I had been to Montreal a decade before for the Jazz Festival, and I recalled Montreal as a vibrant, buzzing city full of culture, European style, and buzz. What I didn't realize was that a lot of my perceptions about Montreal were actually about the festival. Montreal as a city was still charming, but a lot smaller and quieter than what I had remembered. It felt French, yet American at the same time; I am still not sure how that is possible. In a way, it reminded me of the quiet, subtle urban sprawl of Portland, with a bit of the tired industrial look of Cleveland or Detroit.
We both have varying levels of French knowledge (I used to be quite fluent), but we struggled with the Quebecois French. It didn't sound like French at all to me! Almost everyone we interacted with there initially spoke to us in French rather than English, which was fine except I would speak in European French and apparently spoke well enough that they would start spinning away in Quebecois French. Soon afterward I became lost and confused about what I was hearing (was that FRENCH?!) and sheepishly asked the same question in English. We gave up trying to converse in the local language and advertised our foreign tourist-ness for the rest of the trip.
We had hoped that Montreal would be more dog-friendly, but aside from two VERY dog-friendly cafes (Le Doggy Cafe and Hot Dog Cafe), there were limited options for us to bring our pooch. We improvised with a lot of chilly outdoor walks - such as going up Mont Royal to the lake and meandering in Old Montreal's cobble-stoned streets - to keep her active and part of our little adventure.
We had some fun highlights to our trip without Chloe:
- We explored the Biodome's animal habitats for a few hours.
- We went to a bustling local market - Jean Talon - and ate delicious crepes, cheese, and bought some amazing fresh strawberries and ciders.
- We had really good food at two notable restaurants: Elda was a nice local bistro where (we got a sandwich and a beef dish) and Toque! was fancy and whimsical food that was delicious (we got a price-fixed meal with a duck dish and some other stuff).
The highlight of the highlights was our adventure to a food truck festival. We stumbled upon the event - there were dozens of food trucks and a swarm of people in lines and drinking/eating on little plastic chairs and tables around the stadium. Most of the food trucks offered poutine (the Canadian specialty and favorite - french fries with gravy and cheese), which we tried and politely moved on. We also got some pretty amazing lobster dishes, ribs, raclette, and ice cream. It was a delightful evening and helped us better see the local culture in a more authentic way. People were pleasant, clumped in their groups of friends, and very interested in beer and poutine. As we left, we found ourselves paying $10 to go into an ax-throwing truck (where you throw axes in the truck at targets a few times) and really enjoyed failing at ax-throwing (okay, well I sucked). Only in Canada would this truck work out.
Would we live in Montreal? Neither of us felt a confident "yes" to that question, but neither of us said definitely "no", either. Montreal has some cleaning up to do on its infrastructure, the "francophone elite" culture clashed with the overall Canadian-friendly vibe, and it seemed like they have more in common with Broken Industry America than they wish to admit. We found this article that better expressed some of our not-so-swell observations of the area. That said, the people were pleasant, the vibe was peaceful, and we would both happily come back for another visit.