Montreal State of Mind - A Travel Diary

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with Toronto. Something about the skyscrapers and bustle of the big city just captivates me. For lack of a less millennial expression, it’s a “vibe.” In the last few years, I’ve found myself getting antsy if it’s been a while since my last visit to the 6ix and I’ve often thought about moving there. But this post is not about Toronto - it’s about Montreal - a city I’ve visited before and came away with no lasting impression of. Mind you, it was a blustery February and nothing can shake my contempt for Winter. 

So, when Matt and I decided to take a five-day trip, I wasn’t expecting much. I was mostly excited to see what he thought of the city - because I had already made up my mind that it was pretty average. We booked our train tickets, our hotel - and then cancelled our hotel and booked an Airbnb instead and saved more than $300 on our accommodations alone.

Day One

The day got off to a grumpy start - neither of us are morning-friendly and riding on a crowded commuter train with luggage and backpacks is just not fun. Once we got to Toronto we had a bit of time to wander around the CN Tower and take a few photos - and I said a passing hello-goodbye to my favourite city once more. Fast-forward 5 or so hours and we were in Montreal.

We didn’t plan too much for the first day, correctly assuming that we would be pretty beat. Isn’t it strange how several hours of sitting can drain you? But we did manage to head to the Montreal Casino and work in a walk past the Biosphere, and along Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the race track for the Canadian Grand Prix. After squandering whatever initial winnings we’d made at the slot machines, we decided to head back home. Always quit while you’re ahead, folks! 

Earlier that night we had set off to have dinner at La Banquise(an all-night diner known for its funky poutine options) only to find a line out the door. So, we came back around 1 a.m. to drown our post-Casino sorrows in carbs and calories. I ordered La Boogalou - a dish that held my curiosity as I saw it on the menu and throughout eating it. Fries topped with cheese curds, gravy, pulled pork, a hefty dollop of sour cream and coleslaw. It was a strange combination of flavours that totally worked together, despite making every bite taste a bit different. I just wanted to dig in, so I only took a quick phone pic. 

Day Two

Day two mirrored how we spend our days in Kitchener. Wake up, grab a bite, browse every record shop we can get to, make dinner and relax. 

One of the few things I remember loving from my first trip to Montreal was the incredible hot chocolate I had at Cafe Myriade - I swear it ruined all other hot chocolates for me. So of course, I had to go back - and I was not disappointed. From what I can tell, it’s a melted semi-sweet chocolate mixed with steamed milk. It’s nowhere near as sweet as what I’m used to, but it’s got a rich chocolaty taste and it’s absolutely superb.

Then, one by one we hit the record shops. L’ObliqueMusique-Disque SonikDisques Beatnik and Aux 33 Tours all got a bit of business from us throughout the day. I could write an entire blog post on the record shopping alone, but I’ll just say I brought home some Janis Joplin, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Tracy Chapman, Dolly Parton, Lipps Inc., and the 12” single of Usher’s first big hit - You Make Me Wanna. 

Day Three

On day three we kicked things into high-gear. We had bought passes for the Montreal Metro and I can honestly say they are worth every cent. The subway system is remarkably simple to navigate - and we used it to get almost everywhere. I loved it so much, I’ve been eyeing some Metro merch to buy. 

I could write poetry about the beauty of Old Montreal and the port, but I’d never shut up - so instead I’ll dedicate this paragraph to our equally incredible lunch destination - Brit & Chips. It’s advertised as the “best fish ‘n’ chips restaurant in Montreal” and it probably is. I’m not a seafood fan, so I ordered a sausage roll with chips, and Matt ordered the cod and chips with a Burgundy Lion Ale. Everything was a solid 10/10 - even the battered cod I had a nibble of and the house-made tartar sauce that I still regret not buying an entire bottle of. This may be the best meal I’ve had at any restaurant, ever. 

From there we walked across the Concordia Bridge to hit the casino again and then set off to Mount Royal for some sunset photos. On our way there, we checked out another record shop - Cheap Thrills, where we found the best selection of used hip-hop records, of possibly any shop we’ve ever been to and were offered free tickets to a movie screening we couldn’t attend. A+ customer service.

Day Four

On day four we did everything in reverse. We started with a mid-morning trek to the top of Mount Royal - this time, by bus to save time - stopping along the way to check out the Mount Royal Cross. Then, we hit the final record shop on our list - Le Pickup. I didn’t love this shop, but it did have a lot of selection in genres that I don’t really shop for. Then, we took the bus over to Parc Jean-Drapeau for sunset pictures of the city from a completely different view and looped around the Biosphere on our way to the Metro station before grabbing our last dinner of the trip at Burger Royal. I ordered a mac and cheese with ground beef that was massive and delicious. I described it in the moment as “like Hamburger Helper on crack.” I didn’t take a picture because I was too busy inhaling it. 

Day Five

You know that kind of light sleep where you think you’re awake? Imagine that, all night - punctuated every 30 minutes by your partner jabbing you in the side because your congested snoring is keeping them awake. That was the sleep I had Thursday night and when I woke up on Friday at 4:30a.m.  - I had the worst head cold of my life. All of the walking and being slightly under-dressed for the weather(sorry mom!) had caught up with me. The plan was always to wake up early one day and make the trek to see the sunrise from Mount Royal. I teetered back and forth, debating whether or not to send Matt off on his own to experience what I’m sure would be a beautiful, romantic sight. I really didn’t feel up to it but I was already awake, so I layered myself up and we set off to grab a couple of gas station coffees and began our last day in Montreal.

If I’ve learned anything from this trip, it’s that it takes more than three days to get used to climbing 400 stairs, and anyone who can jog up them has superhuman powers. But the view, while worth it any time of day, is the absolute best in the morning. It’s quiet, and humbling and everyone around you just shuts up and stares out over the city. Words could never do it justice and frankly, the pictures don’t even capture it quite right. This was a true highlight. 

After taking in Montreal one last time from the perfect vantage point, we returned to what had become our home for the week - and it really did feel that way. That’s perhaps the best thing about Airbnbs, even beyond the money you save. It’s that you truly can get comfortable. I’ve moved plenty of times in my life and I can think of a thing or two that I miss about each and every home I’ve lived in - our borrowed apartment off of Rue Laurier is no exception. We finished packing and bid farewell to our little abode and the leaky toilet that had become somewhat endearing by the end of our trip.  

From there, we hopped back on a train to good ol’ Kitchener. With a stop in Toronto which confirmed that while it may have been my first, Montreal may be my truest love. 

I used to think it was so cliché to say “I left my heart in ____,” but that was before I’d ever truly explored Montreal. I can honestly say my heart and soul are a little less full leaving this trip behind and not knowing when I’ll return to the cobblestone roads, amazing food and incredible views. 

Until next time, MTL.