Montreal had been one of the cities on our wish list, so when my girlfriend Teena (an avid runner) saw that they were hosting the Rock & Roll Marathon, we couldn’t say no. After a lengthy and comfortable train ride up (more on that in another post), we had arrived. Overall the weather in late September was perfect for me. Sunny, blue skies, with a bit of chilly breeze. However once you get moving and in the Sun, it warms up enough. We had a late dinner at the Bier Markt. While it certainly had the appearance of a chain, they have a great beer and food selection. We were advised by our waiter to use use Rue Sherbrooke and Boul Saint Laurent, which intersect each other, as reference points for the city. He further mentioned that some like to walk the four kilometer stretch of Saint Laurent which goes through all the ethnic sections of the city, to sample food from the various restaurants. Should we want something closer to our hotel, he also recommended Rue Crescent.
We set out on our first full day (day 2) and after using our respective map apps, it appears most of the places we wanted to go were within a half hour walk. As cities go, it wasn’t too unique. Appearance wise, aside from the traffic signs in French, it looks like most small cities we’ve all been to. The people are very nice and even though we heard a great deal of French, as we did on our recent trip to France, provided to you make the attempt to speak their language, most were more than happy to converse in English once they realized it was our primary language. We spent that first day pretty much walking around the downtown area getting acclimated to our surroundings, eating, drinking, and picking up Teena’s race packet. We quickly deduced that if you like to shop, the portion of Rue Sainte-Catherine near Mont Royal, is where to go. Great Dr. Martin’s store there, but I decided not to partake in an new pair. While we did not do the four kilometers of Boul Saint-Laurent, we did wander over to Rue Crescent and glad we did. After checking our several bill of fares, we happened upon L’Autre Saison which turned out to be the happiest of accidents (more on this in a separate entry). Post dinner, we walked back down Crescent in the direction of our hotel for a mini bar crawl. OK, two bars. Being forty three years old, I can’t bar crawl like I used to. First we hit Ziggy’s, a small bar located underneath another establishment. Definitely a local watering hole dedicate to all things related to The Montreal Canadians down to the seats from the old Montreal Forum. Of the many conversations taking place there, none involved us. They gladly took our money for in exchange for our drinks, but I got the feeling we were the foreigners… because we were. Next stop was Brutopia. This was definitely more my speed. A multi level bar with live local music and their own brewed on site beer selection. The band was good, the beer was good, and the patrons next to us more friendly and talkative.
Our next full day was spent walking… a lot. Another recommendation from our waiter on the first night was Mont Royal. Noted to be the remnants of an extinct volcano it sits among the city a short walk northwest of Rue Sherbrooke. It really is a great part of the city. It has multiple winding trails that lead up to the summit and chalet which overlooks the downtown area.
The residents are luck to have it as it provides a break from the concrete city and offers a source of exercise whether it be walking/hiking, running, or cycling. The official high point is listed at 233 meters / 764ft. It has a mix of dirt trails and packed gravel with stairs in some areas. Great exercise and great view from the chalet. The one downer is the summit is rather anticlimactic as it has a cell tower. Afterwards we awarded ourselves with poutine and more beer at Les 3 Brasseurs (another chain from appearances) followed by a nap. Poutine which is basically fries, cheese curd, and a beef gravy sometimes with meat or other ingredients is a staple in Canada as it was for us on the trip. It’s classic comfort food that rivals anything you’ve had here in the states. After our nap, we head out to dinner. We decided to try an Anthony Bourdain recommendation, Joe Beef (likewise, more in a separate post). Despite reading one had to reserve a table a month in advance, we were actually able to get in. It was located in a more residential area and across from the beautifully renovated (at least exteriorly) Théâtre Corona, currently being used as a music venue. Definitely something that looks worth checking out even though we did not have the opportunity.
Day 4 was the day of the marathon. As such, I slept in for bit while Teena was running. I then availed myself the public bike share. It’s pretty easy to use, credit card only. The bike I got was in decent shape unless you take into account the balding tires and less than useful breaks. It was a beautiful day for a ride made only more picturesque by the man urinating in public on my way to Parc La Fontaine where the marathon was ending. I have to say, I wished the marathon was a bit better organized from a spectator standpoint. Most of the security people could not give me any information as I asked them questions about where the nearest bike share was so I could return it or where the finish line was. What info I got was not that accurate. Finally, once I got to the finish line, I was separate from it by about 30 feet by a fence. It was disappointed as I could not watch Teena cross the finish line or get a picture. It was equally difficult to find her afterwards as the fencing went around for quite some distance. Regardless, we found each other, took the Metro back to the hotel, had our final meal back at the Bier Market, and fell asleep quite early. Out trip near the end as we were headed back home the next day.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed Montreal for the food, libations, people, and how favorable they are to walking and biking. Again the city is like most cities with the exception of significant hills here and there though not quite as steep as San Francisco. It has its share of graffiti but the parking kiosks seem to be more the target than buildings. Another negative was our hotel, Hotel Espresso. While conveniently located, our room was meh. The hardwood floor was coming up, the bathroom plumbing was not well installed resulting in a leak from around the toilet base, and our key cards had to be recoded at least four times. Additionally, there seemed to always be large groups of people in the lobby that did not appear to be staying there (i.e. no luggage). We weren’t sure if it was due to the restaurant, the casino listed as being part of the hotel, or the fact that we were across from the police station.
Overall, I would definitely say check it out if you have the chance but don’t move it to the top of your list.