boarded the bus at 4pm sharp on Friday, October 4, for the long ride to Montreal. By the time we arrived at the Montreal Midtown Holiday Inn, it was around 12:30am on Saturday. Too excited to sleep, my friends and I decided to scope out the area. We first hit up a Tim Horton’s, the Canadian equivalent of Dunkin Donuts (though any Canadian who’s also experienced the States would probably slap me very lightly for that comparison). We wandered east from the hotel, then walked north along Rue Sainte-Catherine, a lively road filled with bars, hip clothing stores and plenty of massage parlors with neon signage that implied happy endings. We stopped for shish taouk, a Middle-Eastern inspired dish consisting of roasted potatoes, rice, chicken, and lettuce, before calling it a night around 3am.
At 9am, we left the hotel to check out two Yelp-recommended bagel stores: St-Viateur Bagels and Fairmount Bagels. Montreal bagels are a little different than our usual New York fare. The crust is lightly crisped while the insides are supremely soft, as opposed to being chewy the whole way through. My hot, freshly baked poppy seed bagel from St-Viateur was heavenly.
After breakfast, we walked west along Boulevard Saint-Laurent, a major road filled with cafes, restaurants and shops. Montreal seems to have few chain stores. The majority we passed looked like independent businesses.
We explored Marché Jean-Talon, a marketplace reminiscent of NYC’s Chelsea Market but larger, partially outdoors and much less pretentious. Lunch was crepes from La Crêperie du Marché. I opted for the apple, ham, cheese and maple syrup combination.
Weekend train passes are only $12 CAD, while a daily pass will set you back around $9 CAD. We took full advantage of this to ride the Metro to the heart of Downtown Montreal, where we spent a few hours perusing Archambault, an exhaustive bookstore stocking everything from books to sheet music to actual musical instruments to video games.
Feeling peckish again, we headed back west in search of poutine, which we found in the form of Frite Alors. Their traditional variety was named The Vladimir and consisted of barely-salted, perfectly crisped French fries, gravy and cheese curds. Because of all the starch, a small portion was plenty filling. We accompanied the meal with a pitcher of Cheval Blanc beer split three ways – light enough for an unaccustomed drinker like me, yet strong enough for a flavor kick to complement the poutine. Next door, Dr. Frost sold macaron ice cream sandwiches for our desserts.
After dinner, we ambled along the Old Port waterfront, taking in the cobblestone roads and spectacular fall view of changing leaves. We stopped back at the hotel for a quick rest before heading out to explore the nightlife.
For a Saturday night, the streets were fairly empty. Dessert number two was chocolate pizza from Cacao 70, which specializes in chocolate based desserts including fondues and hot chocolate made with melted chocolate of your choice from their extensive selection. After grabbing a drink from a random bar nearby, we called it a night and hopped on the train back to the hotel.
Our first stop was supposed to be a breakfast joint rated highly on Yelp, but we failed miserably and ended up grabbing sandwiches from a convenience store. We took a very brief walk through Parc du Mont-Royal, a park situated around a hill which we hear from other NJIT trip-goers has amazing views from the peak. After checking out and loading our luggage onto the bus, we visited the Notre-Dame Basilica, a beautiful Catholic church dating back to 1829. Tourists should note that photography is prohibited during Mass, and Mass attendees should note that the service is conducted in French.
The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping for souvenirs along Rue Notre-Dame and nearby streets, save a brief stop for lunch at Basha, a Lebanese chain restaurant. As we boarded the bus for our return home, it started to rain, mirroring our feelings of discontent at having to leave this charming city and face another week of school and responsibilities.
For undergraduates, SAC’s yearly Montreal trip costs only $79 for transport and lodging, with comparable pricing for graduate students and others. Keep an eye out for tickets next year!
(do something nice with these tips, don’t put them in a bulleted list at end of article. bullet points uglyyyy)
Many stores, especially in areas highly frequented by tourists, accept American dollars, though they usually charge a little extra for conversion rates.
Be prepared to do a little guesswork on signs and maps – 95% of Quebec’s population speaks French as a first or second language, and it is the province’s only official language.
I felt mostly safe walking around at night, though as with any unfamiliar area, you should travel in a group.
Kinder Surprise eggs are legal in Canada. If you do not know what those are, please buy one for the novelty.
Photo credits Jeremy Buhain