We were in Toronto for just a few days but it was a great chance to relax and refresh after months in Central America and having been not too well.
Things run smoothly in Toronto. People are friendly, helpful and laid back. Quite the culture shop.
First a bus ride then a tube ride from the airport which I thought would be hellish but turned out to be smooth and cheap as chips. We hadn't had to carry our bags that far for a long time and tired and under the blazing sun that wasn't the most fun but as we arrived at our cute little apartment in an up and coming, quiet Toronto neighbourhood of Ossington, I knew we were in the place we needed to be. The airbnb apartment was cute and the room we were staying in was totally at the opposite end to the owners so was great for privacy.
We were still suffering from some illness we'd picked up in Cuba but luckily we'd been to Toronto before so seen the major sites, so were happy to potter around and enjoy the magnificent sunshine that was blessing the Canadian capital.
We visited a local park, wandered around the streets, enjoying the peace and quiet. We had Vietnamese food, we went to the local vegan bar, Discograceland (see what they did there), which was a cool place.
There was a little street festival in Ossington while we were there, which bored the pants of Mark but I rather liked as there was a fair few vintage stalls going on and it was just somewhere to potter about.
We also met up with a friend Mark used to work with, Peter and his lovely wife Joy, who'd moved to Toronto a few years back. Always good to get the gen from a local and they didn't have much bad to say about the lifestyle compared to England (Joy is actually from Canada but had lived in London for 15 years, so had done the time!). We had a lovely relaxed meal at the George a downtown restaurant with the friendliest service ever and just had a lovely evening chin-wagging (nice to meet a girl you can talk about M&S and Dotty P with).
It was a very low key few days but was much needed and also a good introduction back into western life after so long and also modern city life after a while in the Caribbean. My time in Toronto taught me a strategy to not find the lack of choice too overwhelming. Just pick a category/page on a menu and choose from there - don't look at the whole thing - too much choice for my brain!
We were catching the train from Toronto to Montreal which was an interesting experience. Finding your way around Toronto station can be a challenge (and not much fun to be heading there during rush hour). Then the system for boarding the train was most odd. They have a little post up in the middle of the concourse and people queue behind it - no allocated seats and so people start queuing ages before the train is due to leave. Then they move the post nearer the entrance of the platform and everyone trundles along (especially fun with heavy bags). They check your ticket and then check it again just before you're about to board the train which is rather awkward. Then we had to board the train in the old fashioned sense - it was up some high steps to the carriage and no-one was around helping anyone. They then send you onto a carriage, which us being at the back of the queue had become full and while they barked at you to take every spare seat, we went up to the next carriage along which was empty!!!! I can't work out for the life of me why they can't allocate seats. Later on in the journey they had people who were sat on their own moving so they could seat families together. Not the end of the world, but just seemed a bit pointless, when even in less developed countries seats are easily allocated. Anyhow, apart from the fiasco of getting on the train it's a really nice, comfy experience. Lovely countryside rolling by. It wasn't the dramatic Canadian scape I was hoping for - I think maybe you need to go further north or inland for that, but it was pleasant and very Anne of Green Gables I thought. You had sockets to charge your phones, large comfy seats and lots of space - plus wifi! I was actually rather gutted when we arrived in Montreal 6 hours later - I could have sat happily for a few hours still.
Montreal station turned out to be smaller and simpler to work out. We had to get the metro and then a bus but it was all pretty straight forward. Annoyingly when you added together 4 lots of fares, we probably could have just gotten a taxi as actually, distance wise, it isn't very far.
Our studio apartment had a fair bit of space - a nice big table which has been nice and is really light. The kitchen wasn't quite as equipped as
I had been hoping for - our sink/hob combo was particularly interesting. It was actually quite difficult to cook if you wanted to use more than one hob without burning yourself, especially with no worktop space on either side. So, lots of cooking came off the cards pretty quickly. The other rubbish thing about the apartment was the teeensy sofa bed. It is so small and has a kind of step in the middle - the silly thing is that there's actually plenty of space for a double-bed in there. I'd seen people mention it on the airbnb reviews but I thought they were being fussy and we were much hardier travellers so it wouldn't bother us. I was wrong. After one night we were dreading 3 weeks of aches and pains and that is pretty much what we got. I often used to sleep half way down the bed with my legs, knees downwards, hanging off!
But the location of the apartment made up for it - having since wandered all over Montreal, this is still my favourite area. Lovely houses, parks, people, shops, food - with a really relaxed vibe. We're really close the university here so that helps with the laid backness and also helps have places with good prices. I know the street by us can get quite loud and busy at weekend nights but we're usually home hours before the raucousness begins.
Just up the road is a large park with a massive hill in the middle of it known as mont-royale - which is a great reference point as you're walking about. A few streets down from us is a massive hill which you cannot avoid if you're coming up to the plateau from anywhere near the river. It's a steep hill old hill and it is Mark's nemesis. Some of the the slopes on the side streets are like an amusement park ride. Good exercise to work off all the cheese!
First night big city
We had so much nearby and a nice, friendly bar where Mark could play pool (on his own, or with some poor sucker he stalked in the bar) is Bar Boeufstek. Decent prices and nice hangout but their wine was often on the near side of off.
Another place just round the corner from us was the Go Go Lounge - an amazingly dec'd out bar with glam girls in silver, glittery catsuits (in other cities you could easily expect them to have been stand offish but they were sweethearts). The music was 90s and so I was in my element while Mark was scornful.
Afterwards (we needed a few drinks to pluck up the courage), we went for our first poutine. Poutine is a Canadian creation and favourite. It is basically chips (or fries for non brits) with cheese curd and gravy. It sounds horrid but actually it's really nice and the perfect post drink feed.
The guy in the shop was lovely and let us photograph our first pouring of poutine gravy for posterity (we had a slice of pizza as a backup in case we thought it was foul!).
Walking down our main street (Boulevard Saint Laurent) into town offered up a mixed bunch of places. We'd start with the nearby trendy vicinity, lot of of street art, cool shops, restaurants etc.
Then you'd get into a interesting bit in the middle which had a tyre shop, some odd shops selling novelties and souvenirs, a fabulous second hand shop.
Then you'd get to the huge country and western clothing shop and the army surplus stores, then onto the corner of st catherines, one of the main streets - which will take you to the gay village if you go left, with arts and shopping to the right.
Then past the sex shows, the national theatre school (within yards of each other - this is why I love Montreal!) and onto China town.
Our absolute favourite restaurant is here - we ended up going once a week and would have gone more if it hadn't been a bit of a trek. There's lots of so called vietnamese in Montreal but when you looked at the menus these so often just mixed up Vietname, Chinese and Thai which was a bit odd. This place was bang on and a bargain to boot. Not fancy, but cosy and quick. The news is always on the TV and I think Celione Dion was on the new everytime we went in for whatever reason. The first time they also were playing the Howard's Way theme tune in the background. Love this place!
Past chinatown and off to the right a bit, you've got the Palais des Congres. A big 60s building which they've done a nice job of prettying up with some amazing coloured windows. They also have some fuschia tree trunks in there for some reason. Worth a quick detour for.
Then heading towards the river and you get to Old Montreal - the biggest tourist destination. Old buildings and cobbled streets. It's nice but we didn't spend much time there - I found the streets up where we were staying way more interesting. After a quick wander around, unless you wanted to shop or eat at an expensive restaurant, there wasn't much to do. There was a lot of champagne about though, I just closed my eyes and walked by! It is very lovely, but as Mark said, it's a bit like walking around Covent Garden - it doesn't really have it's own soul, it's for visitors is over busy and over-priced. Though neither business or prices were anywhere close to London.
I think Mark fitted in well though....
Just for Laughs
By pure chance we were there during the worlds most famous comedy festival just for laughs. We couldn't miss the opportunity to book a show and we also found a lot of free things were on wondering around the streets.
They had a great art competition with some weird and wonderful works.
We'd left it late in the day to book and didn't want to spend a packet, so although I would have liked a show with a mixture of comedians from all nations, we were a bit wary that if we went to a mainly American/Canadian show it would go too much over our heads - particularly as we'd been a bit out of the loop for a while. So, we booked to see a Best of British show which had some comedians we knew (and some we'd even seen at the Brighton comedy festival) and was hosted by the very not British but very much loved and honorarily British Rich Hall. The place it was in had no specified seating but was setup around a small stage with tables and chairs. A really cosy feel and really reminded me of Brighton. The show was utterly brilliant and with an early start of 7pm (oh and they start things right on time there) - we were out plenty early for a bite to eat.
When we left there was tons of stuff going on around the main place d'es arts where they have stages etc setup. Particularly brilliant was a huge inflatable bottle setup with people kind of half dancing/half acting inside. Really reminded me of the kind of thing you'd see in Amsterdam or Copenhagen - very European.
One of the simplest and silliest thing we saw over the last few days of the festival that we were around for, was a guy with an open parachute on his back with world war 2 flying hat, just wandering around the streets looking confusedly at a map. So stupid but was funny everytime.
The gay village (gai village - it's properly called that!), like many things was walking distance from us (or walking distance for people that like a bit of a walk - Mark moaned much of the way). You know you're getting close as you start to see retro furniture stores popping up and then you really know you've arrived when you look up to see strings of pink baubles covering the long area of St Catherine street that consists of the gay village. It's bloody fabulous quite frankly. Puts the rather bland San Francisco Castro to shame I think. It's a great people watching area and great for eating and drinking. The prices are better than in the centre of town too. We grew particularly fond of a place with umpteen floors but still a cosy feel which seemed to be decked out with too themes - a pharmacy and a circus. It had all kinds of grand things about the place - quite an eclectic mix.
Even the metro station is cool:
The first time we went we planned to go to the fireworks competition afterwards. This is something that goes on in summer and on something like 6/7 nights mostly Wednesdays and Thursdays in June/July, different groups compete with their themed fireworks displays. You can pay a fortune to go into the La Ronde amusement park to watch in a seated area where they place the accompanying music, or you can go to somewhere in Montreal to get a good view - particularly on or around the big Jacque-Cartier bridge is popular. It doesn't start until about 9pm and on our first attempt out we couldn't find the enthusiasm to hang around all afternoon/evening but we went back again and although we couldn't work out how to get up onto the bridge, enjoyed the show from just underneath it.
It was, without doubt, the best fireworks display I have ever seen. Really amazing. I ADORE fireworks and I was completely buzzing with the amazingness. There was music which accompanied the show and some people had radios so they could listen along. We could here these faintly in the background and were pretty pleased that we couldn't here them any louder. Bit cheesey - some Beatles and even ending on the Final Countdown. Was an amazing night though and the amount of people sat/stood around the streets for the free show, gave the whole thing a real festival/shared experience feel.
Food is a big thing in Montreal and is definitely one of my favourite things about the place. I was fancying to get a good brunch somewhere. There were some ok places round by us, but after a bit of research I decided a nice walk would do us good so we had a nice, sunny half hour walk (no of COURSE Mark wasn't moaning) at which in the end was rewarded by the best brunch ever. The place is a low key restaurant called Le Toasteur. Mainly french speaking, I'm not sure if they had english menus, but if there's one thing I know in French, it's my food. Though I did have to later look up petoncles which I saw on their lunch menus - scallops apparently! Anyhow, we both had the Spécial Toasteur. This was a little bit of everything - eggs as you like, sausage, potatoes chunks, crepe, french toast, fruit and beans and toast too. The portions weren't insane but there was a lot of elements and each of them was sublime quality. The french toast nearly made me faint and I normally never order it as find it too sickly sweet. I didn't eat the home-made baked beans which I think saved me as they took Mark just over the edge of full The biggest revelation was the amazing maple syrup. I now see that there is maple syrup and there is MAPLE SYRUP. My god, it was gorgeous.
We followed up our big feed with another long walk, designed to walk it off, further north in the city to the famous Jean Talon market. This is a produce market famous for it's fruit and veg. The idea was to pick up some veg for tea but by the time we got there we were still so full we couldn't bare the thought of ever eating again. It was an incredible market though. I've never known such strong smells and colours from fruit and vegetables that I'm not even close to. And the the heavens opened and we declared our venture north a bit of a disaster and we got the slow and clunky metro back home.
Jean Drapeau parc
This park is on 2 islands which were basically created for the Expo 1967 World Fair. What is fantastic about it for a retro geek like me, is it still has things from the expo on site and more important, well looked after. The Biosphere is probably my favourite and a delight on the blue-sky day on which we visited the park.
There are various sculptures sprinkled about the place but it was a bit confused when we were there as the weekend before they'd had a 3 day music festival - Osheaga (which we were a bit gutted we couldn't get tickets for) and there was still fences and tents sprinkled around they were still clearing up.
The other amazing site is now the casino, on the second island. The casino, as casinos often are, is a little sad and depressing inside (a beacon for odd folk), but the building is stunning and thanks to the casino is beautifully maintained.
After enjoying the park and a bit of a sunbathe, Mark... wait for it... came up with the idea of walking back over the mammoth Jacque-Cartier bridge which took you back over the mainland. It was quite a hike but definitely worth it. The most amazing views.
It was very peculiar though because you can't get off it until the very end and it goes way over much of the city so we found ourselves far from where we'd intended to go next.
At one point I was trying to suss out whereabouts we were by trying to match my map with the street I could see below to find the gay village as a landmark, when Mark pointed out that it was rather obvious where the gay village was. The sea of pink baubles looks simply spectacular from the bridge!
Another day another brunch
Well you have to, don't you. Another excuse to explore the neighbourhood a little further afield and north of Mont Royale park, was Eggspectation.
Great name and a great menu. It's actually a chain and has a few places across Canada and the US but it really delivers.
I had their Russian Rhapsody which was - poached eggs with a pancetta, vodka and pepper sauce over english muffins with lyonaise potatoes on the side. It was actually a fair bit lighter than the heavier one Mark went for with salmon, asparagus, spinach etc, still, we had at this point found we could only have one proper meal a day as it was all rather filling.
Something I'd heard is great for backpackers in cities is that they often have times where they let people in for free. The Contemporary art museum
in Montreal does on a Wednesday between 5 and 9pm and it was well worth the visit. There was, as with most art galleries and especially contemporary art, a whole lot of stuff that didn't interest, but then there was a lot that did. They had a great screening room downstairs showing music videos by the likes of Arcade Fire and Grimes - around the theme of movement.
There was also some great sculptures and interesting ideas, including a replica room of the office of Uri Gegarin, reproduced from a photograph and then photographed itself, a tap with running water that was on fire and a skip with an inside like a swimming pool.
Some nights in the neighbourhood
After abandoning our first stop at a nice bar on Rue Duluth which had on an interesting, yet slightly wailey female modern jazz singer we decided to just grab some food, go home and watch a bit of downloaded Miss Marple. But something stopped us. We walked past a place round the corner from us that we'd walked past a ton of times before, but never noticed and saw they were doing karaoke. I don't know why this was a draw - neither of us do karaoke (apart from an ill fated night many years ago in Blackpool which involved singing Love Shack and resulted in us both getting bad tattoos in the parlour next door). It was probably the disco ball. There's disco balls all over Montreal and I'm like a moth to a flame. This place just had a couple of groups of friends going up and having a laugh - a really friendly atmosphere. Not the kind of karaoke where the wannabees come every night to try to be noticed - just people being un-afraid to be bad. Mark for some reason got brave and did a song. Oh and then the showbiz bug must have bitten because then he went up again, and again. Bare footed - what was that about??!! He thought he was Sandi Shaw or some indie rocker - who knows. He wasn't the worst it has to be said. We'd both forgotten until the morning after that he'd done a Chas n Dave number - that must have gone way over the heads of the 20 something quebecian crowd! It was an unexpectedly fun night though. I didn't go up of course. No amount of red wine was gonna get me up there, but I had a good old sing song at the table (it was a big place, there was plenty of space around me, not to alarm people!) There was a lot of Cliff Richard in the karaoke book rather worryingly.
The day after the karaoke and Mark in particular was feeling rather delicate, but after a day stuck in the apartment working, I felt we may as well bite the bullet and continue with my original plan to hit a few bars up on Monte Royale road. We took a convoluted route to get there which wasn't ideal and the first pub suggested wasn't worth the extra walk - La Verre Bouteille has pictures of the bar that has been around there for years but on the inside they'd ripped it all out and apart from some brickwork was pretty bland and dull.
So we then headed to the Candi Bar - which is a sister to the GoGo bar with the amazing deco, down the road from us.
As the name suggests this is a candy themed bar and the deco was definitely up to scratch. I had a slushie cocktail which was super sweet and icy (I had major brain freeze), chosen from a big lollipop menu and had gummy worms hanging in it. The place was empty when we first go there which meant we cold unashamedly play with the 'legs' bar stools and take pictures in the cool bathrooms. I knew we'd just have the one drink to check it out, but it was worth the trip for that amazing decor. The mens toilets have lips urinals - which actually they have in a bar in Kemptown in Brighton but they'd added the little faces tiling here which was cute. Oddest thing about the ladies bathroom was the cubicle with two toilets facing each other. I guess for girls who want to chat!?
After dropping in on a couple of bars along St Denis we headed for the famous La Banquise - known for it's incredible selection of poutine.
This time we were going to take it to the next level with a topping. Mark went for Le Elvis, involving ground beef and I had a topping with hot dogs, onion, mushroom. Despite having had poutine the week before and liked it, I still struggled with the idea of it but this was bloody lovely. The place is really good too. They've got their act together. You're in, you order, you get water, you pay, you get your food, you're out. But it doesn't feel rushed and the places has a quirky and homely feel.
Montreal doesn't let you down in the street art department. There are works everywhere and it creates such a colourful, cheerful environment. Generally very different to the types of work you'd see in Melbourne, which is more graffiti style, which is more my cup of tea - but the works here are on a grand scale and work really well with the much older architecture.
We took the days fairly easy, doing lots of work in between walking around various areas of Montreal. I liked to go different routes whenever we went anywhere as I could never get sick of the architecture which is kind of distinctly Montrealen yet also often very different from street to street and even house to house. Mark got beyond bored of me stopping and taking photos of what he thought were not nondescript buildings but I found the place fascinating and almost wanted to catalog the differences to a certain extent.
The iconic spiral stairs
The last part of Expo 67 I wanted to see was Habitat 67. This is out on another man made island and I was going to take a trip over there but then I heard you can't really walk around it anyway so I made do with the view of it from the Old Port area. This places is a design marvel. A housing estate design which is still going strong and is lived in. Mark thinks it's an ugly mess but I could look at it forever and would love to live in it.
Smoked meat sandwiches are big here. I had a sandwich in a diner up the road and it was lovely - just in rye bread, a little mustard and pickles on the side - but the thickness of the meat is really just crazy.
There is a place up the road from us which I kept wanting to go to as it's supposed to be amazing but no matter the time or day the queues were always large.
What they did on a few places near by us, what asian restaurants, when it came to the evening, put up a table in there doorway and sold cheap basic sets - like chow mein, gyoza/spring rolls, tempura etc. Bargain prices and good food. We found ourselves partaking of this a little too often, as we realised when the couple from the Japanese round the corner and the chinese down the road started greeting us enthusiastically whenever we went by.
Frite Alors - there's a couple of these about town, based on the simple concept of chips (fries) with sauce, normally mayonnaise based, as is big in Belgium and lots of Europe. I liked this place it was simple food wise - they didn't try to do lots of crazy thing. Though Mark did get the picalilli dip which the waitress had warned him didn't really work as a dip. I had a burger with brie and apple - you wouldn't think that would work but it does. And of course, the name is just cute.
Burmese - Ruby Burma. Despite being not all that far from the Burmese border when we were in Chiang Mai and the city having Burmese food available, we never got around to partaking. So, we decided to try the Burmese restaurant near us which always smelt so lovely.
It was really interesting and kind of what I'd expect. I had a pad thai like dish but then it had extra flavours on top - kind of more dry, smokey flavours. It really was kind of what you'd expect of a nation sat between Thailand, China and India.
Vietnamese - I was so excited to get vietnamese for the first time since Thailand and we found the most amazing place in China Town - Pho Cali. It was a bit of a trek for us to walk down here, but we did it a fair few times during our stay as it was amazing and a bargain too. Too many of the places advertising Vietnamese had weird mixtures of Vietnamese/Thai/Japanese/Chinese - but this was the real deal and their Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) was to die for.
I generally liked all the food in Montreal - but teenager in a bun didn't sound tempting:
For a bargain go to Casablanca on boulevard st laurence, somewhere near Duluth. Pool table, juke box. Think it's russian runs, but you couldn't get cheaper and it's quite cool and kitschy with lai's hanging about the place. It also has good people watching if you sit out by the street.
Wine same price as beer
Unusual with amazing beer = Billy Kun
This is a big, trendy but friendly bar which has mounted ostrich heads up all over the walls. Their home beer is amazing. Prices aren't bad for the style of place and are good at happy hour.
Style - as mentioned above, Candi bar and GoGo are amazingly decorated. You don't want to hang around all night but they're fun for a couple of drinks and they are friendlier than you might think.
I've heard people talk about offishness in Montreal but we haven't experienced this at all. The only time we had this which was really odd was at the blues bar on St Denis. We literally stood at the bar being ignored. So we walked out in the end. Most odd.
For a retro and oddity lover there are some greeeeat shops in Montreal. Vintage and kitsch shops aplenty on Boulevard St Laurence - between Monte Royale and Avenue de Pins.
My favourite was actually kind of a junk shop, but an organised one. Brimmed full of strange things, but had grouped things together so it wasn't a complete mess to try to sort through. I think it described itself as a shop for collectors. You could spend hours and many dollars in this place. They had quite a bit of nazi memorabilia which you don't see often and is quite interesting. God knows where he got it from. Hair irons, ancient photos. Not being able to really buy anything due to not being able to carry much, I settled on some old postcards from the Expo 67. I would have loved to have lived nearby to a shop like this - a real treasure trove.
There was also a big, weird and wonderful second hand shop on St Laurent, just down the hill from Sherbrooke. If I had the room in my luggage and a home to go back to, I could have picked up some great bits. The clothes are great too, but knowing we needed warm clothes for returning home, we couldn't face buying jumpers when it was so hot.
There are so many parks in Montreal of all shapes and sizes. You can't walk for 10 minutes in any direction without coming across one. They are used for relaxation, fitness, get togethers - real little hubs and it really helps makes the city what it is.
I'd wanted to go look for the white squirrels in Toronto but we'd never had the chance so was delighted to come across this little fella, though not a white squirrel, but kind of a beige one - in La Fountaine park.
Montreal Notes and tips:
Montreal is cheaper than Toronto by far - food, drink. It can actually be very cheap if you find the right places to go.
I've no idea why but we had a real nightmare with getting money out of ATMs. We ended up having to go all over the place to get money and could never count on ATMs working, which is annoying as a lot of places are cash only and so have ATMs inside. We did find in one shop that it only accepted our debit card if we said it was a credit card, although other shops accepted it as debit. But then we tried that in certain ATMs and it still didn't work. It was a right pain and so we always tried to make sure we carried plenty of cash from the machines we knew that worked for us.
It's a bit odd here - you can buy some booze in the supermarket which you couldn't in Toronto, but not much.
They have big fancy bottle shops, SAQs I think they are called, but they don't open that late and aren't great for beer. Fantastic for wine though - everything you could imagine, reasonable prices and some good deals. On every other street corner then, they have little shops which open later which sell predominantly beer and wine. The wine is rubbish and is Argentinian/Chilean - why not french is strange.
Bring your own bottle is absolutely massive here and I think adds to keeping the cost of living down and the enjoyment of life up. It's really strange seeing people walking about the streets with bottles of wine in their hands all the time. If that was at home they'd probably be heading down a park to neck it back with some alco pops. You get a lot of drinking on the streets and especially the parks too - in a nice, chilled out way.
This is one of the roads that runs down through Montreal. If all else fails when you're looking to eat head here - wherever you are on this road you'll find something. It's also got some nice shopping, up past Avenue des Pins and the food gets better the higher you go up towards Mont Royale.
This perplexed me. I get that Quebec is french speaking but it is in Canada which is partly english speaking and pretty much everyone in Montreal does speak english and more importantly - it's a tourist city - so why do they have no signs/notifications in english. It seems a bit like they are doing it to make a point. It didn't matter for us - we're from the UK so have good basics in French (which I think most English get whether they mean to or not having such close proximity to France). We can read menus, signs, and get the gist of most bits of writing, but lots of people can't and it's a bit odd to have no signs on the streets and in particular in places like the train station in another language. It doesn't even have to be english - but it seems a bit obstinate to only have things in French. They don't in France. They don't in most other countries not add at least one other language to the national one.
Saying that - Montreal isn't great with signs in general. You can walk around in the vicinity of the Central station without even so much of a sniff that one's about or where it may be. The signs in the metro are pretty limited as well. It's just puzzling - you have lots of tourists - help them! I personally loved all the French - was happy when it was a french only menu and so on as I'm so rusty it got my little grey cells working as Hercule Poirot (in Belgian of course) would say. If you try your french out on anyone, the second they realise it's not your first language they speak ot you in english anyhow, so it's not like anyone is trying to get people to even try to speak french bizarrely. Très bizarre!
We will remember it as the city of sirens. There were forever sirens blaring out - so often in a fairly quiet, uneventful city, we were a bit perplexed. They are un-necessarily loud, especially at night with little traffic. Some of them sound like a 1920s siren and others simply as if they are notifying us of world war 3.
More than once we watched cars parking and bumping into the one behind. Not unusual for a city, but these were in places that had decent size spaces and this was with both cars being quite fancy - not old bangers where a dent won't matter. We watched one guy, from our window, reversing into a car behind - slowly but nudging it so it bounced around - but there was no cars at all in front of him- what the ?!??!
Culture and art
This is taken seriously in Montreal and it's really impressive. They have a whole area called the Quartier Spectacles that is setup to host events all the time. Two large open spaces have permanent huge white light systems setup. The centre of the area is the place' des arts and around is various museums, theatres. So whenever something is going on, it takes over the whole environment.
We never got around to giving these ago, mainly because I liked to walk everywhere, but they had stations everywhere and it would save time if you didn't want to savour the journey as much as a walk, but still be in the fresh air. I know they have them in London - but I'd never dice with death and try them there, but this is a very cylist friendly city. It's not heavy with traffic and especially you can cycle/walk around the side streets and barely see a car, so it would be a safe and pleasant way to get about.
For some reason, the sides of buildings which were being prepped or whatever for constructions had this amazing mustard colour - not sure if it was painted that colour for some reason or it was some kind of treatment that happened to be that colour - but it's now synonymous with Montreal for me.
There are pianos dotted about the Plateau/Monte-Royale area for whoever fancies it to have a play. They move locations from time to time - god knows how - I like to think the piano fairies come around at night. There are some great players and some not great players - but it's a nice idea and nice for anyone who needs to practice and doesn't have their own too! Some of them are interesting decor - a bit of gilt and pink.
We watched one young guy who was doing a 10 hour playing marathon - he was on his 8th hour and was super talented, even with tired hands.
I can't even speak English, as I'm sure bi-lingualness isn't a word, but anyhow it was so surprising that people would slip from French to speaking English with no trace of an accent. It was kind of weird - you couldn't often tell who was french-canadian because of this - everyone - in cafes, checkouts and even the homeless, switch seemlessly. I've even heard people having conversations mixing the 2.
A fantastic lifestyle city - there's a lot of creativity and people seem to take their down time seriously. I obviously have only seen the milder weather but by the looks of it, then have things sussed for winter, with an entire underground network so workers, shoppers and students can get about if it's freezing/slippery up top.
I think this bar sign sums up Montreal - all you'd need to add on the end is 'la nourriture'.