There are some places you go to that you click with right away. I’ve felt that way about several cities I’ve visited, including Montreal.
The first time I was in Montreal was seven years ago. I had been at blogging conference in Toronto. I had driven there by myself from Calgary to nearby Richmond Hill. The trip took about a week. I spent time with family in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Richmond Hill, Ontario. I also saw family friends in Tiverton, Ontario. When I got to Toronto I took a trip out to Niagara Falls. After the conference was over I took the train to Ottawa for a few days, and then to Montreal.
Travel burnout is real. I was exhausted from the travel I was doing. The conference (while fun) was also tiring. I was also taking a university class online, so I was doing that at the same time as this trip. By the time I got to Montreal I was done. Going to Montreal was a pretty impromptu decision for me. There was a train I could take to get there, it wasn’t expensive to go (to me at least), why not?
I didn’t realize I had booked my train trip to Montreal at the same time as the Montreal Grand Prix. At the time of this trip (back in the olden days of 2013) I did not have a smart phone. I had an old iPod touch with wifi only capabilities and GPS that I took for the road trip part of my trip. While in my hostel in Ottawa I tried to find a hostel (in my budget) in Montreal with some availability. Everything seemed to be sold out, but I finally found a room. I booked it and the train ticket and went on my way.
I got really lost in Ottawa (turns of the Canadian Museum of History is not in Ottawa, but in Gatineau, which is in a different province…whoops). When I got to Montreal and found my way from the train station to my hostel without getting lost. And when I got to my hostel in the Latin Quarter I checked into my 4 bed dorm. And there was only someone in the room with me one night out of four, which was a bonus. Then I stayed in and watched several episodes of Arrested Development. That show is hilarious, but more importantly I needed a break.
And good thing I did because if I’d tried to runaround Montreal right away I would have been tired and confused and upset, even more than I was when I first got there. When I finally left hostel and went for a walk the sun was out. I saw lots of street art. There were people enjoying dining outside on restaurant patios. There were people riding around on bikes. I even saw a lady (who was probably about 60) on a kick scooter, and I thought yes. There were parks, and green spaces, and banners going up for different festivals that were happening soon. At one point I stopped into a cafe to get a coffee and everyone in the cafe was singing and dancing (well except me, because I didn’t know the song). There was a lively energy in Montreal.
So what tipped me from “yeah Montreal seems okay” to “holy hell I’m in love.” Was it the street art? The architecture? The pink balloons hanging about the street in the Gay Village? The food (poutine yes!)? The atmosphere? The nice weather? Was it the fact that Mac’s Convenience stores (RIP) in Quebec were called Couche-Tard, and that childish thing made me laugh when I saw it? Was it because some of my rudimentary school French was coming back, so I understood the cashier at the drug store was asking if I’d like a bag for my purchase? (And I got to say “non, merci” so nine years of French class paid off).
Yes, to all of that, but also I saw people reading books, like everywhere. I even saw a lady reading a book while crossing the street (like Belle from Beauty and the Beast). And at some point, while wandering around the city, I said under my breath, “Holy shit, Montreal is awesome.” Dear readers, I was in love.
Of course this makes no sense, but it’s not supposed to. Falling in love with a place, like falling in love with a person, isn’t based on hard cold facts. It’s based on feelings and I felt Montreal was awesome. I know what I saw and experienced in Montreal could be allowed to many other cities. Montreal isn’t the only place with street art, or people dining outside in the summer, or possible even 60-year old ladies on kick scooters. If I lived in Montreal I’d find things I didn’t like (because no place is perfect). And I know people who’ve visited Montreal and didn’t fall in love with city. But I did.
I spent the next few days wondering around Montreal, mesmerized by the architecture. I ate poutine and bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. I met up with some travel bloggers for Vietnamese food. I went inside to Notre Dame Basilica and staring at the gorgeous altars inside. I walk through the Mont Royal Park and listened to a drum circle. I walked the cobblestone streets in Old Montreal and thought how it reminded me of Europe (I’d only been to Europe once before at this point in time).
It’s been seven years since that short trip to Montreal, and I’m about to go back for an even shorter trip, two nights, but I have no complaints because I won a trip there. And if you’re wondering how I won a trip to Montreal I’d like to point you to this post here. I’m bringing my mom and we’ll be there for a couple days of the Montreal International Jazz Festival (one of many festivals Montreal has in the summer). We’re even going to get to go on a hot air balloon ride over the city. She’s never been to Montreal or to Quebec. I won’t get to see everything while I’m there. I likely won’t see a 60 year-old lady on a kick scooter, or see someone cross the street while reading a book, or watch everyone in a cafe sing and dance to a song.
I hope, however, that I will have that moment where I can once again say, “holy shit Montreal is awesome.”