Oot n' Aboot: Exploring Montreal on Foot
Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux.
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix.
Ton histoire est une épopée,
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.
After a restful night in Yonkers, New York, the night before, Allison and I arrived to Montreal about six hours later. We chattered in between outrageous Bachelorette recap podcasts, speculating how crossing the border would go once we reached border patrol. Neither of us had ever done so by vehicle before, but we’d done our best to read up prior. I learned that contraband included fruit, of all things, so we packed accordingly.
All went well! After a few questions of where we were coming from, where we were going, and what brought us to Canada, they let us through and we were home free and only an hour left to go to reach Montreal. Wahoo!
At first not much seemed that different except for the shift from English to French on the road signs. We’d just enjoyed a full day’s drive through upstate New York and the rolling scenery of New York mountains, lakes, and a sprawling coniferous tree line.
But eventually we rolled into industrial territory. Nestled by the coast, Montreal is a centre for industry, technology, finance, and world affairs. The city houses Port of Montreal, the largest inland port in the world; the Canadian National railway headquarters; several big names in AI, like Microsoft Research Google Brain, and Facebook; and numerous other player players contributing to its economic and cultural buzz.
So naturally, the first thing I noticed as we approached were the smoke chimneys dotting the city perimeter. The winding highways were tricky to navigate but Al Pal’s little DeeDee zipped right through and we made it to the AirBnb with little fuss. We dropped our stuff at the apartment (stairs only, woohoo), changed, and ventured back outside for some dinner.
As we roved deeper into what was now a foreign country’s major metropolitan mecca - did we really just drive here? - my next impression of Montreal shifted to fascination of its own striking brand of eclectic. The main street that ran perpendicular to ours, St Laurent Boulevard, artsy and gritty like DC’s H Street, housed eye-opening wall murals and a diverse offering of bars and restaurants. For dinner, we settled on a French cuisine spot about a fifteen minute walk away. It was gritty, but not dirty. The area appeared well kept, yet hosted a certain edge that welcomed societal fringe, and creatives - namely, a skater culture that I’d forgotten existed, and overall, a varied people that knit together this vibrant culture that welcomed self-expression and individuality.
On the walk over, we gazed at the remarkable street art, some with pointed religious or otherwise thought-provoking bent, but never failing to leave us slack-jawed at their vastness, their impressive detail.
We spent the next several days perusing the nooks of Montreal, all on foot - not once did we hail a cab or an Uber. It was remarkable how much ground we covered - how much we did, saw, ate, and giggled at - just by walking.
In a robust forty-eight-hour span, we visited a historic bank building-turned coffee shop and hotel, bravely tested our gastric limits in trying authentic poutine, took turns sleeping for eleven straight hours (glorious), made new friends in a hat shop trying on handmade felt and hand-woven straw hats, slowly revived my [adequate] French, playfully meeting halfway between English and French with its people; stocked up on raspberry rose and maple syrup for our friends back home at their famed Jean Talon Market,; and at mealtimes, splurged on all the right things (my DC foodie friends would be very proud).
We left feeling heavy - both in the emotional sense of leaving a new city we fell in love with, and, of course, in the physical sense that comes from accepting all of Montreal’s delicacies, from the hallowed “Mon Dieu” croissant (stuffed AND drizzled with Nutella and sprinkled with powdered sugar) to heavy, heavy poutine to steak tartare. What a wonderful place we had the great pleasure to visit, welcomed by its people and awed by its special combo of rich history and modern flare.
Montreal, on t’aime.
Our home and native land!
True patriot love
in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts
we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
we stand on guard for thee.