Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why Montreal is a Rockstar

Montreal and I have been making eyes for a while now.  When the opportunity to go presented itself, I latched on to it like an attacking rottweiler.  Montreal (and the rest of the Quebec province of Canada) is the closest thing to France (perhaps even Europe) within Northern America.  My inner franchophile is happy there.

Actually, elated.

Why?  Let me count the ways.

1.  French food is the mother lode of gastronomy, as far as I am concerned.  The French reverence for food resonates with me and all my senses, and if truth be told, this is why I came to Montreal. Gastronomy is a huge deal in Montreal, so much so that National Geographic has curated an iPad app called "A Taste of Montreal".  If you are considering going, it is a download must.  

2.  European-style Coffee.  We had coffee at this Italian place in Little Italy while the last few minutes of a soccer match was on between Munich and Chelsea.  Everyone was SO into it, it was fascinating. Great coffee is easy to find in Montreal, but whatever you do, avoid the touristy places in the Latin Quarter.  Go for Cafe St. Henri.  

3. Summer Thunderstorms

4.  An Abundance of Free Things to Do.  On my list are going for a run through a.) Mont-Royal to the top and back and b.) admiring the permanent collection at the Musee des Beaux Arts.  And it is not a puny collection either.  There's a Rodin, Dali, Picasso, Renoir, and then some. I have an affinity with the Dutch so I was thrilled that it had a sizable collection of Dutch masters.  Also particularly interesting was the collection of Bonaparte artifacts and modern furniture gallery.

Museums often get overwhelming but the size of the permanent collection here was just enough to stir your interest without boring you to tears or pushing you to fine art overdose.
5.  Bixi Bikes and Bike Lanes.  BIXI (Bike + Taxi) is Montreal's bike sharing system.  For $14 for three days, you can rent bikes to go all over Montreal.  If you return the bike to any of the BIXI kiosks (there's hundreds of them) within 29 minutes, you don't pay anything extra.  With BIXI, you don't have to worry about finding parking and paying for parking, plus you could eat more because you're burning more calories!  WIN!

6.  The History.  Especially in Old Downtown, it fascinates me how all these buildings have been around for centuries.  America doesn't have much for old architecture so I gobble it up when I am surrounded by it. There's something very romantic imagining life in a different era.  If those brick walls could talk.

Montreal also has its Notre-Dame and it's a rather magnificent structure.  It's smaller compared to the one in Paris, but still quite remarkable.

7.  The Cafe Culture Intertwined with the Work to Live Lifestyle.  I often profess that one of the reasons I travel is to gauge how much I have drank the Kool Aid in America.  By seeing how other people live in the rest of the world, I am able to benchmark if the way I am living my life is better off or worse off.  The French, and apparently, the Montrealers too, revere sitting in a cafe not just for the sake of sitting in a cafe, but to slow life down.

Life in America is packaged as efficient.  What that really means though is that things are always in a blurry rush because we never have a shortage of shit to do.  There is no time to savor, to taste.  Wasting time at a sidewalk cafe drinking coffee all morning is counter-productive.  But counter-productive to what?  Our jobs?  Our house chores?  The time we could all be sitting in front of the TV or the computer?

I have drank that Kool Aid.  We just finished dinner at a restaurant and I found myself tapping my fingers on the table wondering when the server is coming around with the check.  I caught myself and the realization hit me like a ton of bricks!  I was on vacation and I really have nowhere to be.  What was I in the rush for???

I would expect a lesson like this to come from a vacation at the beach, not from a major city rooted in French culture.  I admire many European countries, and indeed the city of Montreal, because they have a grasp that we only work to live and not the other way around.

If Montreal calls you, I only have one advice.  Brush up on your French and go.

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