There are two categories among the most loved cities of the world. One charms and mesmerizes you whether you stay there for few hours, days or years, like Rome or NYC. And the second kind grows on you over time; this kind of city has to be experienced and not visited, like singara chennai!
Montreal has the charms to fit in the first kind, but lacked a certain spark; The more we explored her, I would say she was magical in parts and equally underwhelming sometimes. It was a city, I loved in pieces and probably she fits better in the second category! I may never find out, since I didn’t live long enough to know!
- We expected as much English as French to be spoken and on signs; but it was all in all a Frenchman’s haven. Charmingly so. Even something gibberish like “barracks, bees and blocks in the sea” sounds beautiful in french! isn’t it?
- The European style Piazas with fountains are fittingly beautifully done. There are many in the city, but many are eerily deserted. I realised how much the people of a city add to its charms. Whether it is teeming tourists or residents, a city needs her people!
- The homeless and begging on the streets were aplenty. Something we never expected at all.
- The city is known for its night life, which we didn’t explore. But going by that, I expected us to stand out like a sore thumb, equipped with baby gear. Pleasantly surprised to find more strollers all over the happening cobbled streets than anywhere else. So every place was extremely stroller friendly. And oh! breastfeeding in public wasn’t making anybody uncomfortable. USA take cues. (Brownie points to Montreal! )
- Most eateries, cafes and shops in the not so prime streets weren’t open long hours on weekend and were closed on Monday being a holiday. It had the mild siesta culture feel to that aspect!
- We decided to disconnect and turned off our mobile phones for the day. We did the trip old school with maps, print outs, notes and asking people for directions. We were surprised, that we managed to stick to it. It also helped that I was mostly just taking in scenes and not scrambling to take pictures and share them, as it happened!
It would have been better if we had stuck to not giving into the urge to connect to wifi when back in hotel. But hey! next time.
The touristy stuff
Biodome, Botanical Gardens, montreal tower
Stroller friendly – Very
Parking vs public transport – Lot of walking between and within these places, although they are in the same neighborhood. Parking for the day is 12$ and the sticker holds good for parking-lots of all the three places. Best option with kids!
Cafeteria – Around these places, the food joints are less and terrible. I am glad we carried food for the little one and us!
Other tips – Gets crowded by noon. Better to start day early. You can buy tickets for all the places at the Botanical garden instead of biodome, shorter lines.
We started with biodome around 9 am and we finished all three places at a relaxed pace by late noon, also letting the toddler take his nap in the stroller while we pushed it in the botanical gardens.
Brownie points – If your child is fascinated by animals like mine, biodome is worth the visit.
The not so touristy stuff
St. Josephs Oratory
Stroller friendly – Not very, because of the many stairs to get to this huge domed church. We just took the many escalators and stairs,kept stroller in car.
Parking vs public transport – Parking after 5 pm for free. We covered this on friday evening since we had time to kill.
Brownie points – Great views and lots of open space for kids to run around in the terrace like areas.
Mount Royal hilltop
Stroller friendly -Very. Park area with trails.
It is nearly as huge as central park with parking facilities.
We parked and walked uphill to the mount top for a great view of the city after sun down.
There are many churches other than Notre-Dame that are gorgeous and in full service all over the city. And they dont charge you for an entrance. Some of the other notable ones we explored were —
St Patricks Basilica ( 2 min walk from our hotel )
Mary, Queen of the world basilica and the Dorchester square across the street.
Church of virgin mary at the end of popular St. Paul’s street, was my favorite with chandliers and boat shaped hanging lights.
Many churches along walk on the Rue Ste Catherine
Marche Jean-Talon in little italy
Stroller friendly – Fairly. Must be willing to maneuver through crowds.
Parking – underground parking at a very decent rate of about 0.50$ for every 30 minutes.
Bownie points – Street food, musicians, fresh food market.
What-we-loved – my husband and son snacked on the rotisserie chicken and they loved the smoked lamb sausage sticks to go. You can take his word for a meat tasting good! I on the other hand, loved the olive bar which was really cheap and ate so many!
I could have spent an entire day at the jean talon market if I could. It was my best stop in this town. (Hagglers, a fusion of Italian and french tongues, fresh veggies and fruits. Musicians, slow-life cappuccino joints )
Many squares and open spaces to people watch along the city’s promenades.
The square opposite our hotel had a modern fountain with a fire on water trick, which was pretty awesome. We wouldn’t have even known, if we didn’t stay nearby.
The bibliotheque (library) in the latin quartier. I expected a sprawling gothic architecture. Was amused to find a modern glass building instead. We just took a short stroll. Definitely deserves more exploration.
- The Latin quartier, the village and mount royal street were all great to walk and take in the views. They r definitely areas to explore as a resident. As a tourist, there are only a handful of places you can actually afford to loll away time at, for they all come across as similar experiences after a while.
- Ste-Catherine and other localities hyped for foray of shops and the underground city are well a little meh. We aren’t ardent shoppers; probably because of that I wasn’t truly amazed by the new brands and malls.
Many coffee chains other than Starbucks. Van Houtte and pressed cafe were the ones i tried. I hated both. Extremely strong for my palate!
Finally found my match at a gelato store, where cappuccino was served in a bowl. it was heavenly. So was the little cup i took big swigs of at the Jean-talon market place.
- We didn’t visit Schwartz’s which is popular for smoked meat. My husband almost tried smoked meat sandwich at places near the Notre-dame square, but after looking at a few he wasn’t convinced enough.
- We stayed a few blocks from china town. On travels we always make one Chinese take-out to satiate the rice-craving. The china town food was actually great. The noodle shop and Beijing were the popular restaurants. The china town itself is actually a nice area to explore.
- Pizza, quiches and Mediterranean places in Jean-talon market place.
- Crepe places on st. Pauls. Laborious work to cut and eat the stuffed crepes.
- Gelato places are awesome. They even have small few-bites size serving cones convenient for on the go.
Traveling tips with toddler
- Live within the city. All rooms come with microwave and fridge!
- Wear your best walking shoes and explore the city on foot or bike.
- Strollers are welcome and easy to maneuver all over the city, even on cobbled streets sidewalk. (City mini GT was a true companion)
- Old port area along water front has fairs and performers. good place for kids to run and explore.
- We didn’t find the need to take public transport at all. We covered everything on foot. I wish I had a fitbit to note how much we walked per day! Our calf muscles are sore, so I am sure we hiked quiet a bit!
- Map of the city and the prime streets is a good gear to have. We visited the information center near dorchester square, that gave us more ideas to explore.
- Fast food joints / kids friendly menus don’t pop up very often. If your child isn’t a taster and doesn’t eat adult food yet, I highly recommend carrying food. Our toddler was happy eating the food I had packed for him and he nibbled and snacked on whatever we bought along the way.
Overall, it was truly a different experience, visiting a city in whole new country in this case and just to realise that across the border things can be so very different!