Meandering in Montréal

We road tripped through New England and spent 2.5 long days in Montréal. I say long, only because we showed up with zero plans and managed to fill our days with almost as much food and culture as I would have intentionally planned. Although my research was minimal, due to lack of time and a nursing school semester of pure hell, there was one thing I needed to see in Québec’s big city- Leon Keen’s “Fake News” bathroom scene street mural. When art involves toilet humor, I’m a pig in shit.

We checked into our gorgeous, immaculate, rustic Airbnb Monday afternoon. It was located on the border of the Village and the Latin Quarter. We could have spent our entire vacation admiring the beauty that was this 19th century structure with the bits and pieces of modern decor. We were on the 3rd story and the light shined so perfectly into the space, that I spent a decent amount of time photographing every corner. I hired a model for the shoot (jk that’s the other Gastronaut Girl).

After we settled in, we cranked up the air for our return, since it was very hot and humid outside, and we forced ourselves out of the loft to find something to do. Our first stop was a French coffee shop, Mamie Clafoutis St Denis. We each had a beverage and shared a croissant.

Then we proceeded in the direction of the park and a section of town called “Mile End”, which is known to be an up and coming neighborhood with a trendy food scene. We walked amongst the hipsters and the homeless, noticing the interesting facets that make up the city. Most buildings had very obscure architecture and there were two residencies and/or businesses in each “house”, one on the top and one on the bottom. There were so many trees; more greenery, it seemed, than in any other big city. There were many smells- car engines, incense, construction dust, marijuana and body odor. One thing that’s for sure, is that Montréal is packed with character.

At the park, we rented Bixie bikes. They are your standard city bicycles that you pay for and must return to be reissued every 30 minutes. We took a ride around the park. There were hills and turns and this little adventure turned into a rather strenuous one. Public water fountains were placed throughout the city for convenience. We were thankful for that.

In Mile End, we stumbled upon one of the most popular bagelries in the city. It was this tiny shop with a very narrow pathway between ceiling high stacks of packaged breads, leading to the register. We ordered one sesame bagel with cream cheese. We realized they don’t actually smear the cream cheese for you when we were handed about a tablespoon sized packet of Philadelphia. Although the cream cheese certainly wasn’t unique, the bagel was uniquely awful. Lesson learned: if you live in or around NY, don’t bother trying bread products elsewhere. It reminded me of all of the terrible Miami pizza I’ve eaten in moments of weakness.

Then, we sat inside of a bar called Waverly, sipping cocktails and bopping our head to the French Canadian hits on the radio.

When it was time for dinner, the Gastronaut Girls’ endless yearn for Asian food outnumbered our sister’s desire to eat French food. This happens often. Plus, we were pretty scarred from all the weird shit I forced myself to eat in France last December and didn’t actually plan on eating more than French baked goods on this trip. We walked a few blocks to Tsukuyomi, a fast paced ramen joint that seemed to have good reviews on Instagram. I ordered an appetizer that contained about 2 spoonfuls of minuscule pieces of octopus marinated in wasabi and the girls shared fried chicken and a green salad. We each had a ramen bowl. You could request the amount of sodium in your broth- very salty, moderately salty and mildly salty. After a lesson from the server, we were told to go with the moderate version, and that it would still be less salty than what we are used to in the US. He was right and we were pleasantly surprised. I was, however, disappointed in their hot oil that wasn’t spicy at all. But, overall, the place was tasty and enjoyable. The fan on full blast was a plus.

On Tuesday, we came up with a rough game plan involving a self guided food tour (duh). We decided that for breakfast, we’d check out Schwartz’ Deli. This deli has been around since 1928 and supposedly had the best smoked corned beef we’d ever try. The corned beef was indeed phenomenal and this time, so was the [rye] bread! We shared one platter and it was plenty.

Next, we went to this old Italian market, Drogheria Fine, that serves gnocchi through a take out window in a Chinese food container in their original red sauce. Even though it tasted exactly like Chef Boyardee, we were glad to have experienced that iconic place.

We rented bikes again and trekked a half hour to Jean Talon, a very large market in Montréal. We spent about 2 hours there and bought everything in sight: strawberries, tomatoes, 4 cheeses including my beloved Epoisses that came in a big wheel, lattes, olives, a fig, smoothies, salami and probably more! We enjoyed checking out all of the stands and trying the samples.

After that, we removed 3 more bikes and made our way back to the mural section on St. Laurent to the toilet piece that I’ve grown to love on the internet. And there it was, this 3D perfect bathroom scene… that had faded. I was so disappointed but managed to get a decent shot anyway.

We purchased a few more picnic-esque items in a nearby grocery store and headed back to our Airbnb to enjoy a handmade charcuterie board, meticulously assembled by myself.

After a snack and a nap, we found another bike station and headed down to the port through the Gay Village. The port reminded me of a carnival and a European flea market all in one. As soon as we saw a huge zipline contraption, Steph was determined to do it. While watching patiently for a tiny speck with a black and white shirt and jean pants to fly down into the abyss, we quickly browsed some of the shops set up for tourists.

For dinner, we ate French onion soup with cocktail at Modavine, a big ole tourist trap downtown and then got literally trapped by a scam artist street performer promising to spin fire while really just embarrassing men from the crowd by making them dance to “In the Jungle” to stall his act.

On Wednesday, the weather was wet and rainy. We weren’t convinced that Montréal couldn’t make a decent bagel, so we jogged in the rain about a half of a mile to Bagel Etc. Well, we were correct the first time, the bagels suck. Even though the food looked okay, it was not worth it.

Next, we checked out a few clothing stores and then we went to Tim Hortons on the walk back to try Tim Bits. They were better than we expected chain restaurant doughnut bites to be.

We attempted to go on a free walking tour a few hours later, but because our tour guide was so sarcastic and kept sneaking bites of McDonald’s apple pies from his pocket without explaining himself, we ditched the tour to rent some more street bikes. We rode a half hour to another less popular market, Atwater. The market was substantially smaller than Jean Talon but unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of it because it was closing. We ate some pizza, a cronut and a macaron.

At night, we took a tour of the red light district to learn all about the history of crime in the city. Airbnb suggested this tour and it was only $20 a person. Nicolas was an excellent tour guide and very knowledgeable. He took us through Chinatown, and the St. Christopher and St. Laurent areas. I found it fascinating that Chinatown was very tiny (about 4 blocks) and that it is also a seedy part of town. Afterwards, we ate dinner at Qing Hua, a dumpling house in Chinatown. It was cheap and everything we’d hoped for.

The next morning, we drove out of the city and stopped at a hole in the wall, before the border, for lunch. We had to use up our Canadian Dollars and we figured now was a great time to try poutine. It was as expected- not great. We aren’t gravy fans and please just give me the cold cheese curds without the fries.

Overall, we were happy to have ventured into Canada when we were up North. Next time we visit the country, it will be all the way West!


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