Beyond Brick City: Labor Day in Montreal

I’d heard from a number of people that visiting Montreal feels like visiting a European city. With both Labor Day weekend and a friend’s birthday to celebrate, it was the perfect international trip (even if just over the border) for my and four friends’ schedules, budgets, and desire for a nice change of speed and scenery. With all that going for it, Montreal was a great destination for a long weekend getaway.

What we spent

Between gas and accommodations, the five of us spent less than $75 apiece for the three-day, two-night trip. The drive is just over 350 miles from Newark, and each of us kicked in a little over $20 for gas. For accommodations, we decided to skip the hotels and rent an apartment. We got a clean, chic, and comfortable five-sleeper apartment from a very nice Canadian couple for a total of $250 through VacationRentals.com.

Where we stayed

our-house    montreal-street

Our apartment was right in the thick of things: blocks from the subways to both downtown and Old Town Montreal, and also a few blocks from Saint Catherine, a main drag that has lots of restaurants, currency exchanges, and shopping.

What we did

IMG_1832   old-montreal

On arrival, we ate at a diner named Nickels, where the waiters were friendly and the food delicious. Try the poutine, a local dish of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Although you can get Irish coffee and Philly cheesesteaks at plenty of places in and around Newark, both were especially good at Nickels (and the cheesesteaks reheated well).

That evening, we went to a club named Sir Winston Churchill Pub Complex (“Churchill” for short). The place was spacious, the crowd was diverse, and the sound system was decent. The music was a blend of hip-hop, reggae/dancehall, and pop. If you visit, prepare to hear  all the hottest songs…from about six months ago. There were many clubs and bars along the same strip, and just across the street was a place where we could hear the DJ playing current club bangers: people were practically spilling out of the door by the time we arrived. Typical last call for clubs: 2:45 am.

The next day, we ate delicious crêpes at a spot named La Bulle au Carré in St. Louis Square. Recommended savory crêpe: sausage, onion and cheese. Recommended sweet crêpe: homemade chocolate. If you order a bottle of cider for your table, your server will bring you a bowl. You’ll drink the cider from the bowl. Don’t fret — this is just how it’s done.

Afterwards, we went to Old Montreal, a touristy area with beautiful old buildings, attractions, and a waterfront. We ate a traditional Canadian treat called a “beaver tail”. Try the cinnamon, sugar, and lemon one. The combination sounds strange, but eating it will make you a believer.

If you’re into street art, grab your camera, smart phone, or tablet, and do a self-guided tour of the murals and graffiti in the area. Below are a few shots of murals and graffiti I found around town.

#ProTips:

adirondacks   montreal-transi

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  • Consider driving. It’s cheaper, especially if you drive with a crew, and the route will take you up through the Catskills and the Adirondack mountains, an attraction in themselves.
  • The route is so straightforward you can practically skip your navigation: just take I-280 West to I-287 North to I-87 North to 15 North. Resume navigation to your precise location when you cross the border into Canada.
  • Be sure to gas up as close to Newark as possible. Gas prices generally rise the further north you drive, and will jump considerably once you cross the Canadian border.
  • Learn a few French phrases. Though many people in Montreal speak at least passable English – especially people who work in bars, restaurants, hotels, and similar places – they’ll appreciate it if you 1) at least attempt to greet them in French (Bonjour!), 2) ask them whether they speak English before you start doing lots of talking (Parlez-vous anglais?), and 3) ask how to say certain words in French (Comment dit-on?).
  • Take public transportation, rent a bike, and/or walk to get around Montreal. It’s easier to do and a better way to get to know the city than attempting to drive around.
  • Bonus tip: If you’re curious about poutine, but can’t get to Canada right away, just make your way down to Elbow Room on Halsey Street. They sell poutine macaroni.

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Previous Beyond Brick City: An Unauthoraized Art Crawl in Maputo, Mozambique

Want to share your own travel tale? Email beyond@brickcitylive.com.

Image: Top feature photo by Flickr user Franck Nieto

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