th-floor observation deck, just after it opened. From the top of this tower, one of the highest and most central buildings in Montreal, the view was predictably incredible. We were able to spot many of the parks and sights we’d spent time at over the course of our 91 days in the city, and Mont Royal looked especially impressive from here. And the full-sized glass windows provide incredible panoramas of Montreal from every direction.

An interactive exhibition on the 45th floor introduces some aspects of Montreal’s culture and heritage, from its hockey obsession to its famous nightlife, and a restaurant on the 44th floor serves up dinner with a view. But it’s the observatory where you’re likely to spend the most time; from up here, Montreal is absolutely stunning.

Location on our Map
Place Ville-Marie – Website

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June 26, 2016 at 11:49 pm Comments (0)

The McCord Museum of Canadian History

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Established in 1921 on the grounds of McGill University, the McCord Museum of Canadian History boasts a collection of over a million historical documents, photographs and archaeological finds. The permanent exhibition is dedicated to Montreal’s history, but what makes the McCord Museum worthwhile is its examination of the clothing and customs of Canada’s native people.

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If there’s one thing Montreal has plenty of, it’s museums dedicated to the city’s history. There’s the Pointe-à-Calliére, the Centre d’Historie de Montréal, the Chateau Dufresne, and the Stewart Museum, just to name the ones we’ve already visited. Another thing Montreal has in abundance, is rainy days. And when it’s storming out, visiting yet another museum doesn’t sound too bad.

“Anyway,” we reasoned, “this is the McCord Museum of Canadian History, so it will be more than just another museum about Montreal.” But, basically it was just another museum about Montreal. The permanent collection is called “Montreal – Points of View,” and took us on the same tour we had seen countless times before: native life, colonization, French vs. English rule, independence, the roaring twenties, the World Expo and Olympics. And unfortunately, it’s not well-presented… the lighting is poor, the exhibits seem slapped together without much care, and we found the whole thing both confusing and boring.

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Luckily, the museum’s other permanent exhibit is much better. “Wearing Our Identity: The First Peoples Collection” concerns the clothing, style and self-expression of Canada’s native people. I spent nearly as much time examining a single amauti, or seal-skin parka, as I had visiting the entire “Montreal – Points of View” exhibition. These garments are individually-designed, and reveal much about the women wearing them, including their social status and whether they were (or had been) pregnant. And they’re decorated with a fascinating blend of traditional elements and those borrowed from Western culture, such as coins and spoons.

This exhibition also includes the feathered shaman headdresses, jewelry, beaded friendship sashes, and old photographs of Inuits involved in body modification, as well as a large totem pole. One of my favorite exhibits was a timeworn picture of walrus hunters, who wore large white studs on either side of their bottom lips, in order to better resemble their prey.

The McCord Museum isn’t cheap, and its modest size in no way justifies the price. In fact, were it not for the presence of the “Wearing Our Identity” exhibit, we’d recommend skipping it entirely. But here’s a tip: after 5pm on Wednesday afternoons, the museum is free. It will be more crowded, but this is almost certainly the best time to check it out.

Location on our Map
McCord Museum of Canadian History – Website

Our Framed Montreal Photos

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June 21, 2016 at 12:59 pm Comments (0)

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

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Since arriving in Montreal, we had been planning to check out the Museum of Fine Arts, but kept finding reasons to postpone our visit. “It’s too sunny out for a museum,” or “it’s Sunday, and will be too crowded,” or “it’s already too late, and we won’t be able to see everything.” But if we’re being honest, the museum simply intimidated us. With over 40,000 pieces in its permanent collection, this the largest and most important museum in Montreal, and one that requires a lot of time to see properly.

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Finally, on a rainy Thursday morning with nothing else to do, we ran out of excuses. And I’m glad we waited for the right moment… this museum really is a place you’ll want to visit when you don’t have any other plans. It’s spread across four buildings (or “pavilions”), each of which could easily be a museum of its own. You could spend the entire day here, and still not see everything.

The museum is audacious in its scope, attempting to cover the entire gamut of humanity’s dabblings in art, from ancient archaeological finds in Mesopotamia to modern Inuit sculptures from northern Canada, and everything in between. You’ll find rooms dedicated to Contemporary Design, Decorative Arts, Graphic Arts, Medieval Religious Iconography, Napoleonic Art, and much more.

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Not only is the museum massive, it’s also wonderfully presented. The pieces of art are perfectly illuminated, and each comes with detailed information of its creator and the work itself. And all of the museum’s various sections are quite different from one another, each as compelling as the last. As the day wore on, Jürgen and I would repeatedly say to each other, “Alright, let’s do the next room quickly.” And inevitably, we found ourselves stuck. There’s almost nothing that you’ll want to skip over.

The museum has paintings from European greats, such as Picasso, El Greco, Monet and Rembrandt, as well as contemporary works from artists around the world. There’s a wonderful section in the Stewart Pavilion dedicated to early North American design, featuring everyday items like chairs, lamps, ceramics and vases. And we loved the exhibition on African Art, with its masks, tools and sculptures.

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And all of this is just from the museum’s permanent collections. There are also first-class temporary exhibits which stay for months at a time. We were able to see one dedicated to the lost city of Pompeii, with artwork and sculptures recovered from the site (including some that were surprisingly erotic), as well as plaster molds made from the bodies covered in ash.

By the time we finished with the museum, we were exhausted. It didn’t seem like it, but our visit had lasted nearly four hours, and still we felt like we had rushed through. If you’re into art, and have a lot of time to kill, you’re going to love this place. Even if you can’t stomach the idea of such a long day, you should still consider a visit. The price is reasonable, so you’ll get your money’s worth even if you see just a fraction of the exhibits.

Location on our Map
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Website

Our Framed Montreal Photos

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June 19, 2016 at 3:23 pm Comments (0)

Cité Mémoire – Projections of Montreal’s History

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Montreal was founded in 1642, which means that in 2017, the city is celebrating its 375th birthday. That’s a long stretch of history, and people can’t be expected to remember everything that’s happened. To help jog our memories, Montreal has created a multimedia exhibition called Cité Memoire (Memory City), transforming the old town into a living tribute to the past.

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Eighteen spots around Old Montreal have been selected for Cité Mémoire. At each one, there’s a projection, or “tableaux,” which brings a significant moment from Montreal’s history to life. In order to understand each clip, you have to download a free app that allows you to listen to the audio. And the projections don’t just play on a loop. Using the app, you’re the one who starts them.

Cite Memoire Projections

If it were just short movies projected against the sides of buildings, Cité Mémoire would be cool, but not all that memorable. However, each of the eighteen tableaux has been produced with the utmost artistry. They’re the work of some of Quebec’s most renowned multidisciplinary artists. The projections are poetic, haunting and beautiful, and each one makes perfect use of its individual location.

For example, the tableaux about the 1849 burning of the Parliament is found at the old firehouse in the Place d’Youville. The projection uses a walled-up window on the building to create the illusion of a concerned couple peering outside. You watch along with them as protesters gather in front of the building across the street, which has been illuminated to resemble the Parliament. As it burns, the effect is stunning.

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“Foundlings Quay,” located in a narrow alley off the Rue Saint Paul, is an artful tribute to the Grey Nuns who cared for so many of Montreal’s orphans. A series of babies in swaddling appear on the ground, while the nuns step out of the shadows on the side of the alley and against the far wall. Perhaps the most photographed tableaux is the “Face of Montreal”: a series of faces reciting poems, displayed across the trees at the old port.

The coolest facet of this project is the level of interaction required by the viewer. You could just show up and watch the pictures, but to get much out of Cité Mémoire, you must become a participant by downloading the app and wearing headphones. And when you’re the one to press “play” and set one of these tremendous projections into motion, you feel somehow more invested in it.

Cité Mémoire runs every evening after dusk, and for the next few years will be a permanent fixture in the Old Town. It’s rare that such a cool idea meets with such perfect execution.

Cité Mémoire – Website

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May 28, 2016 at 8:24 pm Comments (2)

Montreal’s Latin Quarter

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The Quartier Latin of Paris is famous for its bohemian vibe, with students roaming cobblestone alleys in search of a cheap meal, a good book, or a café in which to while away the hours. But you don’t have to fly to France if you want to experience the same atmosphere. The area around the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) has a such similar feel that it’s been named after its Parisian counterpart.

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Montreal’s Latin Quarter isn’t on the same scale as the one in Paris. Basically, it’s just Rue St. Denis, between UQAM and Rue Sherbrooke, a few blocks to the north. Wander too far from St. Denis, and you’re no longer in the “Latin Quarter.” It’s such a specific slice of the city, that it shouldn’t even be considered a real neighborhood.

But what a great slice it is. Although the definite highlight is Rue St. Denis with its crowded bars and restaurants, almost all of which have terraces in the summer, there are a couple other spots which merit attention.

Latin Quarter

First is the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec (BAnQ), one of the most impressive libraries into which we’ve ever set foot. With five floors that store an insane collection of music, movies, magazines and books, it’s both massive and beautifully designed, and feels more like a museum than a library. One cool touch is the glass walls which allow you to watch a book’s journey from the “return slot,” through the library to an automated sorting station.

Near the BAnQ, we found the Cinémathèque Québécoise, which has been collecting and archiving world cinema for over fifty years, protecting it for future generations. Every day, they screen a few films, from newer art-house releases to classics you’ve probably never heard of. As an example of their eclecticism, two of the cycles showing during our visit were “Tango and Cinema” and “The Avant-Garde Mutes.”

Latin Quarter

We now turned our attention to Rue St. Denis, the heart of Montreal’s Latin Quarter, where almost every building is a restaurant, almost every restaurant has a terrace set up, and almost every terrace is completely full. With patience, we managed to grab seats at Cinko, where all of the plates are just five dollars… definitely a dining concept that must appeal to students.

After eating, we found a couple of cool bars that also seem geared to the younger generations. One was Arcade Montreal, with a bunch of old-school arcade games, but even better was the Randolph Pub, with its collection of over 1000 board games. In the evenings, this place gets packed to capacity, with people eager to disconnect from Facebook and interact with actual humans over a drink and a fun game.

Locations on our Map: BAnQ | Cinémathèque Québécoise | Cinko | Randolph Pub
Websites: BAnQ | Cinémathèque Québécoise

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May 28, 2016 at 5:55 pm Comments (0)

Lunchtime in Little Italy

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If you follow St. Laurent north, past the train tracks and Rosemont Boulevard, you end up in the neighborhood of Little Italy, which has long been home to Montreal’s Italian expat community. With espresso cafes, pizzerias, upscale restaurants, and pastry shops, Little Italy is a place you should visit when you’re hungry, and not leave until you’re stuffed as full as a cannoli.

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The motherland’s influence is strong in this neighborhood, but you’re not going to mistake the streets of Little Italy for those of Rome or Palermo. This is still Montreal, through and through, with its grid-like layout and winding exterior staircases attached to squat three-story residences. But close your eyes, listen, and inhale… now, you’re in Italy! The sounds of the marketplace, the smell of coffee beans and pizza crust… Mamma mía, siamo a casa! Mangiamo!

The food will come, but first let’s take a walk and build our appetites. Jürgen and I started our day at the Marché Jean-Talon, and headed south. Italians have been part of Montreal’s story since the 17th century, and were some of the first immigrants to arrive in the city, working mostly on the railway. The biggest wave, however, came after World War II. Today, a quarter of a million Italians live in Montreal.

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The neighborhood’s most important church is the red-brick Madonna della Difesa, which was built in 1919. This was prior to the war, so the church’s famous fresco of Benito Mussolini isn’t quite as offensive as it might be. All of the paintings inside the church are by Guido Nincheri, an Italian immigrant to Montreal also responsible for the frescoes of the Château Dufresne.

Alright, that’s twenty minutes of sight-seeing, good enough. It’s lunchtime! We grabbed tables at the Pizzeria Napoletana, a classic restaurant near the Madonna della Difesa. The place was crowded, and as we waited for our pizzas, I noticed our fellow diners pulling bottles of wine out of their backpacks. In Montreal, many restaurants allow you to bring your own wine, and they don’t charge you any sort of corking fee.

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I looked longingly at Jürgen, who said, “Go, Michael, go,” and I was off; out the door and into the depanneur across the street. Minutes later, our beefcake Italian waiter was uncorking the bottle. The pizzas, by the way, were perfect. I had a simple margherita that was to die for. After eating, we made a beeline for the nearby Patisserie Alati-Caserta, where we had seen cannolis in the window. This was turning into a gluttonous day, and we couldn’t have been happier.

We walked west along Calle Dante, passing a bar named Inferno (naturally), until finding the Quincaillerie Dante: an awesome little shop selling espresso machines, kitchen gadgets and … shotguns? Looks like we’re still in Canada, after all.

By now, we had reached Boulevard St. Laurent and the famous Milano Supermarket. We had heard a lot about this place, and wondered how a simple supermarket might achieve such popularity. But now, we understood. True to its name, Milano is as Italian as supermarkets come. Right after entering, you encounter bags of homemade pastas. This store has as many varieties of olive oils, as other supermarkets have cereal brands. The wines, and the sweets and the sauces and the cheese … I will dream of you, Milano!

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We finished off our tour of Little Italy with espresso at the Caffè Italia, next to the supermarket. All of the tables were occupied, mostly with retired Italian men who probably meet here every single day, and we grabbed the last two stools at the bar. We sipped our coffee as slowly as possible, and listened to the old guys grumble about politics and sports. It seemed like the perfect way to end a perfect day in Little Italy.

Locations on our Map: Marché Jean-Talon | Madonna della Difesa | Pizzeria Napoletana | Patisserie Alati-Caserta | Milano Supermarket | Caffè Italia

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May 14, 2016 at 9:03 pm Comments (2)

The Marché Maisonneuve

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As we approached the Marché Maisonneuve, our excitement grew. We love visiting markets, especially when they’re set inside buildings as beautiful as this one. But within seconds of stepping inside, our enthusiasm disappeared. The market which once graced its interior is gone, and the building is now used as a community center. Today, there was an amateur arts and crafts show.

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But even if there wasn’t much to see on the inside, the Marché Maisonneuve remains a handsome building. It was built in 1912, and designed by architect Marius Dufresne, whose former home we had already toured. For years, the Marché Maisonneuve served as a public market, although it was closed in the 1960s. Today, it opens up on weekends for special events.

If you’ve come in search of fresh fruits and vegetables, you won’t have to go far. The new Marché Maisonneuve is found just meters away from the old one; basically in its parking lot. Set inside a modern hall, the new market is packed with excellent shops selling everything you might need: a bakery, a greengrocer, a fish monger, a health food store and more.

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In shopping terms, we actually preferred the Marché Maisonneuve to the Atwater Market, because it was a little more down-to-earth; the kind of place we could actually see ourselves shopping at regularly. Now, if they could just get all these shops back into the original building, it’d be perfect.

Location on our Map
Marché Maisonneuve – Website

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May 10, 2016 at 10:11 pm Comments (0)

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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