Week of Mayhem - Segment Two - Montreal City

Apologies for the somewhat chaotic post. I wasn’t sure if I meant to tell a story, or give you fun facts about Montreal. So I did both.

A 7:00AM Flight? What was I thinking?

Having only gotten 4 hours of sleep after Rammstein, I spent the next 2 days recovering from my adventure. This meant going to bed extremely early. This actually worked in my favour, since two days later I had to get up before 5AM to hop a cab to the airport, bound for Montreal.

The flight was mostly uneventful, although I did have a brief stop-over on Toronto to have lunch with my sister and give her an early birthday present.

Culture Shock

I arrived in Montreal early Wednesday afternoon. It was immediately very apparent that I was and Quebec. Most of the signage in the Montreal airport was written only in French. My high school French classes had taught me enough to make sense out of a lot of things, but signs in the airport sure do have a lot of strange French words I’ve never seen before.

I was able to make my way to the baggage claim, and then over to an information booth to get directions to downtown. This is where I learned, thankfully, that most people in Montreal speak with French and English. So even though I felt a little out of my element, at least I was able to communicate.

Granted, there were plenty of deer-in-the-headlight moments for those first few days. Whenever somebody would rattle off a question in French, I would stop and stare, dumbfounded, before sputtering the question “English?”

In fact, I only had to try and use my sub-par French language skills once. I was left in the car alone with my friend’s grandparents for a few minutes. They’re Russian, and that’s the only language that her grandmother speaks. Communication with her was impossible. Her grandfather, on the other hand, spoke fluent Russian, a little bit of French, and some terribly broken English. He tried to strike up a conversation with me, but the only language we had in common was broken French, so that’s the language we tried to use. Thankfully, it was a short conversation and the content of it was basically that we were sorry we couldn’t converse with each other because neither one of spoke very good French.

Sleazy Central


The hotel we were staying at was a few blocks from the bus stop, and so I picked up and walked. Which gave me a chance to look around and scope out the neighbourhood. It seems our hotel and Metropolis (the festival venue) were right smack-dab in the middle of what is probably the seediest part of Montreal. On one side of the street was the Cleopatra gentlemen’s club. On the other, a place offering peep shows 24/7. Just up the street from that were 3 different sex shops, and beyond that was another strip club.
In any other Canadian city I’ve been to strip clubs tend to be out of the way, have blacked out windows, and feature very little signage on the outside besides their business name. Montreal is another story. They don’t try to hide it at all. Signs are huge neon signs of naked women and/or their naughty bits, and posters advertising the “dancers”* and featured shows are plastered all along the outside walls.

* Strippers are not “dancers”. I’ve seen enough to know that what they do is not “dancing”.

City of Artists

Montreal is also clearly a city of artists.

graffiti 02

Everywhere I went in Montreal I saw graffiti. Not the ugly black and white tags done by hoodlums that is commonplace almost everywhere, but actual graffiti art. Great colourful murals covering brick canvasses. I was going to take a walking tour to photograph it all, but that could have taken a whole day and I’d have a lot of graffiti photos on in my camera. So I captured a couple choice pics. If you’re ever there for a visit, I recommend taking a walk around and checking some of it out. Who needs the art gallery anyway?

My friend and I wandered by Place des Arts one evening. Great big white spires featuring spotlights had caught our attention, so we went to see what they were. We discovered a small park with a long air vents spewing thick fog-like steam. The light spires had colored lights that illuminated the fog, and additional colored light tracks along the vents helped exaggerate the effect. The result is a small field filled with colourful thick smog that’s quite beautiful at twilight. (Should have gotten pictures, but didn’t. Maybe next time…)

andrew in plaza

One day I spent some time in the plaza in the old port listening to an enterprising busker who played guitar and sang while tapping a plastic milk crate that contained his tambourine.

Another day I stopped down the street to watch some b-boys spin on their backs, do flips, and other b-boy things. They even had the cardboard mat and the ghetto blaster. It’s not something you see every day.

The Old Port

old port statue in square>

old port street 02

The old port area runs along the river, in behind the Notre Dame Cathedral. The aforementioned plaza is in the area, and there are dozens of restaurants, shops, and artisans. The architecture itself is the most interesting part. The buildings are primarily historic structures that were built in the 1700 and 1900. The streets are paved in cobblestone, and horse carriages ferry tourists around. It’s a little bit like stepping back in time a few hundred years, so long as you ignore the all the modern businesses. It’s quite a nice area, and wandering around here with a camera was possibly my favourite part of Montreal.

Churches – Lots of churches

half church front

I’ve joked that in Vancouver if you throw a stone in any direction you’re likely to hit a yoga studio or a sushi restaurant. In Montreal if you throw a stone in any direction you’re probably going to hit an old church. There are old historic buildings, and especially churches, everywhere. The city is a strange blending of modern day structures peppered with huge stone monoliths reaching skyward. One church I saw in particular was actually both: it looked like a Church from the front, but only the front half still existed. Walking inside the doors led you to a paved pedway and into a big brick building (which I think was a library).

There’s also Notre Dame. If you’re in the neighbourhood, you can see it’s twin spires from literally blocks away. I stood outside and took some photos, but I decided to avoid the tour groups and didn’t go in. However, I was completely in awe of the massive scale of this building.

notre dame 02

That is, until I went to see St. Joseph’s Basilica on Mt. Royal. St. Joseph’s is huge. I happened to arrive there just in time for a pipe-organ performance as well. So that was neat.

st joseph staircase

I’m not especially interested in churches per sé. I just like the idea that these huge stone structures that are still standing a few hundred years later. I can only imagine all the work, money, blood, and sweat that went into their construction. It’s a little bit mind-boggling.

A Few Tips for Travellers

- If you go to Montreal, be forewarned that the little while man at crosswalks that is a beacon of safety does not exist there. In Montreal you watch the street lights and walk with the flow of traffic. And cross your fingers that the traffic doesn’t flow right over you.

- Everybody (well, almost) speaks English. If you don’t know French, the only phrase you’ll ever need to know is “Je ne parles pas francais.”

- Restaurant menus are usually printed in French, which can be tricky. But many of them also have a second page in English.

- Unless you’re leaving downtown, you shouldn’t ever need to take a cab in Montreal. The Metro is easy to find, well marked, and easy to navigate. Beyond that, most everything downtown is in walking distance.


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Anonymous said...

Don't you remember your first visit to Montreal. We toured Notre Damme and went to Mt. royal to the Basillica-where we had a pic taken with the city in the background. Glad some of that history stuff rubbed off.

|:::lockan:::| said...

Oh, I DO remember our first trip. But it was a whirlwind cab ride over the course of 3 or 4 hours. So this time I got to really take the time to check all these things out.