Montreal – Started as a settlement as early as 1535, Montreal today is Canada’s second biggest city counting more than 1.7 million inhabitants. Although Montreal is part of French Canada and maybe you’ve been told that English won’t get you by, the good news is that you can confidently forget everything you’ve heard about needing to speak French, as there’s absolutely no language barrier whatsoever. Communicating in English just about everywhere works fine and I’ve never noticed locals to be reluctant talking to me in any language.
Don’t come to Montreal for less than three days! As it is, you will regret leaving. Similar to Toronto, Montreal hosts a huge underground city. Its official name is Réseau de la Ville Souterraine (RÉSO) meaning Underground City Network. It is exactly that – a network of 32 kilometers worth of paths below Downtown Montreal. The RÉSO is amazing.
Due to the funding of construction of the new metro system in the 1960s, underground malls popped up alongside metro lines and different connections to and from various key buildings. The result is one of the largest underground cities in the world today. It makes it possible to reach metro stations, important bus stops and the central train station without getting your feet wet. Official statistics boast connections to 1,200 offices, 2,000 shops and more than 200 restaurants, banks, a cinema, hotels, exhibition halls, and cultural institutions. Yes, there are corridors that simply connect two places. But you will also find open courts where locals hang out, eat well, chat and shop. Visiting the underground city is a must-do when making your way to Montreal.
Montreal is the city of foodies and according to best French tradition, Montreal’s chefs offer top notch, farm fresh ingredients on your plate. For culinary inspiration, take a walk to the charming district of Little Italy. If you’ve never been to Europe, Jean Talon Market will transport you to Southern Italy, at least for a while. It’s one of Montreal’s oldest markets and reflects it’s melting pot character with a fascinating supply of regional fresh food. You might run into some of the most famous restaurants’ chefs! Yellow and purple colored cauliflower was just one of my favorite encounters at Jean-Talon. Don’t be shy to taste fresh fruit right at the farmer’s booth! The market is loaded with local specialties so there’s something for everyone.
One of the most frequented stores is Marché des Saveurs du Québec. Here you’ll find all kinds of Quebec gourmet delights including meats, cider, wines and the best cheese of the region. At Havre aux Glaces you’ll be delighted by gourmet ice cream in flavors that beckon for relaxing on a hot summer stroll through the city. Smoked Meat is the Montreal analogue for real New York Pastrami. Check in at Schwartz’s to taste their popular sandwiches. The place feels like they haven’t renovated since 1928 when they became the home of smoked meat. It is a small, tight, busy place decorated with all kinds of celebrities who have been here before me. Make sure you get a pickle and Coke with your sandwich!
Leaving the foodie world, we might want to head for some culture, architecture to be exact. Marie Reine du Monde’s Cathedral is a ‘miniature’ version of St. Peter’s in Rome, with its stunning dome. To take exterior pictures I used my wide-angle lens and avoided having to step on the squirrels at the park across the street. The historic city center Vieux Montréal exemplifies French lifestyle. Whether visiting from Toronto or Niagara Falls will equally fall in the love with the European flair of Old Montreal. Strolling along the small cobblestone alleys and you might forget you are in North America. A long square called Jacques Cartier stretches from the Town Hall to the Port reminds me of again of Rome, specifically – the Piazza Navona – flooded with artists presenting paintings of typical city sights or waiting for you to sit down with them for a while and listen to their stories while getting your portrait painted. Montreal’s Town Hall was constructed in a quick six years only, from 1872 to 1878. It’s decorated with balconies, a small tower and exudes romance at night when the lights are on. Although much of the original building burned down in 1922; the newly constructed elements blend in perfectly with the old architecture style. Flower terraces form Montreal’s Coat of Arms. There are wonderful guided tours available.
Another location well worth a visit is the Place d’Armes. A popular area, it hosts amazing buildings like Canada’s first skyscraper the New York Life Building completed in 1888. At the time, the eight-floor building was the highest in the city. The glowing red sandstone used in its construction was imported from Scotland.
Montreal is a spectacular city, well worth visiting in any season.