51. Montreal, Québec, Canada

While the main goal of our trip had been to explore Québec City, we couldn’t help making a stop in the province’s largest city.

Overview:
Like Île d’Orléans, Montreal is set on a island in the St. Lawrence River. Unlike Île d’Orléans… everything. Montreal is big, urban and awesome. It’s got 19 boroughs, many of which Google tells me are former independent cities. The French colonial Vieux-Montréal–aka the old city–is among them.

How I got there:
We drove from our Airbnb outside Québec City, which took a lot longer than we thought it would. It’s a 2.5-hour-plus trip, so you may want to get on the road earlier than we did…

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Where I stayed:
We only stayed for the day, in the evening crossing back over the border and returning to our Airbnb in Burlington, Vermont from a few days prior.

What I did:
Montreal and I got off to a very poor start; my three main objectives for the day were absolutely, positively spoiled (not that I was bitter or petulant about it at all).

We started the day at St-Viateur, a bagel place I had heard was epic. This was probably the most soul-crushing part of the entire day, since when I picture epic bagels, I picture the gigantic, amazing, squishy-as-all-hell bagels of northern New Jersey. I now understand that Montreal bagels have their own style. It’s their thing. Whatever. I get that. But I have no respect for that style. Flat, skinny bagels are not okay by me. And they’re especially not okay when you find out that they’re flat and skinny when your expectations are through the roof and you’re so hungry you could eat your own arm. Clearly, I’m not at all over it.

But I mean, LOOK at this thing:

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(Sorry, that really belonged in the food section, but I just had to get it out of my system.)

Luckily for me, Montreal had plenty of other food to tide me over. Our next stop was Atwater Market, which was cute to walk around (note: That’s why this one isn’t going in the food section, either. Despite the amazing patisserie, Prèmier Moisson, that’s just to your left when you walk in. And despite the fact that I devoured, like, a whole loaf of maple apple bread there).

We walked for a bit along the nearby Lachine Canal, but the heat forced us to give up on that pretty quickly. It was back indoors for shopping–or so I thought.

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One of my two favorite retail chains on this universe–Aritzia–is headquartered in Canada, and damned if I wasn’t so freaking excited to shop there in Canadian dollars.

But disappointment struck again. It was around this time that I realized that Canada celebrates Labor Day on the same day the U.S. does (and that all Aritzia’s Montreal locations are closed on Monday anyway. Double fail). The next few minutes were spent gazing longingly and sulking away.

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On the other side of the coin, driving through Mount Royal Park was definitely a highlight. It wasn’t as big as I’d imagined, but it still had some pretty views:

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Later, we hit up a second market, Marché Jean-Talon, where we somehow managed to shove sample after sample of exquisitely good fruit into our bodies (just wait ’til we actually get to the real food section). I’ve never seen so many varieties of plum. And they were all so good!

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The rest is all food (and beer), so without further ado…

Where I ate/drank:
At the strong suggestion of my friend Laura, we made our way to Schwartz’s, a smoked meat place that’s an institution in the city. While I’m a vegetarian, I received very strict directions to “go and have a cherry coke and eat pickles and your travel companions who eat meat will have their lives changed.” And that is exactly what I did.

Turns out, though, that it was easier said than done. The line at Schwartz’s was insane, and I understand that’s the norm.

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After some investigating, I realized we were in line for the sit-down storefront, rather than the takeaway storefront. The line there was just as long, but at least it was indoors and out of the sun.

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The sit-down place
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Napkins to read while you wait in line…
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To-go line

Finally, we made it. Jake gave it rave reviews, and I have to say–those were some damned good pickles and cherry coke.

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While the timing may not have been ideal, we were so close to another food recommendation–this one from my friends Diana and Pat–that we had to stop right after Schwartz’s. It was for a little burger-and-poutine place (like, really little) called Patati Patata. Fourth food stop of the day: done and done by early afternoon.

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Later, we drove over to Dieu du Ciel, the top beer place Diana and Pat had recommended (and they know their beer better than anyone I know). But by this point, I just expected it to be closed. Lo and behold, it was. The closest I got to hibiscus beer was reading about it on the menu outside.

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Instead, we went to another of their spots, L’amère À Boire, which was still pretty great. They specialize in lagers, and after spending nearly two years in the Czech Republic, I have a special place in my heart for lagers. It had great outdoor seating, too.

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Last but not least, we capped off Montreal with a sit-down dinner that was absolutely outstanding. Pastaga was the type of restaurant where you can order something that doesn’t sound even the slightest bit good to you because you know the kitchen there can do no wrong. And then, as expected, it winds up being one of the best meals you’ve ever had. You know?

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What I missed:
Everything that was closed 😦 Never coming back on a holiday again.
Also: Biking along Lachine Canal. Hockey, since it was summer. Le Forum. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The botanical garden. McGill’s campus. Artsy neighborhood Le Plateau. The entire old city. We could keep going, but I’m gonna cut this off here.

 


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