The first time I was in Montreal I was nine or ten. My mom, brother, and I were staying in my uncle’s cabin in Vermont and drive over the border to visit the city overnight. I don’t remember much of the trip other than we visited a fort and it rained.
At some point in the years since I got very interested in the city. I’ve been trying to think of what kickstarted my interest and the only thing I can really think is the comic book Mage. Without getting too deep into it, Mage is a series about Kevin Matchstick, the avatar of the Pendragon, who fights monsters. It’s dramatically more complex and wonderful, but that’s the very basic gist. The second part of the series, and the first that I read, largely took place in Montreal. I remember the visuals in the book and the mystique of the city really grabbed me. Since then I’ve been wanting to visit.
I haven’t had a chance until recently getting laid off and finding myself with a lot of time on my hands. I decided to take some sort of road trip before getting serious about the job hunt. Having decided to visit my father in Burlington, Vermont, it was an easy decision to kick off the road trip with the relatively short drive from Vermont to Montreal.
I left in the early afternoon feeling both excited and nervous. This would be my first time crossing a country border in anything other than a plane or a boat since my friend and I crossed over from Hong Kong to China, pre-handover. I’m not sure if my being nervous was justified or not.
When I arrived at the border, the guard seemed slightly dubious at my answers to his questions. No, I did not have a hotel booked for my stay. No, I did not have a job in the states. Rather than simply let me through, he gave me a sheet, told me to pull over and enter the building. I did so and handed my passport, license, and paperwork to another guard. I then sat in a room with a number of other people for about 30 minutes. Eventually my name was called and a third guard asked me similar questions to the first one outside. He too seemed dubious and told me to sit down and I would be called again. I went back and sat down for another couple of minutes before he called me back up, handed me my passport and license and told me to have a nice day. I have no idea if this is all normal and not, but I was glad to be out of there and on my way.
The drive to Montreal was pretty pleasant. Having been a little spooked by the border guards, I drove the speed limit the whole way, but to the chagrin of cars around me and my own instincts. Eventually I arrived. I had simply set the GPS to ‘Montreal’ so following it’s directions deposited me directly downtown. I drove around a bit and quickly realized that I would rather be walked. I randomly picked a Best Western, booked a room and set out to explore the city.
One of the guides I’d glanced at said that a walk down Rue Saint Paul, so I made that my target. It was not particularly close to my hotel so ended up walking quite a bit of the city. Eventually I found the street and wandered down. I can see why the tour guide pointed it out. It’s through the heart of Old Montreal and absolutely beautiful. It’s lined with cafes, boutiques, gallerys, and more, all in old buildings on a narrow and charming street. I decided my first meal in Canada should be poutine, because sometimes I am very basic. I found a nice little place with an enclosed stone courtyard and enjoyed one of Canada’s most famous and incredibly unhealthy dishes.
After finishing my lunch, I wandered around Old Town for a while, taking in the sights and sounds. It’s the tourist part of town, so there were a ton of people and a thousand different languages being spoken. Despite all the souvenir stores and inordinate amount of caricature artists, the area is really nice. I wasn’t able to go into many of the places as it was getting later in the day, but even seeing Cathedrals from the outside is nice.
After Old Town I thought I’d head back to the general vicinity of my hotel. During the course of this walk I heard the sounds of a concert and followed the music until I found a street festival of some kind called “Francos of Montreal”. I’m not sure what it was all about since I sadly don’t speak French, but the artist playing was Claudio Capeo. Capeo is a singer and accordionist who took part in the French version of Voice. I don’t know much about him beyond that, but his songs were fun and the crowd was very into it. There’s nothing like live music, and finding a concert randomly is always cool.
Once the set was done I wandered back up to the area near the hotel. I found a nice pub for a drink, then a nice Italian place for a late supper, under the watchful eye of the giant Leonard Cohen mural. I’m always going to dig it when cities honor famous musicians. I loved the huge Bob Dylan mural in Minneapolis, and this one was just as cool.
It was a wonderful day. Beautiful weather, good food, incredible city. Any time you can explore a new city on foot with no particular destination is a good time, and this was no exception. My curiosity and interest in the city hasn’t remotely been sated, but I’ve at least gotten a chance to explore a place I’ve been fascinated by for years.
Tomorrow I’m going to move on to Quebec City!