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

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Image: Top feature photo by Flickr user Franck Nieto

Beyond Brick City: An unauthorized art crawl in Maputo, Mozambique

From its high-end galleries to its mixed-use workspaces, its decked out restaurants to its traditional markets, and even in the building exteriors themselves, Maputo, Mozambique features a vibrant, organic art scene. Here are some of its must-sees.

I recently took a tri-city trip to Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Maputo, Mozambique (with a stop off on safari just outside South Africa’s Krueger National Park). By far, Maputo was my favorite city stop.

The city doesn’t have a massively developed tourist scene, and I think this works in its favor. On the ground there, one can find beautiful hotels, excellent seafood, locals ready to party, and plenty of people eager to show you around, making it a welcoming place for newcomers. But my favorite experience in Maputo was the organic, vibrant, always-on and seemingly-everywhere art scene. Between that, the warm people, and all the Portuguese speakers (Mozambique is a Lusophone country), there was plenty there to make a Newarker feel right at home. Some highlights from my unofficial art crawl:

Reinata_WorkingReinata’s workshop

Reinata is a well-respected sculptor, and we were lucky to find her and her niece in her workspace while ambling around the neighborhood. Her work will be shown at the city’s Natural History Museum. I picked up one of the less expensive pieces, a bronze head that cost $30 USD. Her large sculptures cost a couple hundred and up.

 

 

dhaoartDhow Cafe

Maputo is a coastal city – right on the shore of the Indian Ocean – so expect to find some of the tastiest fresh seafood imaginable: fish, oysters, mussels, squid, and crab are all on the menu. It took a while to figure out that serving up great fare is the primary raison d’etre for Dhow Cafe, because the seaside restaurant is also a beautiful art gallery and furniture showroom. Our group was one of the few diners when we walked in around noon. When we left, the restaurant was buzzing with patrons.

 

maputo_museum_pipeThe Natural History Museum

We met their current curator as she was working on the museum’s centennial celebration. Her primary goal is to preserve Mozambique’s great art, and a tour of the current exhibition illustrates why this is such an urgent project. From the wooden furniture to the life-sized sculptures to the photography, the museum displayed Mozambican handiwork in its full glory.

 

 

maputo_art_deco_patioOutside

Maputo features lots of beautiful art deco architecture, old Hollwood-style hotels with seascape vistas, and traditional markets of the kind you’d find in towns within countries all over Africa. Even where the sidewalks are gapped and the buildings are crumbled, its lush and colorful vibe retains its charm.

 

For more things to do, check out TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet. If you’re the adventurous type, book a flight, book a B&B, find an English-speaking moped driver when you land, and rock out.