I knew nothing about Montreal other than the usual regurgitated generalizations: the city is quite European in style, the people are young and beautiful, it gets unreasonably cold, and – perhaps the most noted of all – here lies bachelor(ette) party sin heaven. I must say, I found these stereotypes to be amusingly true. But of course, like any city, Montreal cannot be so easily described.
My first impression of Montreal was that it is a confused city, a victim of a perpetual tug-of-war between two opposing forces: it is predominantly Francophone, yet a prominent Anglo-Saxon influence seeps through everyday mannerisms. It is an industrial, modern city while resiliently holding on to traditional European roots via its architecture, art, and culture. It proudly hosts a grungy underground scene, however the streets of this clean and lively city are plagued by vagabonds that don’t look a day past 30.
Perhaps Montreal’s magnetism lies precisely in its ongoing identity crisis; the young soul feels instantly drawn to this eclectic montage of urban cities. Walking down the streets, I saw Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Rome, and a spark of je ne sais quoi (this entry would be incomplete without a French expression). As someone who grew up in both Europe and the US – and had to consequently juggle multiple languages and cultural expectations – I found myself deeply relating to the city and its many dichotomies. If Montreal were a person, I think we would get along quite well.
I encourage you to piece together your own Montreal collage. These were my favorite bits:
The Plateau has become the canvas to a breathtaking graffiti movement. It decorates the entire landscape, mainly in the form of murals. I usually hesitate to admire graffiti as it more often than not feels like a defacement of the city, but this was nothing of the sort. The public artworks adorning storefronts, alleys, and even houses truly felt like an extension of the city’s essence.
Those feeling nostalgic for Europe will find refuge in Vieux Montreal. It comes to no surprise that the oldest area of the city is highly reminiscent of Paris. Consistent with the rest of the city, Vieux Montreal is a lovely juxtaposition of the old and the new, the French and the English. Walk through its dainty cobblestone paths to discover a myriad of European-style architecture including a spacious town plaza, tight brick-paved alleyways, and the majestic Notre-Dame basilica.
In addition to providing a bird’s eye view of the city, Mount Royal is an easy escape to nature. You don’t need to be a particularly athletic person to enjoy a hike up the lush mountain that gave Montreal its name. The climb to the top is rewarded with Kondiaronk Belvedere, one of the two plazas that overlook all of downtown Montreal. After soaking in the scenery, head down to Mount Royal Parc and just relax on the grass – or smoke it, as locals seem to be fond of doing. Oh, Canada.