Friday, August 14, 2015

French Canada

Montreal from above
For the past week, I've been traveling in French Canada, specifically Montreal and Quebec City. I don't know about you, but I love to travel, even if it means just checking out a new neighborhood in my home city rather than going abroad. My mom decided we needed a mommy-and-me trip before I left for college, so we left the boys at home (namely my dad and my dog) and set off for Canada. I loved French Canada; it doesn't quite feel like Europe, but it's not quite the same like America or other parts of Canada. It very much has its own culture that's equal parts endearing and enticing.


Enjoying coffee on the patio
Our first stop was Montreal. We stayed in Le Village (the gay village) at an awesome bed and breakfast called La Conciergerie. Just waking up and seeing the sun through our windows, and then going to the outdoor patio with a cup of coffee was amazing. The best part of staying in the Village was our proximity to other parts of Montreal. We were right next to a train stop as well as trendy districts such as Mile End and the Plateau.

Montreal is a fairly walkable city, so walk we did. The city is named after the giant hill that sits in the middle of it, called Mont-Royal. We ended up climbing Mont-Royal and walking around it quite a bit, and the views were spectacular. It was also great just to see locals jogging, biking, or walking their dogs around the hill; it gave the place a lot of life.

My lobster roll from Muvbox
What really gave Montreal life was the food. Omigosh, Montreal is a city for foodies. Their signature dish is poutine, a French-Canadian invention that feature french fries drenched in gravy and cheese curds. It's a delicious artery bomb waiting to happen, but that didn't stop me from having it multiple times, namely at one place called Patati Patata. Patati Patata is a tiny diner offering fresh sandwiches and the like, and based on the line going out the door, it's clearly a local favorite. Another on-the-go spot like Patati Patata was Muvbox Lobster Roll, a small pop-up stand by the old port. The stand sold some of the best lobster rolls I'd ever had, mostly because the lobster was so fresh. And as for dessert, there's a place in the Plateau called Cacao 70 that is basically a chocolate restaurant. Like, I ordered a smores pizza. And it was soooo good.

The Notre Dame Basilica
Other than food, we also checked out some basic tourist attractions, like the Notre Dame Basilica. We visited the botanic gardens and the biodome, which was amazing. There was a capybara and a sloth at the biodome, so obviously my day was made. We also checked out the Rodin exhibit at the Museum Beaux Arts, which was fantastic. Overall the museum was pretty small, but I discovered a new artist (for me at least) named Marion Wagschal, who reminded me of a female, contemporary Egon Schiele. 

Overall, Montreal was a great city to be in, but it was time to move on to our next destination.

Quebec City

The old city in Quebec
Quebec was a different beast from Montreal; the city looked like a little French town, provincialities and all, transplanted to the St. Lawrence river. The old city, on top of the hill around which the city was built, was all fortresses and old buildings. It was incredibly picturesque. 

We spent significantly less time in Quebec than Montreal, mostly because the city was so small and there wasn't as much to do. The gastronomic adventures didn't stop in Montreal, however. On our first evening, we tried a local Quebecois beer as well as bison tartare, another Quebecois specialty. Minus the fears of catching salmonella, we really enjoyed the tartare. We also tried a traditional French Canadian meat pie called cipaille (pronounced "sea pie"). The following day, we went to a restaurant specializing in rabbit, where we ate a rabbit meat pie as well as baked rabbit. While I felt sorry for the furry little beasts at first, that feeling faded once I they were in my stomach.

Quebec had a really rich history that you could palpably feel as you walked down the streets. All of the French as well as British influence was clearly visible, whether it be in the architecture or the local dialect. We mostly just walked around, even in the pouring rain, taking in the views all around us. In fact, we skipped out on a bunch of touristy stuff (outside of a walking tour of the old city) because by that point, we just wanted to absorb the city on our own without any more facts and figures. We didn't even eat breakfast at our hotel or a restaurant; we went to the local market, purchased some fruits, deli meats, and bread, and made our own breakfasts using local wares. Minus my complete inability to speak French, I felt like a local.

That's a summarized account of my time in French Canada. It was a great vacation, and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially young adults who might be wishing to travel abroad for the first time. French Canada is easy to navigate and isn't too far from the US. Plus, virtually everyone in Montreal speaks English, with a fair amount of people speaking English in Quebec as well. Like I said, French Canada is a great underrated tourist spot, and I highly recommend it.

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