Old stone structures, French street names, and lots and lots of authentic poutine – this is what I had been primed about Montreal so far in Canada. But it was not until last month that I had the pleasure of visiting Montreal for a work trip.
I had always heard about the city’s French-Canadian culture and architecture so I was expecting a place unfamiliar to me as I have never visited France before. What I found was an eclectic mix of classic East Coast culture and French heritage – not too much of either, but just a perfect blend.
My first business trip had me anxious anyway, but I was also worried about getting around knowing nothing beyond bonjour and merci. To my surprise, it was more than what is needed in Montreal at least, because everyone is bilingual. From our hotel staff to shop vendors, everyone comfortably switched from French to English as they got to know we don’t speak French fluently.
As we rode from the airport towards our hotel, the scenes transformed from that of a busy North American city to one dripping with history and heritage. We were warmly welcomed at Hotel Place de Armes after our early morning flight. Located in the heart of Old Montreal, the hotel is on Rue Place de Arms, overlooking the Notre Dame Church. It was as touristy an area as it could get. People from all across the globe trotted around on the narrow, curvy cobblestone streets chattering away in different languages.
Given that it was a short trip, mostly taken up by meetings, my colleagues and I only explored the Old Montreal area that was close to our hotel. I already live close to the water in Vancouver, but Montreal’s port area was a different sight.
The way leading from our hotel to the port was a location in itself, a venue for several street performances and stand-up comedy shows. With dozens of restaurants on the sides, there were lots of people enjoying dinner and drinks on the patios while the rest taking out food to eat by the water. As mundane as it sounds, I believe true beauty of a city lays in how its people choose to unwind. Whenever I walked by these lounging diners, I got the sense of a hard working city that still knows how to relax after hours.
Next on my list was trying a good serving of Poutine. This shouldn’t be a surprised as Montreal is known for this and the city has a generous offering of several options on every street and corner. What I was glad and surprised to see in terms of food was the variety of halal food options. Coupled with the diversity in sites and sounds, the food scene in Montreal was quite inviting for a first-time visitor and definitely made me want to go back there. So a loaded poutine with a juicy gravy, crispy fries and gooey cheese curds was the perfect way to wrap my work day in Montreal.
Given that it was a short trip, I was only able to get a small taste of everything. One of the last places I visited before leaving was St. Catherine’s street. Although riddled with construction in summertime, the area was strewn with all modern shops yet hosted in these old heritage building. Hence, an H&M that looks like church from outside!! This perfect blend of old and new was the most intriguing and inviting aspect of Montreal for someone like me who is an old soul stuck in 21st century.
Let me know if you have visited Montreal especially, Old Montreal and what did you think about it?