I grabbed a 9am flight out of Vancouver to cross the country and visit my friend Olivia in Montreal. The flight arrived early evening and by the time I met Liv at the bus station it was close to 7pm. We chatter boxed, made some dinner and then headed out to a nearby pub called Randalphs, where we met up with Liv’s housemate Spencer and some other people. Randalphs is an interesting place, you go there to play board games. The walls are lined with shelves covered in all manner of board games, we played something kind of like Chinese whispers, but you had to draw a picture to describe what someone wrote, the next person guesses what the picture is and writes it down, then the next person draws it and so on. In a group of nine people it was pretty funny to see what people started with and how those things ended up being interpreted.
After a few round the whole group headed back to Liv’s place to play a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. That was pretty hilarious! A black cad would have a sentence or phrase on it, but be missing a piece. Each player then has to look at the white cards in their hands and select one to complete the black card’s phrase. The person who turned over the black card then had to select which one of the cards was the best fit.
By the time everyone left and Liv and I stopped chatting it was 1am!!
I got up in the morning and layered up appropriately – thermal under layer, thermal mid layer, polar fleece, down jacket, stockings, ski socks, jeans, neck warmer, scarf, beanie and mittens – then headed outdoors to start exploring. Liv lives in the village and from her place we walked a few blocks before heading below street level to the underground city. The underground city is a network of shopping malls below street level. Because Montreal is such a cold place, there are underground malls designed for keeping people out of the cold. This is exactly why we went down there, not to shop, but to thaw out a bit.
Once we had warmed up a bit, we headed back outdoors, where we stopped at Victoria square, here they have a metro station which has signage that looks identical to the metro signage in paris. The signage was actually a gift from Paris to the city of Montreal. From Victoria Square we wandered into the Old Port, which used to be the original town centre. There are loads of beautiful old buildings in that area, it has a very European feel. From there we walked along the frozen river before making another stop to warm up, in Bonsecoures Market, where there were many boutique stores, many of which contained the work of local artisans.
Soon enough we were getting a bit peckish, so we stopped for lunch at Montreal Poutine to have some local beers and share a serve of smoked meat Poutine. Poutine is québécois dish, junk food – fries, cheese curds and gravy. We ordered one with smoked meat added to it. It looks really disgusting and as though its guaranteed to cause clogged arteries, but it certainly is tasty!!
With full bellies and warm toes, we continued on to Place d’Armes to have a look at Notre Dames cathedral. It is absolutely stunning, both inside and out. Inside was much more colourful than I expected and it really was beautiful.
By the time we finished up at Notre Dames the sun had well and truly set, everything was lit up with gorgeous twinkle lights and it was snowing. It was such a perfect evening. We pranced around in the snow and took loads of photos. Eventually our toes were once again rather chilly, so we headed in to a Chinese Tea House for some tea. It was a really adorable place and had the most amazing assortment of tea sets!
As it got later we headed back towards home. We had planned to cook dinner but every store we tried to go to had shut 5 minutes before we got there! So we gave up on the idea of cooking and went to Pub St-André where we had a beer degustation (I had four blonde beers, Liv had 4 brown beers), BBQ chicken wings and some pizza. It was great!!
Walking the last few blocks home we managed to find a corner store that was open, so we grabbed some beers, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, pop corn and a selection of candy bars (we grabbed each candy bar that we hadn’t tried before eg. Mr Big, Oh Henry, Eat More, Turtles…) Back home we settled in on the couch with beer and junk food to watch some movies, and we cheers’d at midnight. It was a fantastic, low-key way to see in the new year!
After having a late night, we started the day with a bit of a sleep in. Once we were up and about, we rugged up and headed out. We walked up to the plateau, past some super cute houses, painted all sorts of lovely colours and through St Louis Square, down Prince Arthur before ducking in to a Starbucks on Parc to thaw out. We warmed up with a gingerbread latte and a pumpkin spice latte. It’s interesting to see all the ‘Christmas’ flavoured coffees on offer, some are delicious and others less so. I was surprised at how tasty the pumpkin spice latte was!
Once we could feel our fingers and toes, we continued walking up the hill to Parc Mont Royal. Which is a small mountain with a view over the whole city. It was stunning to wander around the snow covered park, but also nice to pop in to the chalet up the top and warm up by the heater with a hot chocolate.
As the day wore on, we headed back down the mountain past beaver lake, down Ramezay Avenue and St-Sulpice to admire the beautiful houses, many of which looked like old English manor houses. By this stage my feet had gone beyond numb to the point of pain, so we hightailed it to the nearest indoor mall. Once my feet were functioning again, we jumped on the metro and headed home to chill out for the afternoon with hot chocolate and blankets to warm up.
Although we were warm and relaxed at home, we rugged up once more and braved the outdoors, to go ice skating down at the old port. There is a large outdoor rink, and also around that the frozen river which you can also skate on. Spencer, Liv’s housemate came with us and aside from the occasional frozen toes or fingers requiring a brief break indoors, we all carved up the ice skating rink and had an absolute blast! There were beautiful twinkle lights everywhere, funky tunes being pumped out and people enjoying the outdoors together.
So perhaps some explanation of just how cold it is may assist in understanding why so many clothing layers and indoor ‘thaw-out’ stops are required. The forecast for the day is -22 degrees celsius, but once you factor in windchill it becomes -39 degrees (a few days later we read in the paper that it was the coldest January 2nd Montreal has had since 1968). So when you step outside you cough as you lungs protest against the icy air, within 30 seconds your nostril hairs freeze (you can feel them move in and out as you breathe) and your eyelashes freeze. So while the layers of clothing are helpful against the cold, it doesn’t protect you completely, so after 30minutes or so outside the cold has seeped through to numb your fingers and toes, and not long after that it goes beyond numb to just pain. So I have to say that I am loving Montreal, I adore the snow and the city is just gorgeous. But sightseeing really does have to happen in short bursts.
So we spent the morning at Liv’s art studio, partly because it is nice and toasty warm and partly because she has to pack up all her stuff in preparation for her move back to Tasmania (she has been living in Montreal for the last 18 months).
Just after midday we braved the cold weather and headed up to the plateau to meet a friend, Mira, for lunch at a retro looking diner that made great burgers. We had a fantastic chatter-box.
After lunch Liv and I wandered the area and checked out a few little boutiques, but soon enough we decided it was just simply too cold, and we headed home for a couple of hours. We went via the supermarket, to get some groceries as we needed to prepare a dish to take to a potluck dinner.
In the early evening we once again, donned all the warm layers and braved the cold to make the dash to Emily’s place. Emily and her husband Nic hosted a potluck dinner at their place. We met up with a nice assortment of people and had some random conversations. Emily made a traditional Acadian (Acadian’s were the french speaking people originally inhabited the maritimes ie. Nova Scotia area) dish called Rapeau, which was a grey mush containing chicken, mashed potato and bacon. While it looked pretty horrid, and was described by someone as grey snot, it was delicious!
Walking back at night, through the snow, was lovely, even if freezing! Some houses still sparkled with christmas twinkle lights, and the snow made very entertaining squeaking noises under our feet.
As Liv had to work in the morning, I bundled myself up and headed out for a morning of solo adventuring. I started by catching the metro to a little island in the river called Ile St Helene, which is connected by bridge another little island called Ile Jean Drapeau. This is where world expo was held a number of year ago. I went out there to look at the biosphere when was originally one of the pavilions, but is now an environmental museum. The museum was shut, but I had just wanted to look at the sphere itself, so that wasn’t a problem. the steel framed dome, looked stunning against all the crisp white snow and clear blue skies.
As I wandered around I noticed steam rising from near the bridge connecting the two islands, so I went to investigate. Flowing rapidly down the river were large chunks of ice, banging against each other and the river bank as they went. With the ridiculously cold weather the entire river has been frozen, so I am not sure if it was all broken up because it the weather had warmed up a few degrees, or if it happens simply due to the force of the water flow. Similarly I am unsure as to what caused so much steam. No matter what the cause, the cracking and clunking noises paired with the steam and fast flowing river were very interesting to watch and listen to.
Having just out my camera away, I turned to walk back to the metro and trotting along the bridge was a fox. It stopped about a metre from me, we briefly looked at each other, before the fox turned it’s head and continued on its way. It was a very bizarre moment.
As I had been wandering in the snow for some time, I jumped on the metro an d headed downtown to grab a coffee. I stopped in Myriad for a super tasty latte, before wandering the streets of downtown, checking out some of the sales. I also checked out a gorgeous cathedral, Marie Reine du Monde. It was quite different to the Notre Dame, but quite beautiful in its own way.
Once again my toes were really cold, so I popped into the Starbucks inside Chapters (Chapters is a big book store). I got myself a Creme brûlée latte and found a spot by the window, where I took my shoes off and warmed my feet on the heater.
By this time I got a message from Liv asking if I wanted to meet her for a lunch of crepes and hot chocolate…what a silly question! So of course I jumped on the next metro and the two of us headed to Juliette & Chocolat for some super tasty treats. We shared a savoury buckwheat crepe with cheese, ham and mushrooms, before tucking in to a sweet ‘dessert’ crepe with salted caramel. They were both amazing!! We paired our crepes with grandma style hot chocolate, which is a super thick hot chocolate, that is so thick you almost have to spoon it into your mouth. Nom nom nom!
From our late lunch we wandered into Old Montreal and checked out a few more of the cute boutiques (Old Montreal was a lot busier than new years eve when almost everything was closed), before enjoying some Spanish wine in a tapas bar.
Liv’s friend Catherine met up with us and the three of us headed to the theatre to see a fringe festival production called Little Orange Man. It was a single actor, who acted out the most hilarious and random story about her grandfather. She did a fantastic job and had the audience involved in several events in the play, as well as in stitches of laughter throughout the duration of the play.
We concluded our evening with a delicious meal at a polish restaurant called Stash, where we shared a few dishes like pierogies and bigos.
After yet another late night (with me having struggled to keep my eyes open during the play the previous night) a sleep-in was in order. So we dozed until after 10am. Then we got up and slowly but surely made our way out the door on the hunt for some brunch. We grabbed a takeaway coffee from some cute espresso bar along the way, got sidetracked by various adorable boutiques before eventually getting to a cafe called Sparrow, in an area called Mile End.
Sparrow is a super cute cafe, which was clearly popular as we had to wait half an hour for a table. The decor was adorable, as was the crockery and we had really good service to go with it. With so many awesome sounding dishes on the menu we once again decided to share a savoury and a sweet dish. We started with a lumberjack breakfast: pancakes, poached eggs, beans, Italian sausage and maple syrup and chased it with red velvet waffles served with poached pears and chocolate mousse. Oh my goodness it was AMAZING! We both waddled out of that cafe!
We spent some more time wandering around Mile End, St Viateur and the Plateau area, appreciating the architecture, street art and adorable boutiques. But as the sun sank in the sky we headed back to Liv’s place to fluff around and for me to sort out my luggage for the next leg of the journey.
Once it was dinner time we headed out to meet Spencer at a restaurant called Poutineville for some poutine and beer. The last hours of the day involved the three of us and some board games.