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Eastern Travel, August 8-10: Montreal

After Ottawa, we took the two hour drive to Montreal. Some recollections.

Lodging: Angellica Blue Bed and Breakfast. We stayed in the Arctic Room (which was often referred to as the “Artic” room), which remained blissfully cool while the city was warm and muggy. The breakfasts were uniformly delightful (French Toast with caramel was particularly scrumptious). It’s location was pretty good — fairly central to Rue St. Denis, Old Montreal, and the museums on Ste. Catherine. The only drawback was that we were a block from Ste. Catherine — and a particularly grungy spot.

Streets: From what I can tell, Montreal is largely defined by its large thoroughfares.

We stayed closest to Rue Ste. Catherine. In our neighborhood, the street is filled with sex shops, cheap food, and lots of dirt. Very much not that archetypal “clean and bland” we’ve come to associate with our neighbors to the north. As you head West, the street gets nicer, though it turns into an outdoor mall the likes of which you see all over North America — large chain clothing and accessiories stores. Not particularly engrossing.

Rue St. Laurent was quite a bit nicer. Chock full of eateries and nightclubs. We didn’t end up doing much on this street, though.

We found ourselves returning to Rue St. Denis for food, shopping, and the like. Lots of boutiques, places to drink coffee, eat food, that kind of thing. Though busy, it was always manageable (unlike Ste Catherine).

Sights: Two of my favorite Montreal experiences were museums. Our first museum in the city was the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The building’s interiors are flat out gorgeous — a luscious use of space and form, and some beautiful wood walls. The main show currently on display is “Traces of India,” which demonstrates how the British colonizers utilized representation to create a history and culture of India that didn’t actually exist, but proved politically desirable. A remarkably rich and thoughtful explication of a thesis, I was struck by the thought that you’d likely never see anything quite so explicitly intellectual in a major American museum.

Our second museum was the Pointe-à-Callière, devoted to archaeology and history, and one of the highlights of the entire trip. The museum is located on a historical prominence in Montreal, a point which jutted into the St. Lawrence, and this was one of the first places settled after European contact. The heart of the museum is the _in situ_ archaeological dig which all attendees walk through, revealing some 400 years of history underground, annotated by a host of exhibitions, kiosks, and tour guides. Even if you’re not specifically interested in the history of Montreal (which I’m not), walking through the jagged remains of successive building foundations is a remarkable experience.

We also wandered around Old Montreal and the Piers, but they were pretty lame and touristy.

Food: We ate pretty well in Montreal. Every morning we had our delightful B&B breakfasts. Lunch was very much an on-the-go experience. Our first dinner was at Khyber Pass, an Afghan restaurant off St. Denis. Good. Filling. Many Montreal restaurants serve no alcohol, so many Montreal corner stores advertise “COLD WINE” (actually, “VINS FROID”) which you can bring into the restaurants.

Our second dinner we ate at a French bistro called Cafe Soleil (I think, though I can’t find it on Google) on Rue St. Denis. Eating outside, I enjoyed a decent Steak Frites, while Stacy had many many many moules. Not worth going back to, but it wasn’t bad or anything. Though I think our waitress kind of feared serving Anglophones.

Other Impressions: I’d love to revisit. See some more of the touristy stuff (Olympic Park, Botanic Gardens). More important, though, would be to see where the locals go. I suspect they wander St. Laurent and St. Denis, but we seemed to be surrounded by tourists. I’d love to find a more locals-oriented neighborhood. I always hold up San Francisco’s Mission District as the kind of spot I’d like to find elsewhere — busy, commercial, culturally intriguing, with food, booze, coffee, and where the residents go when they go out.

For reasons I do not recall, we pretty much took no photos of Montreal.

  1. You probably want to go up to Plateau Mont-Royal and saunter along Mont-Royal Boulevard on a Saturday afternoon. Few tourists, but the locals are all brunching, socializing, doing their shopping. Or hit Saint-Viateur Street, buy some bagels, have a coffee at Open Da Night and eavesdrop on the neighbourhood’s unassumingly creative bohemians. See for pix (not mine, but good anyway) of the neighbourhoods. Little Italy is nice and means good food and coffee and the Jean-Talon farmers’ market. Or get really recherché and hit Ahuntsic for poutine and a stroll around the Ile-de-la-Visitation. Lots of interesting non-touristy stuff. Or, go nuts in the Underground City…

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