While many of my friends decided to go to warm places for spring break, Carlos, Isaac, and I went to Montréal! As a Canadian, I really wanted to visit a Canadian city that wouldn’t take too long to travel to from Boston and had lots of things to do. Montréal, known for its vibrant city with its own unique culture and a great arts scene, seemed perfect. A group of my friends went last year, but they didn’t say much about it other than it was fun but cold. No problem, we could handle a little snow after our crazy winter this year. So we booked bus tickets, packed our hats and mittens, and travelled across the border. On the bus ride there we played a game called Paranoia, a roleplaying game about mutants and clones and treason and creativity and pure ridiculousness. Isaac taught us how to play, and it was a fun way to spent part of the seven and a half hour bus ride.
Once we got to Montréal, the first thing we did was eat poutine. (Spoiler alert: when working on our schedule I put a lot of poutine on our itinerary. A lot.) We went to Poutineville for a late lunch and the three of us shared two large poutines, one with bacon and the other with sausage. It was Carlos’ first time having poutine, and he loved it! We happily checked it off our Montreal food list.
We boxed up the rest and brought it back to our airbnb. Our host was a really kind and hospitable francophone with two cute dogs who she spoke to in French! One wasn’t trained to respond to “Sit!” but would understand “Assieds-toi!” Having the opportunity to speak French was another main reason I wanted to visit Montréal. Since going to MIT, I’ve had few chances to practice the language and my proficiency level has definitely declined a lot over the past three years. C’était une très bonne opportunité de parler en français!
We walked to the Mile End to explore the area and saw some really intricate street art on the way. Here’s a cute comic in which a boy in a boat says that he pitied people in the city who risk their lives whenever they cross streets, while a huge boat is heading straight towards him! (« J’ai pitié des gens en ville qui risquent leur vie à tout moment en traversant une rue. »)
After gaping at walls we went to St. Viateur Bagel & Café. St. Viateur’s is well-known for its delicious bagels. Their shop is open 24 hours a day and so you can always stop by for warm, freshly made bagels. This was their café though, so we sat down and got to enjoy some over white hot chocolate. There was a variety of different kinds: all dressed, rosemary & sea salt, cinnamon & raisin, and more! One bagel, alone, cost only 75 or 80 cents, but if you wanted it with butter it was $3, which was kind of crazy. (Luckily for us the Canadian dollar is very low. Not great as a Canadian, but as a tourist the exchange rate was great.)
Then we stopped by a convenience store to get some Ketchup chips (Check! Another Canadian food.) and spent the night playing Settlers of Catan. The French version!
The next morning we ate our leftover poutine for breakfast and then took the subway to get across the city. Wow, Montréal’s public transit system is great – the city is a grid. Almost all streets are parallel or perpendicular to each other (the only diagonal street we saw was through a park), and so navigation was easy. Also, the trains and buses are very punctual. The buses were never more than a few minutes late, ever, and we didn’t experience a single subway delay the entire weekend. We stopped by a Tim Horton’s and had timbits for breakfast, before heading over to La musée des beaux-arts, which is free for people under 30. I’ve never seen so many Picassos in one room! There were also collections of Canadian artwork which was great, although it mainly included Canadian artists rather than art focusing on Canadian themes. There was also an area dedicated to the Charlie Hebdo shooting, with several unique panels stitched onto one huge banner.
The most amazing art was all over the walls of the Family Lounge. A group of artists painted all of the walls white and then made really weird, random, crazy, and cool drawings all over! There was so much going on but every little detail was awesome.
Then we went to the famous Schwartz’s for a smoked meat sandwich (Check! Another Montréal must-eat.). We were tempted to buy a whole slab of meat from the deli next door. After that we walked around Mont-Royal for a bit, got some poutine to-go, and starting “hiking” up the mountain in the Parc du Mont Royal. It was a leisurely ascent, although it was quite snowy, and the lookout point near the top was beautiful.
For evening fun we went to Randolph Pub Ludique, a board game café. Even by 6 PM the place was crowded, but we managed to get a table on the second floor. The best part about board game cafés is that the people who work there have the expertise to recommend the best game for you and even explain how to play! We wanted to play a cooperative strategy game, and since I’m interested in medicine, we thought Pandemic would be perfect. They only carried the game in French, and so someone explained the rules to us. We played for hours. It was a good thing Isaac and I can speak French, because there was one really important rule that wasn’t explained to us but helped us win one of the games! It was frustrating but oh, so fun. At the end of the night we made a quick stop at St. Viateur and had the most delicious bagels ever – they were warm and fresh and yummy. The city is beautiful at night!
We started off our last day with breakfast poutine before heading to the Centre des sciences de Montréal. One of the main programs there was called “FABRIK” and there were many different creative challenges you could work on. For example, the first one we tackled was to engineer a contraption that could transport a 25 gram weight using windpower. They provided a fan, pipecleaners, wheels, paper clips, paper plates, string, and more. As an added challenge, Isaac and Carlos tried to make something without any wheels! We also went to see the other main exhibits which were all very interactive and fun. We waited for a really long time to be able to try out a huge bubble maker – kids kept popping up out of nowhere just as it was going to be our turn! And how can you tell a cute, excited little kid to wait their turn since you’re in line? We couldn’t do it.
More street art!
Then we explored Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal). We stopped to eat beaver tails (a pastry, not from a real beaver! Check!) which were really good. What’s better than fried dough smothered in maple syrup? We continued exploring and found ourselves in a maple store that sold lots of maple syrups, taffy, and even maple-flavoured ice cream. I got a cone and we all tried maple taffy on snow. Just pour maple taffy on a sheet of crushed ice and it’ll harder enough to roll onto a popsicle stick. Then enjoy! We did. We had poutine with smoked meat for lunch, and then looked around Old Port. For dinner, what else could we get but more poutine? We went to La Banquise, a well-known poutine restaurant, and waited in line outside for 20 minutes before eating some high-quality poutine. A great dinner to end our trip!
It was so wonderful to be in Canada again, and being able to speak French for an entire weekend was amazing. Montréal is beautiful, and I would love to go again during an arts festival to see more of the creative personalities of the city!