While impatiently waiting for my reserve orders to process in order to move to Germany and to start working again, I impulsively decided to go explore some of Canada. After all it was basically in the backyard from Ohio and I had never gone up to explore the northern territory except when passing through Toronto and while visiting Niagara Falls on the border. So after minimal research I bought a last minute flight and was off to explore Quebec and Montreal for a week.
I went in mid-November and was first of all shocked at just how bitterly cold it was there. I had initially planned to spend most of the afternoons wandering outside through the cities and exploring whatever caught my eye, but ended up opting for more art galleries and indoor activities since I was literally wearing every clothing item that I had packed and was still so cold that it was hard to move. With recommendations from receptionists and fellow travelers, I headed off to the streets to explore many amazing little museums and galleries (as well as numerous cafes that served warm soups and coffees). First stop on the brief Canadian adventure was Montreal:
Old Town Montreal
Randomly I booked a place near the waterfront in the old district of Montreal and was quite pleasantly surprised to find that an amusement park, the Marina, and several old churches and building were only a few minutes from the doorsteps of my lodging. The area is quite beautiful with a park area to explore, a Ferris wheel for a high vantage point of the city, an ice skating rink in winter, and plenty more all overlooking the historical waterfront.
The deep blue color of the vaults that are ornately decorated with golden stars inside the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal have led to the church being nicknamed the "Blue Church." The rest of the sanctuary is also detailed in varying shades if blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. The splendor of this church with its free entry and central location by the Place d'Armes square make it an easy and memorable stop.
There are a few fantastic art museums in downtown Montreal, several of which are free to visit. After happily soaking in a new Monet painting at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I continued on to the MAC Montreal to see a highly recommended exhibit that had just opened. Featuring the local artist and global icon Leonard Cohen, the exhibit called "Une brèche en toute chose/A Crack in Everything" covered the valleys and peaks through this artists imagination and legacy throughout his life. My favorite part of the exhibit was at the very end in a padded sound proof room with microphones hanging down that were playing "Hallelujah," which managed to give a very personal experience to each if its audience through the limited space and private time in the room. While the displays in these museums are constantly rotating, many maintain a consistent reputation for providing the public quality exhibits.
Hike Parc du Mont-Royal
One of my favorite things about instagram is meeting awesome people from all over the world. On my travels, I've been fortunate to meet many encouraging, inspiring, and amazing people. In Montreal I was able to meet up in person with the lovely @mom.me.writes and explore a bit of her city! We did a hike up Parc du Mont-Royal and had a lovely overview of the city sprawling below.
L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal
After spotting this out the window of the airplane, I was excited to find it while walking around Montreal. While this Roman Catholic basilica/ national shrine on Mount Royal's Westmount Summit is Canada's largest church and boasts one of the largest domes in the world, the interior remains modest. Its striking facade and the impressive stature poised on the side of the hill though certainly make this basilica one worth exploring.
The Montreal Botanical Garden is a large garden on the edge of Montreal comprised of nearly 200 acres of gardens and greenhouses. While several areas of the gardens were already closed for winter when I visited, the gardens still had many areas that were still open to the public and quite lovely to walk around especially the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. Each section of garden has a specific theme and transports visitors to that respective area of the world with the attention to detail in making it realistic. This certainly would have been more enjoyable if I had not been wearing three sweatshirts and had full mobility, yet it was still a beautiful place to walk around and get some painfully fresh air.
Local Foodie Favorites
As is customary on any trip, it is very important to search out some of the local favorites and sample the popular dishes. Poutine was first in this list, which is basically a steaming bowl of french fries that is smothered in chunks of cheese and gravy. This grossly satisfying famous treat is equally delicious and un-nutritious, yet undeniably tasty. Another local favorite is heading to Schwartz Deli, a local diner that is world renown for their thick smoked meat sandwiches. These juicy sandwiches piled high with layers of meat do not disappoint which is no surprise after attracting crowds of tourists for nearly 100 years.
Quebec- while I really enjoyed the friendliness and easy access around Montreal, I much preferred the quaint historical feel of Quebec. Again the bitter cold weather kept me hopping from place to place, but this old French-style city felt like stepping into any older European city. From everyone speaking French to the layout of the streets and the detailed architecture, this felt very different from North America.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
This iconic hotel was opened in 1893 and towers above the other buildings in the area, containing 18 floors and perched overlooking the St. Lawerence River below. While it remains an operational hotel and restaurant to this day, it was also named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981.
While photographing the exterior of this monumental Châteauesque architectural style building certainly provides plenty of amazing photos, tours of the inside and some of the history are also available and well worth it! Most notably the Château claims the room where the World War II Allies' including American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, would meet during conferences to discuss strategy and make critical decisions during World War II.
Waterfront of Old Quebec
At the base of the towering Château lies another lovely small historic district with cobblestone streets lined with bakeries, small shops, and art galleries. There are several small winding streets leading down to the water edge by the port, but there is also a funicular that directly transports guests down to this quaint neighborhood.
Prison Turned Art Gallery
The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) is another fine example of a Canadian Art Museum. While contemporary art is typically less of my forte, this one was particularly interesting as it was held in a former prison. One of the galleries remains structured like an old prison where it dates back to the 19th century and the interior is a contemporary example of what incarcerated life was like during that time. Again, modern art is not my favorite but one of the focal exhibits was structured to provide background on the personal life of the artists as they were creating each piece, providing an interesting perspective as to their creative influences at the time.
Prison Turned Library
The Morrin Centre is another example in this small town of how a local prison was repurposed for a more artistic reason. Since 1868 this former detention facility has been used as a literary center for the community and now boasts a large variety of authors and classic books. There is even a book written about the history of the center as it transitioned from iron bars to bookshelves taking readers from the dark prison cells on the building’s ground floor to the modern library that now sits above it. The library is opened to the public and there are also tours available through the center.
Ferry Across St. Lawerence River
Some of the best views for photographing the Chateau Frontenac are actually from across the river. While there is less to do in Lewis, Quebec, there are a few restaurants and this side of the river provides a full backdrop of the city with Le Château Frontenac front and center. Catching the ferry back at sunset provides a beautiful sunset over Quebec!
With festive churches like the Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, it is hard not to get excited about Christmas. Similar to the European Christmas markets, Quebec also sets up booths with trinkets and delicious treats for sale around the holidays. Obviously I am a big fan of the Christmas Markets and was extremely pleased to discover that these festive gatherings were being held just a few hours away above the border making it easily accessible from the States!