Thursday, February 6, 2014

Holiday Photo Diary: Montreal


Montreal might have been one of my favourite visits over the holiday, although that might be coloured by the fact I got to see my little sister for the first time since my holiday to China the year earlier. It also might have been the Quebec X Toronto feel, snow and boardgame cafes we kept stumbling upon.

We were really lucky during our entire holiday, every hotel and hostel I picked and booked turned out to be really close to both the transport system we were using (bus, train etc) and central to all the best sights. I'd like to say this was because I was so well organised, but in most cases I just looked for the place with a decent rating online and the right (read: cheap) price. This was especially the case in Montreal. The hostel we stayed at was only ok (warm, clean and safe - so I can't really complain) but it's location in the Latin Quarter was perfect. We were a stone's throw from a million cheap and tasty restaurants and only a short walk from the main shopping streets, harbour and old town. We spent the first day and a half catching trains before we realised we could walk to the places we wanted to visit just about as quickly.

Our first day was really a first evening, so we walked towards the shopping streets looking for a cinema. I don't think I've mentioned just how much Tom and I went to the movies on our holiday. In Australia we get all of the US and UK films a few months behind their international releases, if they come out at all. So we were determined to catch all of the small indie films or bigger films that wouldn't be in Australia for months. Needless to say we ended up at the cinema a whole lot. By the way, you guys do movie food RIGHT. I feel like we're ripped off at the movies here in Australia in more than one way now. I'm going to start petitioning for Tim Hortons and soft pretzels and nachos immediately. So that first night in Montreal ended up spent in a Mexican restaurant and catching a late showing of American Hustle. Which I thought was a lot of fun, especially Jennifer Lawrence's role. I'm a little surprised at the heat it's been receiving but I'm guessing that's the usual Best Picture Oscar nomination backlash.

My sister wasn't arriving until the following afternoon so Tom and I decided to take the train up to Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mont Royal. It's a minor basilica and shrine and I *think* I read that it was the largest church in Canada. In the early 20th century Brother Andre began the construction of the small church and it soon required further construction and expansion to meet the growing stream of visitors. Brother Andre (now Saint Andre) reportedly performed many miracles at the church, and as you walk through one part you actually see a huge (and I mean several hundred huge) collection of crutches that were left behind by the pilgrims after they were healed. I'm not a religious person but I always seem to gravitate to churches and shrines on my holidays. This place really is a must-visit, it has a votive chapel and Saint Andre's tomb but it also has a reliquary displaying Saint Andre's heart and a walkway that actually opens to the rocky mountainside and drips with melted snow. The only part not worth visiting is the little museum located within. The actual church is far more interesting and has plenty of signage if you're interested in learning about the history of the building and the

The next day we ended up travelling down to the Old Montreal/Old Port to see Notre Dame Basilica (but refused to pay the $5 entry, so we only saw the outside) and the older buildings in the city. We just wandered aimlessly looking at the beautiful buildings until we were accosted by a Christmas elf. Apparently all around Montreal there were Christmas events and markets happening and it was the elf's job to let people know about it. She pointed in the direction of a huge Christmas market and said there would be free hot chocolate and cider so obviously we stepped to and went searching. Except we came up empty. We walked for a good hour but never found the supposed markets that were meant to be impossible to miss. Either her English wasn't as good as it sounded and she mixed up left and right or she was actually Loki in disguise and was causing mischief. It didn't really matter we were walking around an area we'd planned to check out anyway - I just wish we'd gotten some free hot chocolate.

After our not-visit to the markets we walked down to Chinatown for lunch and had about eleventy billion dumplings at Qingchua before heading back out to navigate the super snowy streets back to the Latin Quarter. Montreal was a great place for meals and bars. To celebrate meeting up with my sister again we went to a Diablo's, a southern-style bar and restaurant which served the most earth-shatteringly good fried chicken I've ever eaten. Also, these portions put every other restaurant to shame. I could have lived off my meal for at least three days, it was mental. Qingchua (mentioned above) had about 60 different dumplings to choose from at a very, very reasonable price. Mache was also near our hostel in the Latin Quarter and a diner-style restaurant that made sandwiches, burgers and poutine. The poutine was the reason for the visit, but the pulled pork sandwich I had was so much better (sorry Canadians I just don't like eating cheese curds with my chips and gravy). Near the base of Mont Royal there's an Australian pie shop called TA which was amazing, just like home. It was the tastiest, flakiest pie crust and the most tender meat. And they also sold them frozen so you could take them home and reheat them when you wanted, what a good idea. And they sold minties, which I know means nothing to you guys, but minties!! Also awesome? The huge amount of boardgame cafes basically outside our door. Chez Geek was basically just a boardgame and comic store which had a room next door that you could sit and play games in for the cost of a drink (which wasn't even mandatory). Randolph's was more of a proper boardgame cafe. There were walls of shelves filled with boardgames and them two levels of tables that you could sit and eat, drink and play games at. It was about $5 to play for as long as you want and they had a bunch of cocktails, wines, beers, non-alcoholic drinks and light meals that you could order. And their cocktails came in beakers! I can't even explain how much I loved this place - friends, boardgames and a cold glass of cider is the absolute best way to spend an afternoon/evening.

Our last day in Montreal was a dedicated snow day. We wanted to go ice-skating but when we got to Mont Royal park we realised how big the place is. We were on the other side of the park from the ice-skating rink and just no. The snow was over a foot deep and that walk would have been LONG. So instead we climbed into the woods and made snow angels and threw snow around at each other and took a bunch of pictures. It was a lot of fun but it was cut short when my boot fell apart. The sole came unstitched at the back and there was no way I was hanging out in the snow with my socked foot sitting in snow!


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