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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.

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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)

Patriots’ Day on Mont Saint-Hilaire

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Jürgen and I are really clever guys. Check this out: while planning our hike on Mont Saint-Hilaire, we decided against going on a weekend, and instead chose a Monday. Because the mountain would be less busy. Now that’s clever! But as it turns out, Quebec was celebrating Patriots’ Day on this particular Monday. Turns out, we’re not so clever after all.

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Across Canada, Victoria Day is celebrated in honor of Queen Victoria’s birthday… but not in Quebec. In 1837, while Victoria was being anointed Queen of Great Britain, the people of Quebec were embroiled in a bloody rebellion against the crown. It’s not like they’re going to celebrate the enemy Queen, now. Instead, Quebec calls the holiday National Patriots’ Day, in honor of the fallen heroes of the 1837 uprising.

So everybody in Montreal had the day off, and approximately half of them decided to go hiking at Mont Saint-Hilaire. Just to get to the visitor center’s parking lot, we were stuck in a traffic jam for over an hour. That’s not an exaggeration. It was beyond crowded, and made even worse by the presence of a community “fun run.” We had planned to be hiking shortly after nine, but didn’t even start until well past noon.

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It could have been so wonderful! Mont Saint-Hilaire is beautiful, and perfect for hikers. The trails are well-marked, and there are several loops you can do depending on the amount of time you have. There’s a gorgeous mountain lake (Lac Hertel), a few breathtaking viewpoints, and even charming woodland creatures (we saw two deer and a dam built by beavers). And the weather was perfect; sunny and warm, but with a steady, cool breeze drifting in.

But it’s hard to concentrate on all the beauty, when the trails are so packed with other people. When you’re constantly listening to the inane conversations of the group of college girls walking two steps behind you. When the kid ahead of you is blasting Eminem out of his backpack. When you’re getting shoulder-checked off the path by a self-important trailrunner. When you have to stand in a line before seeing the Rocky Top Viewpoint. After a couple hours on the trails, we couldn’t get back to the car quickly enough.

This is a really unfair account of the trails Mont Saint-Hilaire. The mountain is gorgeous, and we only have ourselves to blame for the misery of our excursion. We’ll let our photos show off the park’s beauty, and leave you with a warning: only visit when everyone else in Montreal is working… and don’t forget to double-check the list of local holidays.

Location on our Map
Centre de la Nature Mont Saint-Hilaire – Website

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June 15, 2016 at 9:33 pm Comments (0)

The Écomusée du Fier Monde

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Found within the former Généreux public bath hall on Rue Amherst, across from the Marché Saint-Jacques, the Écomusée du Vier Monde shines a light on the working-class community of Montreal’s Centre-Sud. We visited the museum, and then took a walk around the neighborhood to which it’s dedicated.

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Not speaking French, I had no idea what “fier monde” might mean. Mentally, I had prepared myself for either the “Museum of Four Moons” or the “Museum of Fear World.” So, I was a little disappointed to learn that “fier monde” means something like “proud people”… not as exciting as Fear World, but we decided to check it out, anyway.

The Industrial Revolution was a turbulent time for Montreal, during which it rocketed past Quebec City and Toronto to become the richest and most influential city in Canada. The factories and the people who worked in them were based mostly in the Centre-Sud section of the city; basically, everything to the east of the Boulevard St. Laurent and south of Rue Sherbrooke.

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As neighborhoods full of factory workers tend to be, this was a low-income area with squalid living conditions. The Écomusée begins its story during the Industrial Revolution, introducing the lives and struggles of the shift-workers and their families. You learn about the attempts to unionize, and other ways the people of the Centre-Sud organized themselves to improve their lot.

Those early efforts at solidarity would pay off following World War II, when Montreal began to de-industrialize. The factories which had provided the people a living wage closed up completely, or moved out to the suburbs. With no ready jobs, the Centre-Sud became an area of severe poverty, as the families who had the means to escape did so. To survive, the remaining community had to band together, providing basic education and services to its least-fortunate members, and fighting for governmental aid.

Today, life has improved tremendously in the Centre-Sud, and it’s become one of Montreal’s most vibrant areas. The factories never returned, but that’s become less important. The Gay Village is part of the former “fauborg” (suburb), as is the post-industrial neighborhood of Sainte-Marie. Artists and young people have been moving in, drawn by the prime location and relatively cheap prices.

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The Écomusée does a good job in describing all this history with a set of exhibits that form a loop around the former pool of the Généreux baths. Built in 1927, this bath hall is itself a part of the Centre-Sud’s history, dating from a time when most residents didn’t have running water of their own, and depended upon such public solutions for their hygienic needs.

The museum is small, and doesn’t take much time to tour. But afterwards, you’ll probably want to spend some time walking around the streets of the Centre-Sud, to see first-hand how it’s matured into the modern day. In many ways, the story of this area is the story of Montreal, and it’s worth stopping in to the Écomusée du Fier Monde to learn about it.

Location on our Map
Écomusée du Vier Monde – Website

List Of Hotels In Montreal

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May 27, 2016 at 10:07 pm Comments (2)

The Chalet du Mont Royal and Kondiaronk Belvedere

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Usually, the first thing we do after arriving in a city is ascend to its highest point for a birds-eye view. But we waited a full month before heading up Mont Royal, the hill (sorry, “mountain”) which provides Montreal its name. When the weather finally cleared up enough, we found that the view was worth the wait.

Belvedere Kondiaronk

The first truly nice day of the year happened to be on a Saturday, and the Parc du Mont-Royal was packed, the paths which wind around the slopes as crowded as a city street during rush hour. But we joined the throngs of joggers, bikers and families, and made our way from the park’s eastern slope all the way up to the Chalet du Mont Royal, where there’s a large platform with one of the city’s best views.

We started our trek up the hill (mountain!) at the memorial statue to Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a Quebecois statesman who was the father of the Canadian Confederation: the 1867 union of the four colonies of Quebec, Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. From this plaza, a wide path called the Chemin Olmsted winds gently up the slopes of Mont Royal.

We reached the Chalet du Mont Royal after an easy half-hour walk. There’s a law in Montreal restricting the height of skyscrapers to 200 meters, so that they remain underneath the summit. As a result, the view from the chalet’s Kondiaronk Belvedere is outstanding. The viewpoint is named for the great Huron chief who was instrumental in forming the Great Peace of 1701, which arguably saved the city from being wiped out during the Fur Wars.

The Chalet itself is large and curiously empty. It’s a beautiful building, with wood-carved squirrels supporting the arches of the roof… and nothing inside, apart from a few chairs, bathrooms and vending machines. It seems like a wasted opportunity for there not to be a restaurant or at least a cafe inside this building. But regardless, it’s a nice spot to relax after the ascent. And with downtown Montreal laid out before you, the view couldn’t be better.

Locations on our Map: Sir George-Étienne Cartier Statue | Chalet du Mont Royal

Framed Photos Of Montreal

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May 21, 2016 at 2:37 pm Comments (0)

The Views from the Olympic Tower

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Built in 1976 for the Summer Games and attached to the Olympic Stadium, Montreal Tower’s height of 165 meters (541 feet) makes it the tallest inclined tower in the world. We took the funicular up to the top, where there’s an observatory that provides views of the Olympic Park, Mont Royal and downtown Montreal.

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With its 45-degree incline, it would be an understatement to call the Montreal Tower “slightly tilted.” For comparison, the Tower of Pisa only leans at five degrees. However, Montreal Tower doesn’t exactly seem in danger of falling over. It’s solid, with a massive underground concrete base that’s the weight of three aircraft carriers.

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The funicular climbs the tower every ten minutes, whisking you to the top for one of the Montreal’s best views. The Olympic Park is in the eastern neighborhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve; from here, you can see the entire downtown district in one incredible panorama. And you get a great sense for the true size of Mont Royal — it takes up nearly the same area as the downtown and is the same height than the city’s tallest skyscrapers.

Although you can’t step outside, the observatory has windows in every direction, with views of the St. Lawrence to the south, the industrial neighborhoods to the east, and the Botanic Garden to the north. And of course, right underneath, there’s the Olympic Stadium. Formerly home to the Expos, the stadium is now mostly unoccupied and is known as the “Big O” for the doughnut-shaped hole in its roof. Many Montrealers, however, think of it as the “Big Owe.” Its astronomical construction cost of $260 million was finally paid off in 2006, thirty years after the games themselves.

Location of Montreal Tower on our Map
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May 20, 2016 at 2:39 pm Comments (0)

Boulevard Saint Laurent, aka “The Main”

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Cutting straight across the Island of Montreal, Boulevard Saint Laurent is considered to be the dividing line between the city’s French-speaking half on the east, and the English half to the west. Known colloquially as “The Main,” the neighborhoods which line themselves along the boulevard, from north to south, are home to various populations of immigrants.

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The Main’s total length is over ten kilometers, and walking the entire distance would take most of a day, so we decided to check out about half of it, starting at Rosemont Avenue and heading south.

The neighborhoods on the western side of Saint Laurent have historically been English, while those to the east have been French-speaking. Given the strife between the city’s two factions, Saint Laurent has taken on significant symbolic meaning as the “line” which divides them. And in the middle of all this drama have been the immigrants, waves of whom have settled along the Main… Jewish, Chinese, Portuguese, Greek, and more.

Not only does Saint Laurent serve as a handy metaphor for Montreal’s bipolar nature, it’s also the literal dividing line between east and west. From here, the building numbers start at zero, and street names are appended with “East” or “West.” This means that, in Montreal, it’s not sufficient to say “2100 Rue Ste-Catherine,” because 2100 Rue Ste-Catherine Oest is on the opposite side of the city from 2100 Rue Ste-Catherine Est.

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During our walk down Saint Laurent Boulevard, we came to appreciate the extent of Montreal’s street art scene. We almost couldn’t find a wall that hadn’t been beautified with some grand-scale painting. At the Gallery Espace Go, an entire passageway has been converted into a single black-and-white work. Most of the paintings were of high quality, and look like they were commissioned. In fact, there’s a summer festival during which artists from around the world are invited to paint on St. Laurent’s walls.

From graffiti to more traditional forms of art, Montreal’s commitment to culture is evident on the boulevard. We passed a ton of galleries, and even the regular shops seemed somehow more artsy than normal. Whether you’re selling furniture, clothes or books, I guess you need some artistic sensibility to fit in here. Even the butcher shop, the Boucherie Lawrence, was the hippest butcher shop we’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t feel remotely cool enough to buy meat there. They’d be able to sense that I was planning on making something pedestrian, like hamburgers. “Out, you clean-shaven yuppie! Our beef is not for the likes of you!”

Boulevard Saint Laurent

But even more than the shopping, we appreciated the variety of food available on Saint Laurent, which truly reflects the boulevard’s diversity. Bagel shops and delis, fine Portuguese and Spanish restaurants, Irish pubs, Caribbean grills, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Greek and more. And I’m pretty sure all of them were serving some sort of twist on poutine.

By the time we had passed through Chinatown and reached the old port, we had been walking for hours, and felt like we’d seen the perfect cross-section of Montreal. And we had restricted ourselves to a single street! But of course, Boulevard Saint Laurent isn’t just a street like any other… few in the world have as much character and history.

Location of the Start of our Walk
Blvd St. Laurent – Website

Another City With Great Street Art: VALENCIA

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May 4, 2016 at 4:30 pm Comments (2)

Montreal’s Chinatown

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Centered around the Rue de la Gauchetière, Montreal’s isn’t the biggest Chinatown you’ll find in North America, but it’s among the most historic. Chinese families began immigrating to this area in the 1860s, and today the neighborhood is a vibrant mix of Asian restaurants, shops and culture.

Chinatown Montreal

Montreal’s Chinatown doesn’t take much time to walk through; it extends just a couple of blocks in each direction. But there’s a lot packed into the small area, and a thorough exploration might take hours… especially if you’re hungry.

I like Asian food, but Jürgen loves it. So when I realized how close our apartment was to Chinatown, I knew I was in trouble. Indeed, every time… every single time I asked what he wanted to do for lunch, his face would light up with glee. To his credit, he did give me a choice: “Korean, Ramen, Dumplings or Mongolian Hot Pot?”

Chinatown Montreal

It might be called Chinatown, and Chinese shops are definitely in the majority here, but this neighborhood is home to a wide variety of people and restaurants. You’ll find Korean bibimbap, Japanese shabu-shabu, Chinese noodles and Vietnamese Pho, almost all of it is reasonably priced. Chinatown is regarded as one of the best areas in Montreal for good cheap eats.

Montreal’s Chinatown Has Cheap Eats

You’ll know you’ve entered the neighborhood after passing through one of the four paifang, or ceremonial gates, which mark its borders. You’ll find old tea shops, stores selling paper lanterns and decorations, cheap barbers, and confectionery shops. We stopped in at one that was advertising “Dragon Beard Candy,” a treat once made for the emperors of China. Stretched out into fine, white hair-like threads, it actually does resemble an old Chinese man’s beard. Luckily, it doesn’t taste like one.

The Rue de la Gauchetière is a pedestrian zone, and develops a festival-like atmosphere on summer weekends, when many events are held out on the street. The party doesn’t stop once the sun goes down; in fact, because Chinatown has been named a special “tourist” zone of Montreal, its bars and clubs are permitted to stay open later than normal.

Location on our Map

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April 30, 2016 at 2:02 pm Comments (0)

A Beginner’s Guide to Montreal

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The day after we arrived in Montreal, a freak snowstorm hit the city, stranding us indoors. We would have rather been outside exploring, but the bad weather provided an excuse for us to sit down and read about our new home. Here are the facts and figures that jumped out at us.

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Size: With a total population of just over four million, Montreal is the largest city in Quebec, the second-largest in Canada, and just beats out Seattle as the nineteenth-largest city in North America. Although it’s not the capital of Quebec (that would be nearby Quebec City), Montreal is the undisputed center of the province’s culture and commerce.

Layout: Montreal occupies a large island roughly in the middle of Saint Lawrence River, which connects the Northern Atlantic with Lake Ontario. In the center of this island is a large hill called Mount Royal, which provides the city with its name. The Island of Montreal is the world’s most populated fresh-water island.

History: The city was founded in 1642 by French settlers, and quickly became the center of New France’s fur trade. Before the arrival of the Europeans, it had been home to various tribes of the First Nations, the indigenous people of Canada, particularly the Iroquois and Algonquin. The British took Quebec in 1760, after the Seven Years War, and Montreal became part of Canada.

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Language: Les Montréalaise parlent Français, s’il vous plâit! But that’s not the whole story. French is definitely the dominant language in the city, but nearly 20% of residents are native English-speakers, while another 20% have another primary language (Italian, Arabic and Spanish are the most prominent, each at around 3%). Montreal is nothing if not multi-cultural, and you’ll also hear Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Vietnamese and Greek in various pockets of the city.

Economy: Montreal boasts one of the world’s largest inland ports, and has traditionally been one of North America’s main railroad cities. Canada’s largest oil refinery was based here, though it closed in 2010. Important industries today include film and television, videogames, finance and the aerospace sector.

Culture: Approximately 72% of the city’s population have at one time been a member of the Cirque du Soleil, and you can’t walk down the sidewalk without getting kicked in the face by some clown flipping around on a curtain. But the city has a lot more to offer than acrobatics, including a seemingly endless supply of theaters, concert halls, festivals and clubs. Montreal has a legendary indie music scene, and is home to both the world’s largest jazz festival, as well as its largest comedy festival.

Sports: You might be shocked to learn that the most popular sport in this Canadian city is hockey. The Montreal Canadiens have won more Stanley Cups than any other NHL team, and are massively popular… although they’re currently in the midst of a long drought. Baseball had been popular here until 2004, when the Expos moved to Washington. In 2012, Major League Soccer expanded to the city with the Impact, who have proven popular. And Montreal is also home to one of the world’s most-watched televised sporting events: the Canadian Grand Prix, held on the Island of Notre Dame.

Cheap Flights to Montreal

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April 11, 2016 at 11:29 pm Comments (0)

Bonjour Montréal!

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For the sixteenth edition of our “For 91 Days” travel project, Jürgen and I chose Montreal: the second-largest city in Canada, and a multilingual hotbed of culture and the arts. We arrived at the beginning of April with no prior knowledge of the city and no expectations. So we were excited to see what Montreal had to offer us, and would be giving the city 91 days to impress us.

Bonjour Montreal

Before landing in a new destination, Jürgen and I normally do a lot of research. We buy travel guides, study maps, and pore over whatever information we can dig up on the internet. By the time we arrive in our new 91-day home, we’ve usually got lists of things to do, and a basic understanding of the culture, currency, language and layout of the city or region we’re visiting. But we didn’t do any of this for Montreal.

Part of it was a lack of time. After finishing 91 days in Curaçao, we spent the next few weeks on a whirlwind tour of the USA, visiting friends in DC and San Francisco, catching up with family in Ohio, and returning to Savannah, which had been one of our first destinations. Given all this activity, we simply didn’t have a chance to read the Montreal guidebooks we had ordered. In fact, we never took them out of the box in which they’d arrived.

Another reason for our negligence was the fact that Montreal is just over the border from the US. We’re not talking about Sri Lanka or Korea, here; I didn’t need to brush up on cultural etiquette or prepare myself for any bizarre customs. I’m from the States, and Canada is my good buddy to the north. We share sports leagues and even an international dialing prefix. And so, despite never having spent any time in Montreal, I didn’t feel much need to research.

Bonjour Montreal

And then we arrived in the city, and it’s like… for a long time, your good buddy has been inviting you over to his house, but you’ve never bothered, even though he lives just up the street. One day, you finally stop by, and are immediately surprised by the differences between your house and his. His parents are speaking French and there are European paintings on the walls. They have plastic bags of milk in their fridge. Everyone is so polite, and for dinner they serve you this delicious pile of french fries smothered in gravy. From now on, you’ll have a different appreciation for your buddy. The truth is, you don’t really know anyone until you hang out at their house.

So here we are, Montreal… let’s see what you’ve got. We’re excited to get to know you, and somehow sorry that it’s taken so long.

List Of Montreal Hotels

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April 10, 2016 at 8:00 pm Comments (8)
Saint-Louis Square and Rue Prince-Arthur 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.
For 91 Days