It’s good to have a home away from home and I can’t quite put a finger on the moment I fell in love with this city, but Montreal has become one of my favorite places in the world.
Are there more exotic places? Yes. More impressive sights? Yes. Still Montreal, that little city up north with its European flavor and sprinkling of Parisian culture has for the past 6 years, offered me a welcome escape from my everyday life in NYC .
My first trip to Montreal was actually quite accidental, well not accidental, more like unplanned. With a 4-day weekend and nothing to do, my then boyfriend, now hubby and I, were looking for a quick road trip. Somewhere close, but not too close. And then I realized that all this time, we had never made it to our friends up north. A quite painless 6 hour drive and we would cross the border into a completely new country. Heck, I was a broke law student at the time and if I could count a 6 hour drive as my international travel of the year, that was gonna be great. Little did I know how much I would fall in love with the city or that I would return every single summer thereafter.
When I think Montreal, I think of the French radio stations that start to play as you approach the border, I think of the short rain fall that always finds it way when we get to Pont Champlain (the Champlain bridge). It’s the perfectly chic but not pretentious strolls and window shopping along Rue St Denis or the laid back, down to earth goodness of local farmers offering the sweetest, freshest fruit that you get to sample as you walk from stall to stall in the Jean Talon market. It’s cheating–getting French style pastries even though you’re miles away from France. It’s bilingual signs and the double greeting you get at most establishments – “Bonjour-Hello”, kindly granting you permission to pick your language of choice. It might not be said often but I can assure you, Montrealers (ain’t that a mouthful) are some awfully nice people.
I love the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary and how it plays in everything – from architecture to food and fashion. As a new Yorker who enjoys cultural diversity, I love that I can find the same. From authentic Portuguese restaurants (Romados is a must) to a just-the-right-size to eat your way around Chinatown. We actually love staying next to Chinatown because you can quite literally survive on $20 a week.
But my favorite time to be in Montreal, has to be end of June to early July, when my favorite events almost collide. The annual International Jazz festival is when the city becomes so alive and energetic; you can feel it as you walk around. The world descends on this little city, but it never feels riotous or overly crowded, it’s just a fun party that you want to attend. It’s the fun party where there are just the right number of people and also the right crowd–there’s little I’ve seen in terms of bad behavior, just great energy. And when the Jazz festival finally winds down, after ten days of block after block of music in the air and all the food and performances, just as you think you can’t take any more fun, the Juste Pour Rire (Just for laughs) comedy festival starts up.
Each year we have to pick one or the other, and it would be nice to go and stay for 3 weeks to enjoy all of both.
I can’t say enough about this little city–about how every brunch in Montreal seems to be the best brunch ever or how you should at least once get in a sauté moutons and get completely drenched by St Laurent river or how you should grab your bike and join the crowds for the Night tour through the city. There’s so much to say and so much to do, you can go fast or you can take it slow.
It’s easy to fall for the glitz or glamour of some other cities, but there’s only one place I want to return to, year after year, after year. Go see Montreal–I think you’d be pleasantly surprised by what you’d find.