I’m excited about this blog most more than any blog post I’ve written before. I hope it comes across in my writing, because if it doesn’t I need a big slap and to be told I need to be more expressive.
After only a three hour train journey (you’ll hear about our longer ones in later posts!) we arrived in Montreal and just stepping into the train station was beautiful. We made our way to our AirBnB as quickly as we could with our backpacks and our fairly tired legs, and was greeted by a very colourful street and a very genteel host. Everything we fell in love with the next day was already right there on our doorstep, but we were too tired to appreciate it at the time.
After speaking to our host Erwan, we quickly established that we were staying in a student apartment with two people living there at the time, and a whole host of visitors coming in and out. According to him, much of the houses on the street were also student accommodation. This daunted us, as I never remember sleeping much in uni halls and that was all we wanted to do at that time. It feels beyond old to say this, but my experience of students has also shown me that they can be some of the least considerate people on this planet. I remember reading an article once on how people in prison for murder show more social awareness and consideration for other people than first year students. I know all of this because I was one of them and I’ve never said I’m not a hypocrite. It was with great relief to find that these guys didn’t seem to be like that at all. They hung out during meal times, went out into town and came back without screaming and they saw talking to us as an opportunity to practice their English and were really keen to get to know us. They didn’t once make me down my tea either.
The next day, we woke up and took a look the street we were staying at properly for the first time, and this is what we saw.
When asking why they were there, the answer was simple – it was summer. It was the beginning of everything just seeming to have a magical touch about it. When we went out for lunch, some street performers started playing nearby, and a mixture of the music, sun and food made three hours go by without noticing.
After lunch, we made our way into the city centre, and found one street, filled with people crowded round. We assumed it would be another street performer, but it turned out there were several massive chess-board matts laid down with couples playing intensely.
The rest of that day and the next few days went by with next to no planning, and just following people or noise. It never failed us. Wherever we went, there was art all over the floor and the buildings. There were street performers everywhere and the food was beautiful. If ever you find yourself here, don’t go with the intention of dieting. If we managed to lose any weight in Iceland, we gained it all back in Montreal and then some. It was worth it.
From the pictures, you can probably see that the artists in Montreal have very experimental taste, but it added brightness to the already beautiful days and it made walking to and from places part of the joy. At night, Montreal became even more beautiful. The place just glowed.
On top of it all, it wasn’t just the sights that caught you, but the sounds. Music was encouraged everywhere and if there weren’t performers around, they left pianos for you to have a go.
And lastly before I start going off on one, there were a LOT of signs along this theme.
Montreal has a strong vegan community, and they are LOUD about it. They don’t see meet eaters as horrible people, just more of a challenge. A couple of them spent a long time talking to us, trying to convince us to go a few days a week without eating any meat or dairy products. Even without thinking, we ate less meat for the remainder of our stay there.
I hope the pictures are telling you what I’m trying to get across, because I’m having a difficult time describing what exactly made this so place special in our eyes. Not to get too political, but the government does not understand the need for music and art in the community in the UK, so they’re constantly struggling to stay present. Here, it seemed to be so central to everything and it made a huge difference. People were more relaxed, no one seemed in a hurry and everyone seemed to have no inhibitions. I’d like to think that it was purely just the art and the music that made this happen, but I know weed had a role in this because we could smell it everywhere. Live and let live ey?
On the second evening, we decided to take a stroll down one of the main streets. We were told to do so by Erwan without being given any particular details as to what was there. It was a Saturday night, and we were hopeful that we would be met with more sounds and sights. We got that, and an entire street filled with food stalls.
There were several buskers on the street. Some of them were amazing, and some of them were interesting (you can change that last word to creepy and you wouldn’t be wrong). One guy noticed me pointing my phone at him, and continued the song without breaking eye contact with me. It was a special moment (you can change that word to creepy and you wouldn’t be wrong). We noticed that they all kept singing English songs, but sometimes sang the words in the wrong order or the words were completely wrong. In Montreal, people have to know French in order to get by. What they don’t necessarily have to know, is English so they may have been singing the words without knowing what they meant. In the evening, everyone gathered around a stage in the middle of the street to listen to what looked like a fairly big band in Quebec.
The songs they were singing were fairly well known by the audience as everyone seemed to be singing along. One annoying person in the back, however, kept shouting “Sing something in English, sing something in English!”. In the end, another member of the crowd shouted back, “Fuck off! That’s English!”. There does seem to be a little tension between the English Canadians and the French Canadians, to the point where one guy gave the advice that if ever we got pulled over in a car, to tell the policeman that we were from Britain, not that we were English. We’ve been told several times that the French are rude and refuse to speak English out of spite. After spending a few days in Montreal, I’m not so sure anymore. If someone kept demanding that I sing songs in a language that I’m not used to singing in, I don’t think I’d be accommodating either. And as another person pointed out, if French is also meant to be one of the national languages of Canada, then shouldn’t the English be trying to speak French as well?
On the fourth day, we decided that we should have a rough idea of what we wanted to see as it was our last day here. We decided to take a very common walk up to Mont Royal. A few years back, someone started a rumour that Mont Royal was a dormant volcano, and since then it’s become one of the biggest ‘facts’ about the place that the locals keep having to correct. As we walked past one of the monuments there, a group of people began a drum circle. From what we’d already experienced, this was nothing new, and we didn’t take too much notice of it.
This was what the scene looked like when we left it to walk up Mont Royal. When we returned a couple of hours later, the place looked like this:
I don’t know if it was planned or not, but the drum circle exploded and people were gathering from everywhere to dance. The scent of weed was strong and it looked like fun, so I decided to join them.
It wasn’t long before a woman tried to grab me and Dan and embrace us for what felt like a sweaty eternity. She managed to do all of this without making eye contact with either of us or say anything comprehensible in any language. It showed me that I may have been the only sober dancer there, but I didn’t care much. It felt like a fitting way to enjoy our final day at Montreal and even Dan joined in at one point!
In the evening, we decided to take a stroll over to one of the places we were most excited to see, the Notre Dame. One of my biggest regrets of the trip so far is that we arrived too late and it was closed, but we still had a wonderful experience seeing it from the outside and used the opportunity to take a few photos.
I could honestly keep going and going when talking about Montreal, but I’ll have to end this blog or you’ll never read any of these again. I’ve said it before, but Montreal really is magical and if you ever get the chance to go there, please take it. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the place, and I didn’t know that I would ever care for a city that much!