Day #11,160: Montreal has been on My List for years… and rather than the 6-hr flight it would’ve cost me from the west coast, it’s only a quick one hour trip from New York. BOOM! Weekend trip, sucka. Mr. M & I landed in Montreal, picked up our rental car, and were in the city by noon.
Breakfast is indubitably the most important meal of the day, and as luck would have it, Montreal- like New York- is known for its bagels. We stopped in at St-Viateur, one of the famous bagel houses in the city.
The Verdict? Ummm… a little sweeter than your average NYC bagel (is that honey I taste?), but kinda, almost… stale-tasting. Please don’t send threats on my life, Montrealers… if it makes you feel any better, New York pizza is also grossly overhyped. I think Canadian bagels are just a bit chewier than the ones we’re used to? Mr. M was not quite as forgiving and deemed the Montreal Bagel a one-time event. Something about fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice… fuhgeddaboudit.
We were both excited to check out Parc du Mont-Royal, Montreal’s answer to Central Park- and notably, designed by one Frederick Law Olmsted, the very same landscape architect and something of a personal celebrity. (See my little literary footnote at the end of the post.) I once met a landscape architect at a dinner party and almost changed my profession that very night… doesn’t it sound fascinating to design outdoor spaces? Plus, there’s something satisfyingly substantial about getting to call yourself a Landscape Architect. But I digress…
Olmsted did a parktastic job landscaping the heck out of Mont-Royal; there are beautiful trails running throughout, and it’s easy to navigate a scenic loop around the hill.
The park (or ‘parc,’ I should say, in nasal French) is located atop the Mont-Royal looking down on the city, and the best view is supposedly gained from the Kondiaronk Lookout pictured above- although if we can be real, the view was just so-so (probably prettier at night?)… I say simply enjoy the park for being a parc and leave it at that.
When it was afternoon-ish enough to check into our digs, we headed down to the old town neighborhood, Vieux-Montreal.
The LHotel somehow manages to straddle that very thin line between absurdly hip & surprisingly cozy. Apparently- as one really (really) friendly hotel staff member informed us- the LHotel houses the largest private modern art collection in Eastern Canada and is owned by Marciano of Guess by Marciano fame. And here I was just going for a good bargain of a room!
Although we were tempted to kick it in the hotel amidst the Lichtensteins and Warhols, Mr. M & I decided instead to take a stroll through Vieux-Montreal, the cobblestoned, I-could-kinda-almost-sorta-be-in-Paris-if-I-squint-real-hard part of town.
One of our favorite, hidden finds ended up being pointed out to us by a super friendly local. (Americans, can we dispense with the jokes and all just agree that we not-so-secretly love Canadians? Like a 4th grader pulling his crush’s braid to get her attention, immature America only teases out of befuddled admiration. Canadians Rule.)
When this particular kindly Canadienne saw us pondering over a map, she walked over, asked if we needed any help, suggested that we head inside the National Bank for a look at the stunning interior, and then led us over to it. Are you listening, New Yorkers? It’s pronounced ‘friend-lee.’
It may have been the frosty weekend we picked for a visit (“Montreal: When New York Just Isn’t Cold Enough”), but the old town was a bit austere and… well… cold.
We much preferred the college neighborhood around Boulevard Saint-Laurent lined with bike rental docks, coffee shops dishing out almond milk lattes (sold!), and little bookstores. But as a once-San-Franciscan, I do admit this might be a matter of personal taste.
Back in our warm le hotel after a chilly afternoon of Vieux-Montreal wandering, we decided to take in the weather-defying Brazilian band playing in our lobby and try out some of the ice wine for which Montreal is famous.
Like any city, Montreal had its hits and misses. (I’m looking at you, Bagel.) But maybe most of the misses came in expecting the city to live up to something- or someplace- it’s not.
You can’t expect the Parc Mont-Royal to be Central Park… or Vieux-Montreal to be Paris… or Montreal to be anything other than friendly, freezing, slightly French… Montreal!
Still, though… there’s no excuse for that bagel.
To explore my next day’s adventure in Quebec City, dipping into Canada’s most infamous dish, click here!
Details of the Day:
Accommodation: The LHotel (262 Rue Saint-Jacques) is, without reservation, the place to be. It honestly felt like staying in a modern art museum (yes, yes, I know I don’t do modern art, but it is admittedly cool to sleep in a room with authentic Art Schtuff on the wall… even if I didn’t necessarily ‘get’ it). If you’re a real art aficionado, there are different artist-themed suites (Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, and many others I’m not hip enough to know by name), so call ahead and book your favorite! It was also really reasonably priced, which is why I booked it in the first place.
Olive + Gourmando: (351 Rue St. Paul Ouest) Towards the end of our Vieux-Montreal meander, Mr. M & I both realized that our tummies were a-grumblin’ and stopped in Olive + Gourmando, a rustically hip café with some of the best looking pastries I’d seen in a long time. Brunch apparently has quite a wait, but stop by at an off-hour, and you won’t be disappointed.
Admittedly Random and Only Tenuously Tied to Montreal: If you’d like to read more about everyone’s favorite landscape architect, Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted, check out the book “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson.
The non-fiction book tells the surprisingly fascinating tale of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (and a serial killer in its midst), and Olmsted was in charge of… you guessed it… landscaping the event. I was shocked to find that I was just as riveted by the landscape architecture challenges as by the serial killing. Huh.