Montreal consists of several different parts which this city willingly opens up to outsiders. Since coming into existence in the 16th and 17th century, it has changed its name from Ville-Marie to Montreal. The name also refers to the actual Mont Royal, a panoramic platform on top of the city. Discovered by a French legation and since then captured in its fascinating French culture, the main language spoken here truly is French. Francais is everywhere: On signs, in restaurants, on TV, etcetera.
While I and most likely other Americans had imagined that the majority of natives fluently speak the language of English, only slightly over 50 percent of fellow Montrealers are able to communicate in Anglais. And when they do, you will most certainly hear an accent; unless you are talking to a particularly skilled young chap. I found this trait rather charming than frustrating, but then I also had the advantage of having learnt French in school and already being acquainted with the one or other foreign phrase. While I did not have trouble communicating in English and being understood, I did on occasion run into the one or other grumpy looking citizen who refused to answer me in English when asking him for a favor (such as taking a picture).
When sitting over a wonderful dish of possibly the best Italian pizza eaten so far (yes, Montreal also has a history of Italian immigrants), I got the chance to speak to a born-and-bred local who was happy enough to tell me more about the Quebecer culture. It is no unusual to start with French in school and then learn English later-on as a teenager (this would explain the accent in most people I’ve spoken to). It is further not unusual to for French Canadians to be regarded as lower class by the rest of Canada and to be looked down upon. This explains the animosity both sides of the country display, according to him, which is a pity if really true and which I never knew about. I must say that I found the Eastern Canadian culture far more interesting than what I have so far encountered from West Canada, but that is still unexplored lands to me.
With so many districts looking like a typical American city, one has managed to stand out to me: The historic part of the Royal Mountain, which I personally find the most interesting. Be it because I like cobble stone paths and nice churches. Be it because it reminded me of some old cities in Deutschland, my home country. Either way, I do not stand alone in this opinion and that must mean something. Past the Rue Saint Catherine and Chinatown, right next to the wonderful Notre Dame you can walk down to this part of town fairly easily.
When I got here on my second day of the trip, I was starving for some good French-Canadian Cuisine. A fellow hosteller had recommended “Le Poutine:” A dish of fries served with gravy and curd cheese. While it was great to try out, it certainly tastes like what it sounds: A fast food dish with a nice topping, filling my stomach only until the evening hours. After walking up and down the main cobble street, I ended up in the Vieux Port, also known as the Old Harbor. It was here that another cultural festival happened to be held that weekend: A Middle-eastern fair which offered a few bands, fortune tellers, and many exotic looking stands.
It was here that I managed to take my first Canadian ferry ride: A boat towards Parc Jean Drapeau, on which the Heavy Metal Festival was being held. Beware, the ferry fee can be quite steep, with 7.50 CAD for five minutes on the water, but it is the definitely the most panoramic way to get over there. Another option would be to simply take the metro to same-named station and evidently pay a lot less. I didn’t see much of the festival, as it was gated off. Instead I was offered discounted VIP tickets by a beardy man with a huge beer belly for the bargain price of a couple hundred dollars. No thanks! The island also has remnants of the Olympic Park from 1976, the year it hosted the famous sport competition. It’s nice to look at and walk around a bit, but not much is out there aside from an amusement park in one part.
And then, finally, I did get the chance to experience Montreal’s night life. Although on a Sunday night out, there was still plenty going on in the streets. With a nice Aussie and a New Jersey girl I managed to navigate my way towards Rue-Saint Denis. Our hostel desk manager had told us of some great bars along this street. I guess I had imagined a strip-like atmosphere a la Mallorca-style: One joint next to another, a buzzing vibe. Not so much this night, on which it was rather dead. So we turned around and made our way to Billy Kun, a cute bar right next to the Mont Royale metro station. They have awesome beer and cocktail specials, which don’t cost an arm and a leg, as, unfortunately, Montreal can do to you. At 1 PM we decided to call it the quits and end my premiere out.
Lacking some necessary nutrients on this trip, I was able to take them all in on my last day there: We stopped by at the Marche de Jean-Talon, a huge fresh market place in the northern part of the city. One stand next to another, seducing us to try peaches, tomatoes, salted cucumbers for free when making our way from merchant to merchant. I highly recommend at least popping your head in here if only for buying some healthy fruit or vegetables and then wandering around the area. Such as we did, when we stumbled across a French-speaking film crew who were pointing their cameras towards, alas, another church!
After two days of exploring, I came to realize: This city is chill! I don’t have to stress myself to get from one place to another or to evade the masses. I can casually stroll the streets without being bumped into and having to excuse myself. The town has some very relaxed vibes and it was hard to let go of those.
Time in Montreal was short but sweet. Looking back, it’s worth a trip that’s so much longer. But it’s all about making the best out of the short time provided and that’s what I’ll keep in memory.
J’ai reve d’une ville de Montreal…