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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

Independent Movie Recommendations

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

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
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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)

Saint-Louis Square and Rue Prince-Arthur

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Like most cities, Montreal can be ugly and noisy, with its constant construction, heavy traffic, plain gray skyscrapers, chain restaurants, and cloudy days. But it can also be surprisingly beautiful… and nowhere is that more apparent than around Saint-Louis Square, in the neighborhood of the Plateau.

One way to approach Saint-Louis Square is along Rue Prince-Arthur, a pedestrian street that leads from Boulevard Saint-Laurent. This used to be considered one of the top streets in Montreal for dining and nightlife, but its fortunes have taken a downward swing in recent years. It was cool, then gentrified, then known as a tourist trap, then avoided even by tourists, and today most of its buildings are vacant. And all this happened within a couple decades.

Square Sainte Louis Motreal

Today, walking down Prince-Arthur isn’t going to make you swoon with delight, but it’s interesting to see the potential for growth which Montreal still has. I mean, there’s no reason that this pedestrian street, right in the middle of such a cool neighborhood, shouldn’t be able to succeed. I have a feeling that the next phase in Prince-Arthur’s story is coming soon: post-gentrification-regentrification. Savvy investors, get in now!

If Rue Prince-Arthur’s atmosphere is one of lost glory, Saint-Louis Square’s is one of enduring charm. This is possibly the single loveliest square we’ve seen in Montreal. A small park filled with towering trees and crowned with an elegant central fountain, Saint-Louis is surrounded by stone Victorian-style homes with polygonal turrets and brightly-colored friezes.

We’d been in this area numerous times before, whether walking down St. Laurent, getting a drink in the Latin Quarter, or relaxing in the nearby La Fontaine Park. But somehow, we’d never stumbled upon Saint-Louis Square. It feels deliberately tucked away, not quite on any of the main thoroughfares. But it’s worth seeking out, especially if the constant noise and grime of downtown Montreal are getting you down. Grab a coffee and a book, and find a bench; a few minutes in Saint-Louis Square will make you feel better about the city.

Location on our Map

Rent A Car In Montreal

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June 27, 2016 at 9:20 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.

Place Ville-Marie Observatory

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.

Place Ville-Marie Observatory

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

Our Framed Montreal Photos

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

The Mansions of the Golden Mile

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There’s nothing rich people enjoy more than lording it over the rest of us, especially when they can do so literally. Montreal began life as a provincial fur-trading village, but as it grew in wealth and prestige, the richest and most powerful members of society started to build fabulous mansions on the slopes of Mont Royal, in a neighborhood which would eventually be coined the “Golden Square Mile.”

Golden Mile Montreal

The Golden Square Mile is found north of downtown, between Rue Sherbrooke and Mont Royal. The neighborhood’s fortunes have mirrored those of the city; when Montreal was a wealthy industrial powerhouse, roughly between 1850 and 1930, the Golden Square Mile was grand beyond belief. But after the Great Depression, WWII and the ensuing deindustrialization, Montreal lost much of its prestige, and its Golden Mile was hit hard. Today, less than 30% of the neighborhood’s original mansions have survived.

Golden Mile Montreal

Luckily, there’s still plenty to see. We walked up Rue Peel, and explored the roads which lead onto the mountain. Streets like the Avenue des Pins and Docteur-Penfield are studded with one magnificent residence after the other. Most of the homes are built with stone (sandstone or granite), and designed in a wide variety of styles, from Gothic to Romanesque.

Some of the best houses are found on a circular road called Redpath Crescent, which is about as high up the hill as it’s possible to build. Each building on this street is unique, and each enjoys a fabulous view over the city. We noticed one stately manor with a “For Sale” sign, and let out a sigh. We’re starting to accept that we’ll never be able to afford such a place. Youthful hope has been replaced in our hearts with resigned envy. And that’s okay. It had to happen at some point.

Location of Redpath Crescent on our Map

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Golden Mile Montreal
Golden Mile Montreal
Golden Mile Montreal
Golden Mile Montreal
Golden Mile Montreal
Golden Mile Montreal
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June 26, 2016 at 12:52 pm Comments (0)

A Walk Along the Lachine Canal

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The opening of the Lachine Canal in 1825 signaled Montreal’s ascendance as a major center of industry and commerce. The canal was made obsolete by the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1970, but today has found new life as a park, with an excellent urban trail running along side its length.

Lachin Canal Montreal

Although it’s mostly known as a biking path, Jürgen and I decided to walk alongside the Lachine Canal, since we’d be stopping for pictures every few minutes, anyway. From the Old Port to the Lachine Lock, the trail’s length is 12.2 kilometers, and it took us about three hours to complete. Luckily, it’s easy and absolutely flat, so isn’t overly fatiguing despite its considerable length. But if you’re not taking tons of pictures, bikes are the best option.

The Lachine Canal takes you on a journey into Montreal’s industrial past, when the city’s economy was powered by industries like steel, iron and wood. Most of the factories which once lined the canal have since been turned into luxury condominiums, although some are simply ruins, and a few are still in operation.

Lachin Canal Montreal

The trail bounces between the north and south banks of the river, leading you over a few bridges, including the pale-green mechanical bulk of the Guaron Bridge, which was able to raise to a perpendicular level within a few minutes. You can also see the Lachine Coke Crane, which is the only remnant of the Montreal Coke and Manufacturing Co, established in 1927 (that’s “coke” as in “fuel made from coal“, not “bubbly caffeinated beverage.”)

Most of the touristy highlights are in the first half of the canal’s path, between the Old Port and the Coke Crane. The final five kilometers aren’t all that spectacular, as the highway runs next to the canal and ruins the mood with its noise. But even here, the trail is attractive, as it goes through woods and alongside the water.

At the end of the path, you’ll find the small Lachine Museum, which we decided to skip — after twelve kilometers of walking, we couldn’t bear the idea of even another fifteen minutes on our feet. Instead, we collapsed in the park near the Lachine Lock, the final stage before ships would re-enter the Saint Lawrence, and allowed the sun and the nearby sound of rushing water to lull us to sleep.

Locations on our Map: Guaron Bridge | Coke Crane | Lachine Lock

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Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
Lachin Canal Montreal
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June 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm Comments (0)

Glass Blowing at the Espace Verre

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A unique gallery, studio and school dedicated to glass-blowing, Espace Verre was created in 1983 by two artists who wanted to give people in Montreal the chance to learn the artform. The small, private institution is based in a former fire hall in the industrial zone of Pointe-Saint-Charles, and is regularly open to visitors.

Glass Blowing Montreal

If you’re curious about glass-blowing, it’s worth stopping by the Espace Verre for the opportunity to watch artists at work; above the large studio where the kilns and benches are kept, there’s a viewing platform, from which you can observe without being a nuisance. This old firehouse is primarily a school for those learning about the art, but visitors are welcome to pop in.

Glass Blowing Montreal

Espace Verre offers a technical three-year degree in the art of glass-blowing. It’s a full-time program, which draws students from across Quebec and even Europe. Professional artists can also rent benches in the studio, regardless if they’ve studied here or not. And even if you’re not a trained glass-blower, you can still dip your toes into the kiln by attending one of their intensive weekend workshops.

Location on our Map
Espace Verre – Website

Learn How To Blow Glass

Glass Blowing Montreal
Glass Blowing Montreal
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June 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm Comments (0)

Montreal’s Mural Festival

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Street art is a phenomenon which hip cities long ago stopped trying to fight, and started to embrace. When it’s well-done, street art can beautify otherwise drab buildings, provoke thought, and even drive tourism. If you’ve ever wondered how the artists manage to make use of their building-sized canvases, you should check out Montreal’s Mural Festival, where you can see them at work.

Montreal Mural Festival

Montreal is definitely a city that wants to be on the cultural vanguard, so we weren’t surprised to find a thriving street art scene here. Walking along Saint-Laurent Boulevard is akin to walking through an open-air museum, with massive works occupying every conceivable open space, and more traditional graffiti “installations” in the alleyways.

Mural, a festival which is in its third year, brings a sort of structure to the street art scene, by commissioning artists from Canada and the rest of the world to create new pieces. As you walk around St. Laurent, you’ll find artists with paint cans and sprays, bringing their new creations to life. You can also see the works which were produced in previous iterations of the festival. A large section of St. Laurent is closed to traffic for the duration of Mural, and a lot of festival-type stands open up. Snacks, artsy trinkets, palm readers… that sort of thing.

Montreal Mural Festival

We enjoyed ourselves at the festival; it was fun to watch the artists at work, and see how large-scale street art is done. But still, something was irritating us about Mural. Visitors are encouraged to pay for a “VIP Tour” of the new murals, and buy a ticket to enter the “VIP Zone.” The main corporate sponsor is a phone company, and other partners include Barefoot Wines and Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has heard that street art is cool nowadays, and since Coca-Cola is down with the kids, Coca-Cola is suddenly all about street art. Make art, live young, drink Coke! I can just imagine some marketing team coming up with a new slogan, and it makes me puke.

But as long as you can divorce your mind from the sadness of a movement being co-opted by the very institutions it was born to subvert, the Mural festival can be a lot of fun. The art is excellent, regardless of who it’s being sponsored by, and it’s hard to fault these artists for taking advantage of the opportunity. Even if you can’t make it to Montreal to see the current iteration of the Mural Festival, don’t worry; these works of art will be around for a long time.

Location of the Main (VIP) Stage
Mural Festival – Website

Our Framed Photos

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June 22, 2016 at 8:21 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