Brian’s Travel Spot: Montréal 2013

The Montreal coat of arms (in force from 1938 - 2017), as seen on the interior wall of the Chalet Mt Royal.Welcome to the third and final instalment of what is a first for the Travel Spot, a series of three posts covering the first trip I took after starting the Coffee Spot (long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). It takes us back to late February/early March 2013, when I flew to Boston, travelled around New England and went from there to New York City, all of which is covered in the first instalment on this series.

From New York, I took the Adirondack, one of Amtrak’s famous long-distance trains, up the Hudson River valley, through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to Montréal, the journey being covered in the second instalment of this series.

This, the third and final instalment, covers my time in Montréal. It was my first visit (I have since been back in October 2018, part of my second around-the-world trip) and, with hindsight, going in March, which counts as the depths of winter, might not have been the best introduction to Montréal. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed what little I could see of the city and, in particularly, was blown away by its growing speciality coffee scene.

You can find out how I got on after the gallery.

  • The view which greeted me on my first day in Montreal was not an encouraging one.
  • The Atwater Tower was a local landmark (and helpful for finding my way back at night!).
  • I was staying very near the Lachine Canal...
  • ... which, had the weather been different, I'd have followed into town.
  • Instead I took the metro to Place D’Armes. This is the Bank of Montreal (now a museum)...
  • ... while this terracota-clad lovely is the New York Life Insurance Building.
  • Pride of place, however, goes to Notre-Dame Cathedral.
  • I ended my first day at Café Myriade.
  • By the second day, the weather had improved somewhat...
  • ... although the canal remained frozen.
  • I headed into downtown Montreal, where I'd set myself the task of climbing Mt Royal.
  • I came at it via Parc Percy-Walters, on the western edge of downtown.
  • I took the direct route, following the convenient staircases up the hillside.
  • ... although at times it was just trails through the snow.
  • Mt Royal is very accessible though, with several trails and roads ringing it.
  • In the summer, these are thronged with walkers.
  • I, however, carried on with the direct route.
  • Slowly the city emerges through...
  • ... and then above trees.
  • And there it is: downtown Montreal...
  • ... with McGill University in the foreground.
  • Near the top of the hill is Mt Royal Chalet, built in 1932.
  • It's open to the public (and has toilets). The interior is gorgeous...
  • ... particularly in the afternoon light when I was there.
  • How's that for a light fitting?
  • And naturally there are squirrels. And why not?
  • At the front of the chalet is Belvédère Kondiaronk, a terrace offering great views of the...
  • ... of the city to the east.
  • This is the view to the north of the centre...
  • ... and the Jacques Cartier Bridge, crossing the St Lawrence River via St Helen's Island.
  • Moving south, this is the view across to Vieux Montréal and Vieux-Port de Montréal.
  • And now we're back with views of downtown Montreal.
  • Three Montreal skyscrapers: 1000 de La Gauchetière, CIBC Tower & 1250 René-Lévesque.
  • To the left and behind 1000 de La Gauchetière is the Pont Victoria...
  • ... while further to the south is the much longer Pont Samuel De Champlain.
  • The view down to the foot of Mt Royal...
  • ... and, looking further afield, distant mountains, which is where I'll leave you.
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I arrived on the train from New York City well after dark on a wintery Monday evening and flew back to Heathrow on Thursday evening, leaving me just two full days and most of Thursday to explore the city. I stayed with a friend who lived just to the south of the centre, in the Saint-Henri district, not far from Atwater Avenue. In an ideal world, I would have walked from there to the centre, which, depending on where I was going, was anything between 30 minutes to an hour’s stroll.

One route that appealed was to follow the Lachine Canal, which ran just past my friend’s apartment building. This would have taken me to the Old Port (Vieux-Port de Montréal) and the historic centre (Vieux Montréal) in about an hour. However, as I noted in the introduction, early March is not the ideal time to visit Montréal since it was literally freezing (the canal was frozen solid) and the weather was particularly nasty on that first day.

Instead, I jumped on the metro, whose trains made me immediately think of Paris, and travelled the five stops along the No. 2 Line to Place-D’Armes. I wandered around a bit, taking in the usual tourist sights, but it was too cold and grey to linger for long (I returned to the area in 2018, when I visited in the much more reasonable month of October, finding Vieux Montréal and Vieux-Port de Montréal very much to my liking). By this point it was no longer freeze and instead had started to pour with rain, so I took refuge in the underground city, a parallel set of corridors beneath downtown Montréal. These connect to the basements of many of the main buildings, the university and the metro stations and means that you can move around in winter when it gets really cold (apparently local sources don’t think that being cold enough for the canal to freeze counts as “really cold”).

I ended up at Café Myriade, one of a handful of speciality coffee shops which I’d managed to identify before the trip. However, as is often the case, one is all that it takes. Once I’d got chatting with the owner, Anthony, he gave me a long list of other places to try. The following day I set off to explore more of Montréal’s speciality coffee scene, although since the weather had improved, I began with something that every visitor to Montréal needs do: a hike up Mt Royal, the large, green hill that backs onto downtown Montréal and offers great views over the city.

From there, I dropped down to the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal Area to visit some of the coffee shops that Anthony had recommended, returning to the area the following day to visit a few more, followed by a return to Mt Royal itself.

You can read about that, my last day in Montréal, after the gallery.

  • I had not picked the best day to return to Mt Royal, but it was the only day I had left.
  • I'm sure there used to be a city out there...
  •  Oh wait, here it comes!
  • In the brief gap between the clouds, I got a panorama looking north across Le Plateau.
  • Here's the view northeast off to a very distant Olympic Stadium...
  • ... which is all the way along Rue Rachel, which you can see in this picture.
  • Moving around, I'm sure that there used to be a bridge there.
  • And sure enough, a few minutes later, there it was, emerging from the gloom.
  • This time I approached from Le Plateau and made my way right to the top...
  • ... where there's this cross, built in 1924.
  • From there I made my way back to the chalet, although I didn't go inside this time.
  • Instead it was back to the terrace, which was much quieter...
  • ... so I was able to get this panoramic view.
  • Here's downtown Montreal and McGill University again...
  • ... along with the three skyscrapers (more have been built since this photo was taken!).
  • Finally, I'll leave you once again with the (cloudy) view of the distant mountains.
I had not picked the best day to return to Mt Royal, but it was the only day I had left.1 I'm sure there used to be a city out there...2  Oh wait, here it comes!3 In the brief gap between the clouds, I got a panorama looking north across Le Plateau.4 Here's the view northeast off to a very distant Olympic Stadium...5 ... which is all the way along Rue Rachel, which you can see in this picture.6 Moving around, I'm sure that there used to be a bridge there.7 And sure enough, a few minutes later, there it was, emerging from the gloom.8 This time I approached from Le Plateau and made my way right to the top...9 ... where there's this cross, built in 1924.10 From there I made my way back to the chalet, although I didn't go inside this time.11 Instead it was back to the terrace, which was much quieter...12 ... so I was able to get this panoramic view.13 Here's downtown Montreal and McGill University again...14 ... along with the three skyscrapers (more have been built since this photo was taken!).15 Finally, I'll leave you once again with the (cloudy) view of the distant mountains.16
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Before I tell you about my last day in Montréal, I ought to mention that Montréal is in Quebec, a French-speaking province which very nearly voted for independence from Canada in a referendum in 1995. French is widely spoken, and you’ll often be greeted with a cheery “bonjour”, which caused me some interesting problems.

Montréal is the only place where I’ve been mistaken as a French speaker. In France, when I reply in my clumsy French, it’s immediately apparent that I can’t say more than a few words and so whoever I’m talking to quickly switches to English (if they know it). Whether this is out of pity, or the fact that they can’t take another second of me mangling their beloved language, I’m never quite sure.

In Montréal, it was the opposite. My clumsy responses were met with a stream of fast-paced French which I stood zero chance of understanding, invariably leading to me stammering out “Je ne parle pas français” after which the conversation switched seamlessly to English. I can only assume it was my British accent that threw them!

Back to my last day in Montréal. I was due to fly home that evening, so I’d left my bags at my friend’s apartment and, after visiting several coffee shops, I’d gone back to the Belvédère Kondiaronk, the broad terrace in front of the Mt Royal Chalet for a last look at the city. Unfortunately, on my way down, I slipped on the ice, lost my feet from under me and went down hard on the base of my spine before slamming my back on the ground.

Those of you who follow the Travel Spot will be aware that I experience the occasional recurrence of a longstanding back problem. The way I fell was how I originally injured my back, over 20 years before, the only difference being that it was a wet grass slope which I slipped on back then. The good news was that I was wearing my rucksack this time around and that took the bulk of the impact. The bad news is that my laptop was in my backpack at the time and, as I found out later, the screen didn’t survive the impact.

I rather gingerly picked myself up and went back to my friend’s apartment to collect my bags. I did a few stretches there and my back didn’t seem too bad, so I headed for the airport, although, in all honesty, I didn’t have much of a choice. It was either that or miss my flight. I made it to the airport without mishap (one of the consistent things about all my various back niggles over the years is that walking while carrying a large rucksack has never been an issue), although I wasn’t looking forward to the flight, with the potential of having to sit for around eight hours in an economy seat.

At least on this occasion I was actually flying with British Airways, but other than that, I can’t tell you much about the flight (I don’t even have a photo of the plane). However, my fears about my back were unfounded. Compared to the time I flew back from Bangkok with a bad back, it was a dream, and I didn’t have any major discomfort. A couple of visits to the chiropractor when I got home and my back was as right as rain (which is more than can be said for my laptop, which needed a new screen). However, it did rather overshadow what had otherwise been a wonderful trip. Despite the weather, I loved Montréal and my one regret was that it was another five years before I was able to make it back.


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2 thoughts on “Brian’s Travel Spot: Montréal 2013

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