I'm not going to lie, I was not entirely sure how much I would enjoy Montreal. I knew we would find lots of interesting things to see and that there would be wonderful food to try, but I wasn't sure if it would be a city that would really differentiate itself from other big cities we had been to like Chicago and New York. Well, I was very pleasantly surprised at how much we fell in love with the city. Courtney and I stayed in the Gay Village of Montreal, just a few minutes from Old Montreal and Downtown Montreal. Gay Village is what you would expect, gay friendly and very welcoming to all. It was such an eclectic and interesting neighborhood. We were close to the iconic Rue St. Catherine. The street runs along most of the eastern part of the island. The closer you get to Old Montreal, the more boutique shops and bistros you'll see. I would recommend walking the street just for the people watching. Let's see what Montreal had to offer us.
Walking the streets in Montreal reminded me a lot of Boston. Montreal is obviously a very old one, and I mean that in the best possible way, of course. There's a charm that comes with a long and rich history like this city has. It's something that can't be replicated by putting up modern condos or trendy planned communities. Part of the trip that was especially charming and made us feel a little like we were really immersed in the local French influenced culture was at a restaurant we ate at called Au Petit Extra. We weren't sure what to expect since the menu was entirely in French and the waiters were primarily French speakers. Being that Courtney and I know exactly ZERO French (well maybe some basic words), it's understandable why we were a little uneasy. It turned out to be one of the best dining experiences we've had. It was a very romantic setting, I mean in the sense that it seemed to be taken out of a novel. It was raining heavily and we enjoyed our meal at a very relaxed pace, enjoying coffee and dessert after while the sun set. We had an excellent and very friendly waiter who even lend us his umbrella to use to walk home that evening. It was a place that was obviously not frequented by too many tourists, which added to its appeal. It was one of those experiences where you're with a person you love and you end up talking for hours about nothing important, it's something that can't be replicated. Probably my favorite evening of the trip.
And speaking of food, we started our trip off by eating at PoutineVille. This was the first time I had tried poutine and it did not disappoint. I went with the Montrealer, which consisted of minced meat, mushrooms, cheese curds and gravy over fries. This has to be the perfect cure for a hangover. It was heavy, but delicious. We definitely felt the need to walk around after dinner. Luckily, Montreal is a very walkable city. The subway system is easy to learn (even if you don't speak french) and there are numerous connections to buses at each stop. One area where you can spend at least an hour walking around is The Montreal Botanical Garden. It's one of the larger botanical gardens I have ever been to. It sits near the Olympic Park complex, which also houses the Montreal Bio-dome and Planetarium.
Montreal is truly a green city. Never having been before I can't really comment on how the month of May typically is, but the city was lush. As you can see from the shots above, the botanical garden was amazingly beautiful. But it wasn't just well kept areas, the vines and trees throughout the neighborhoods were fully alive, providing natural shade for pedestrians walking about the streets. One of the other neighborhoods we visited was Plateau Mont-Royal. I'm not sure, but I got the impression that this was the 'hip' part of the city. Again, I couldn't really tell because there were so many eclectic areas of the city, but a google search of "hipster neighborhoods in Montreal" returns plenty of hits on Plateau Mont-Royal, so maybe my hipster sense was on point. It was another green neighborhood with colorful apartments and lofts. One of the highlights here was getting macaroons at Point G. We ordered 16 different macaroons. We liked every one of them. That's all you really can say. Delicious.
The two stops of the subway system that provided lots of interesting sights was Place d'Armes and Place des Arts. Place des Arts is the stop you want to take if you want to check out the contemporary art museum and opera house. One of my favorite places that we visited off of the Place d'Armes station was the Palais des congres de Montreal. This serves as Montreal's primary convention center. It's iconic colored panels make it stick out from the street. Light shining through during the late afternoon hours create a kaleidoscope of color on the ground. I briefly mentioned Parc Jean-Drapeau, and I want to highlight a little more of it. It's a tiny island east of the city that is easy accessible by the subway or car. There's a theme park, the Montreal Biosphere and it provides wonderful views of the Montreal Skyline.
We stayed five nights in Montreal. It proved to be the perfect amount of time to be there. Not once did we feel rushed or in a hurry to see anything. I think that's how most vacations should be. I know it's hard not to get swept up in the feeling of needing to see every landmark and visit every notable restaurant, but sometimes you need to just enjoy your vacation. I'd like for more of our trips in the future to feel that way. I said this in my last blog post, but I'm not sure when we'll be back to visit. I hope we visit again in the future because we really enjoyed ourselves and the city. There's a lot to see and do in Montreal and the French influence on the culture really makes this one of the most unique cities in North America. More shots of our trip below.