Do I still need to see the real Montreal?
I should probably pre-warn and justify the negative tone of this post, by explaining that unfortunately I didn’t like Montreal! And I say unfortunately because I had such high expectations from hearing many positively glowing reviews from friends. Help – what did I miss, when I visited in summer 2013?!
I’m not sure if I was just in a bad mood (my 3 month US visa had expired, and I was apprehensive about getting let back in). Or maybe I visited the wrong places and it wasn’t a great place to travel solo. One theory is that I confused my expectations of a quaint, beautiful and gentle French-influenced city with Quebec. I don’t mean to offend anyone who reads this from Montreal….. Instead please let me know where I should go and what I should see next time!
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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
OLD MONTREAL | this area is very pretty, and certainly helped thaw my early animosity towards Montreal. I’d arrived on an overnight Megabus from Toronto, and when I first wandered through Old Montreal around 9am it was dead. Gradually however cafes and shops started to kick in to life, and I enjoyed exploring the cobbled paths and historic buildings.
Also check out: I stayed at M Montreal, a pretty decent hostel in what seemed like a good location. I’ll elaborate on my gripes, which aren’t the hostel’s fault yet kick-started my rage!
- Google Maps sent me on a total wild goose chase, when it was about 6am and I was on foot with baggage;
- My first intro to Montreal on stepping out of the hostel was a junkie shooting up on the next-door step;
- I shared an 8 bed dorm with annoying party-brats, who luckily weren’t in that much.
MILE END | this was a cool hipster area, with a notably friendlier feel and some artsy type cafes. I found one in particular that offered a happy respite from wandering aimlessly. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to have a name to recommend it! It felt like here I got to see the real Montreal. There still wasn’t all that much going on though, and I was there on a weekend.
PARC MONT ROYAL | this famous park warrants a walk to the top for great views to see the real Montreal. Of course when I walked it, it was ridiculously muggy and over-cast, but hey that’s because me and Montreal aren’t really friends 😉
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
LAURENT BOULEVARD | was a fairly easy walk from my hostel. It’s supposedly one of the more interesting areas of Montreal to explore, because it’s edgy and trendy. Whatevs. I was there one evening and it was totally dead, and aside from some skilled street art I’m afraid I have dismissed it as grungy and verging on derelict. This is coming from someone who lives in East London.
JEAN-TALON MARKET | this is quite a sweet fruit and veggie market near Mile End. It also sells lots of fresh flowers, but no other products or gifts. There are some popular and of course French-themed stalls in the centre where you can gobble up tasty treats as lunch or an afternoon snack.
FRENCH DICTIONARY | I naively didn’t appreciate just how French Montreal would be. What an eejit. I studied the language for 5 years at school, but would have really benefitted from brushing up on it before this visit to see the real Montreal. The French vibe certainly gave Montreal an added air of mystery, however also a touch of hostility. I didn’t find anyone particularly welcoming or helpful, apart from in the hostel.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
JUNKIES | I was saddened to see so much homelessness and open drug abuse in Montreal. Of course, every city has its issues, but this was very transparent and I was approached numerous times by beggars. Because the beggars speak French, obviously, it is difficult to correctly translate each request or adequately apologise. Again, a solution here would have been for me to learn some basic French….
FAIRMOUNT BAGEL | on a more light-hearted note, I set off in search of Montreal’s famous bagels to cheer me up. I LOVE bagels. Maybe this was the final straw?! They were dry and really average haha.
PUBLIC HOLIDAYS | I had inadvertently arrived to see the real Montreal on a public holiday in June. I can only assume this in part explains the relative quietness of the city, including certain suburbs that my trusty old Lonely Planet had recommended. A lot of places seemed to be shut. Yes, that’s it: I’ll blame the public holiday…..
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
UNDERGROUND CITY | apparently there’s an elaborate tunnel about 32 km long hidden below Montreal. It features some unusual spots including a piece of the Berlin Wall below Old Montreal, a fountain and high end shopping stores. How bizarre. Check out this 2016 blog post by Jodi of LegalNomads who is actually from Montreal and much more qualified to give local travel advice!
AND KNOW THIS: Food is a big deal in Montreal. The city boasts the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America (after New York City). For dessert, 85% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Québec, Montréal’s Provence.