Montreal is indulgence, romance, and traffic.
If you want the charm, sophistication, and excitement of a European city without leaving North America, look no further than Montreal. This beautiful, cosmopolitan city is home to the second largest community of Francophones outside of Paris and is a host to hundreds of other ethnic groups. This is a city not to be missed! Here are 5 of my favourite things about Montreal (and a few complaints as well).
Montreal residents drink, consume carbs, say yes to desserts, embrace leisure time and happy hour, and generally embrace the finer things in life along with a few vices. No one in this city will look twice if you order another bottle of wine, eat a bagel for breakfast AND lunch, or suggest taking an afternoon off to relax at the spa.
2.) Public Transit that WORKS.
Montrealers joke that they all get to work by BMW - that's bike/bus/bixi, metro, walking. The well maintained metro still boasts the original trains and a city wide and the ultra low cost "bixi" system (bicycle-taxi) is so popular the city is exporting it to other municipalities. While Montreal can occasionally feel a bit chaotic, there was no sign of disorder at a downtown bus stop, where a neat line of 30 people formed a patient single file to await the bus.
3.) All Languages, All The Time.
I've never seen a country so effortlessly bilingual as Montreal. English speaker visitors will have no problems communicating in what is otherwise a Francophone province. In fact, many Montrealers are multilingual and you can hear dozens of different languages when you walk through the city.
4.) A Great Food Scene
The sky is the limit when it comes do spending at Montreal restaurants, but delicious, fresh, creative fine dining is available at affordable price points. At Nouveau Palais in Mile End, the retro restaurant feels like a time capsule for a grittier era, concealing a tempting menu that is part vintage, part hipster, but entirely delectable! During my last visit, I feasted on corn fritters for my appetizer, followed by grilled mackerel, creamy grits, and wild mushrooms for my main. Main courses range from $10-$20 and the $9.95 burger platter is one of the best deals in the city.
You'll pay a premium to dine in atmospheric Old Montreal, but at Communion Restaurant, that premium is capped and food is as affordable as it is delicious. They have a great selection of wine and local beers and the Table D'hote makes the food a bargain. During my last visit, I started with the mixed green salad, enjoyed grilled fish with roasted and pureed root vegetables for my main, and had a phenomenal lemongrass and ginger creme brule for dessert. Main courses range from $20-$30 and includes such delicacies such as duck, quail, scallops, and veal.
I would be very much remiss if I didn't include the city's romantic side. Let's just say I was powerless when a certain would-be blogging partner swept me off my feet during a romantic (and delicious!) meal at a small restaurant in Old Montreal, many years ago. Montreal remains a sentimental favourite and, while we don't get to the tiny romantic restaurants as often as we like, we always try to frequent our favourite Chinese takeout whenever we pass through the city and take a minute to remember our young and foolish days.
Unfortunately, no city is perfect. Here are three things I don't like about Montreal.
The traffic in, through, and around Montreal is so bad that all Canadians know about it. Making a trip from central to eastern Canada is always based on when and how we can best avoid the worst of the notorious Montreal traffic. It's more than just the congestion - those drivers are scary!
It seems something in Montreal is always shut down or a road always diverted thanks to construction. Not the "look, we're thriving, the city is booming" kind of construction but more in the vein of shoddy contracts, long over due work, and financial disputes.
While Montreal has had a string of recent troubles and revolving mayors, the politics of balancing this bilingual town has been a centuries old battle. Whenever you see a statue to an Englishman on one side of a square, you can rest assured there will be a Francophone counterpoint on the square's other side. I think residents and visitors are growing weary of the silliness.
As always, I welcome your comments. What are your favourite/least favourite things about Montreal?
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