Earlier this fall, I went up to Montreal, a Canadian gem just north of the border in French-speaking Quebec. On my first day there, I decided to check out the historic sites. But before I could satisfy my hunger for history, I had to satiate my need for breakfast. After renting a Bixi bike, I rode to a little joint called Bagel Expressions. After talking to locals and asking other travelers about the city, everyone kept telling me that I had to experience a Montreal Bagel and breakfast on day one was an opportune moment to do so.
I enjoy a good bagel. Hell, I live in South Philly where some of, in my opinion, the best bagels are born. Thick and gooey dough blobs of dense warm love. That’s my type of bagel! I’ve been to New York, and yes, those bagels are also pretty fantastic, but the bagels in Montreal are good for a different reason; they make the perfect bread for sandwiches. Their outsides are crusty and flakey while the inside remains airy and fluffy. Bagel Expressions was a small cafe whose chefs were masters at making some pretty killer sandwiches. I decided to feast on one of my favorites; cream cheese, salmon and capers!
With a full belly I went to the heart of Old Montreal. I first took a stroll along Vieux-Port de Montreal where there were penty of bike paths along the historic ports of Montreal. It was a pleasant park with cool views of the city making it a nice place to chill and gain my bearings on my surroundings.
Next was a must-see in my books; Montreal’s Basilique de Notre-Dame! It was absolutely splendid. It reminded me a lot of the churches in Europe, especially the Notre-Dame in Strasbourg, France. The only difference was that this cathedral was slightly more modern and detailed with vibrant colors and textures that brought depth to the walls. Statues of patron saints surrounded the alter as well as tombs to past bishops and priests from Montreal.
Here’s where I nerd-out and provide you with some killer history of this magnificent structure. The village of Montreal was founded in 1642 and was first known to settlers as Villa-Maria. Like many churches throughout Europe, Notre-Dame took several centuries to become the massive structure that it is today. Originally, Notre-Dame was just a small wooden chapel completed between the years of 1672 and 1683. It wasn’t until the 1800′s when the plans for a large, Gothic style cathedral were drafted. By 1843, Notre-Dame Basilique had its two iconic towers which are lovingly named La Persévérance (Perseverance) and La Tempérance (Temperance). La Persévérance is home to “Jean-Baptiste,” the great bell of this church that weighs about 11 tons, while La Tempérance houses 10 smaller church bells.
After taking in the sights of Notre-Dame, I continued towards the city hall. It was an uphill trek, which, by the way, Montreal is a surprisingly hilly city for it being an island! Anyway, before approaching city hall, I stumbled upon Rue Saint-Amable, also known as Rue de Artistes. It was a narrow pedestrian street with plenty of artists selling paintings, photographs and other artisan crafts. In the center of the alleyway was a small archway leading into a tiny alley called “La Cour“. Passing through the threshold, the tiny passageway opened up to a neat little market tucked away under the canopy of tall maple trees. Most of the vendors were selling handmade jewelry, each piece very unique and intricate. It was a neat find.
Montreal also has plenty of nice parks. After biking and trekking all day I decided to take a break at Parc La Fontaine, which ended up being a Montreal Hipster Haven. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned about traveling is that the hipsters in NYC are the same as the hipsters in Philly which are equivalent to the hipsters in Scotland which look a lot like the hipsters in Hamburg which have a striking resemblance to the hipsters in Asheville, North Carolina…. the list goes on. Anyway, it was at Parc La Fountaine where I stumbled upon the First Saturday Free Market. Because of laws in Montreal, citizens are only allowed to have yard sales on the first Saturday of each month. So, as a way to get rid of old belongings, these cool kids scattered their things on the grass because, hell, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I found a lonely sweater and a few coasters that I brought home. Sometimes the best things in life are free – and also make for the best souvenirs.
That evening I ventured to Crescent Street, one of Montreal’s party districts. I had heard from several sources that I should check out a little place called Brutopia, and thank you to all those on Twitter, Facebook and Gogobot who suggested it to me. I grabbed a drink on the ground floor and went upstairs to watch some live music. The stage was small and could hardly fir the three man band. The band was a Canadian Country group singing songs by the Rolling Stones and Neil Diamond, along with a few of their own original songs which were mostly centered around the logging and trucking industry of the Great White North. These fellows were your quintessential truckers complete with trucker baseball caps, flannel shirts, boots and jeans and mutton chops.
I tried a few of the local beers they had to offer. I’m not into beers that are too heavy, but that’s all that they seemed to have. I asked for their lightest beer, something close to a lager or pilsner and was given something called a Honey Brown which was thick and dark and tasted purely of molasses. For shiggles, I tried a Smoked Porter which was blacker than the blackest black times infinity. It was so dark that light could not penetrate its surface. Truly, truly, truly a black hole of a beer. Drunk and happy and way past my bed time I hunted for some Poutine, one of Montreal’s local delicacies. At this point, I had not yet had poutine and was scolded by many a local and blog followers (you guys). Basically, Poutine is french fried with chunks of cheese melted by hot brown gravy – deliciously unhealthy. But it was 1pm and nothing decent was open. The only place was some fast food joint called “Harvey’s” which was a bad idea. Right after ordering, I was handed a pile of luke warm french fries covered in some kind of watery gravy with chunks of gritty, unmelted bits of cheese. I still ate it because I was a bit drunk, but it was a bad first impression of Poutine.
So that was my first full day of Montreal – I know – quite eventful… I still have another action packed day to discuss!
TO BE CONTINUED!
If you want to see more of the places I saw on my trip to Montreal and read some helpful reviews check out my Gogobot Guide to Montreal!