WHY MY FIRST SOLO TRIP TO MONTRÉAL WAS ONE OF MY BEST HOLIDAYS
It’s no secret that my love for Montréal runs deep. So deep that I can feel it in my bones. Funny enough out of all the cities in the vast country of Canada, Montréal is the only one I have ever visited. But trust me, I have many reasons why I think Montréal is the best place in the Great White North.
I’ve written multiple blog posts about Montréal, encompassing when you should go, what you should see and what you should do—but I don’t think I’ve ever fully expressed what it is about this city that made me fall in love. It has always been a little hard to express in actual words, especially to someone who has never been, or who isn’t a local.
So, this time around (and you can be sure this will not be the last time I write about Montréal) I’m going to try to put my feelings into words intermixed with some helpful tidbits (which are ever expanding with every visit) along the way.
Yellow Zebra Safaris challenged me to write a blog post about my favorite vacation of all time for a chance to win literally my dream vacation, and this was the perfect place that came to mind thinking of this challenge…
As you cross the border into Montréal you’re immediately greeted with a slice of old school European culture in an avant-garde pie. North America’s most welcoming country, which reminds you of your Great Aunt who smells of fresh bread and eau de toilette, is subconsciously juxtaposed by the fact Québec is a nation within a nation.
Situated on an island in a vibrant metropolis, Montréal is an uninhibited creative city steeped in tradition. It’s a place where hipsters, festival freaks, expatriates and the Québécois perfectly collide to create a dynamic mash-up of European and Canadian peoples, evocative of a French movie with English subtitles.
Happy to share their city by embracing a myriad of lifestyles, Montréalers are the definition of a cultural juggernaut. Their exuberant joy for life is everywhere – from the masterpieces crafted within the city’s gastronomy and mixology scenes, to the impressive street art you discover in the most unexpected places.
It’s the European getaway I wanted, without the 7 to 10 hour flight and jet lag. I came to learn Canada really is always a good idea.
WHAT YOU MUST DO
(TRUST ME, BECAUSE I ALREADY DID IT)
Find street art in the Plateau neighborhood (and really all over town)
Experience all of the seasonal activities in Old Port
Go bar hopping in Griffintown
Unleash your inner warrior and axe throw at Rage
Market hop from Marché Jean-Talon (in Little Italy), to Atwater (along the Lachine Canal)
Get lost in the 185+ acre Botanical Garden
Treat yourself, all day, at BOTA BOTA (docked in the St. Lawrence River)
Wintertime in Montréal is like springtime in Paris. The city is full of life and passion. The beautiful snow covered streets remind you, just have fun tonight! It’s a feeling I experienced the first time I stepped foot into the city and it’s the familiar hug I received time and time again during my 3 other wintertime visits.
Some may wonder why I choose to step foot in Québec, in the middle of winter, for my first visit. After all, it gets pretty ‘effing cold in that province in the winter, but for me the answer is simple.
Montréal’s overwhelming sense of hospitality embraced me as I walked into a slightly unassuming little restaurant in the Old Port on a wintry night before Christmas in 2016. Greeted by the magnetic smiles of two charismatic bartenders, the hazy red lights enveloped me in a sea of people fusing the city's diversity. It was then I realized, the people are what you come to Montréal for. The people are the most captivating.
The bar’s pulsating beats of the 90s thrust me into the scene the city is best known for – great frivolity and quality conversation. Our nonstop discussion flowed in sync with my exquisitely curated (and seemingly never-ending) cocktails. Six hours later (no joke), I walked into the bitterly cold winter night warmed by the passion my new friends have for their hometown. This exuberant joy for life made me fall in love with the city. It seems some of the best things take you by surprise.
WHERE TO START (OR END) THE NIGHT
Taste reasonably priced speakeasy cocktails at The Coldroom
Transport yourself with tiki drinks at La Mal Nécessaire
Taste some pretty impressive Quebec wines at Le Majestique
Unleash your inner child (and Harry Potter nerd) at The Lockhart
Drink beer and play foosball with the locals at Foufounes Électriques
Try the famous, and somewhat hard to find, maple whiskey at Atwater Cocktail Club
Wander into a Japanese speakeasy (that’s truly hard to find) at Bar Big in Japan
Winter defines much of a Québécois life, and when the going gets cold, it gets really cold. But in Montréal rather than hide from it you feel a widespread sense of celebration, which is most likely coming from one of the many festivals flamboyantly dedicated to the province’s defining season.
FESTIVALS NOT TO BE MISSED
First Fridays (street food festival)
MID to LATE SUMMER
International Fireworks Festival
Fête Des Vins Du Quebec
Igloofest (Piknic’s winter sister)
Nuit Blanche (one night event)
Le Happening Gourmand (similar to restaurant week)
Montréal en Lumière
Maple, bagels and POUTINE (which Québec invented) are three other defining experiences I had in the city. These three things may not sound all that different but they are something Québec does right.
After living in NYC and eating the bagels for 5 years I can honestly say Montréal comes out on top, consistently! To any true blooded New Yorker, or American really, those words may sound like blasphemy but I'm sorry, New York bagels really aren’t all that. In Montréal you don’t need cream cheese because they are the perfect amount of sweet, meets the right type of texture reminiscent of a hot pretzel.
Secondary to bagels, in the wintertime there is nothing better than roaming the streets of Old Port with a stick of maple taffy in hand. This not not your average taffy, wrapped in parchment paper, from one of America’s rundown coastal towns, this is a treat you will not find anywhere else. Eat it quickly or slowly it’s up to you, but as you step out into the cold it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts, and become flooded with Montréal’s uninhibited vibrancy, taffy in hand.
WHERE TO STUFF YOUR FACE
Try those famous bagels (and bring even more home) from St-Viateur
Go for the really, really good food, and eat all of it at Joe Beef
Challenge yourself to eat the huge smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s Deli
Have the ultimate winter Sugar Shack experience at Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon
Get out of your comfort zone with duck in a can at Au Pied de Cochon
Experience the classic drunk food baby of poutine (after a night out) at La Banquise
Twenty-four hours flew by after the night of my first maple taffy experience. Before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve and I was sitting at a dinner table surrounded by ten animated Italian-Canadians (through an invitation I had received from one of my bearded bartender cohorts two nights before). I felt an overwhelming sense of celebration through their stories about their family and the city. Even though I was more than 3,000 miles from my family I felt right at home.
The experiences I have had in Montréal draw me back time and time again. It’s a place that has begun to feel like home. This is what I love most about it—the layers you can have during any one of your visits. I’ve danced my ass off in Parc Jean Drapeau during Piknic Electronic, I’ve reached the ultimate peak of hipsterdom (and am totally ok with it) throwing axes at Rage (Jason Momoa eat your heart out...), I’ve learned to make cocktails in a class taught entirely in French, and I’ve been able to be a tourist without actually feeling like one.
But, it’s this very first visit that sticks with me. As my trip came to an end I thought to myself how did I get here? The answer was unmistakably transparent. I didn’t want to just see Montréal; I wanted to feel the attachment its citizens have to their city. I wanted the Montréal “joie de vivre.”
It’s not hard to see why Montréal resonated with me so much and why that first trip overall has been one of the best holidays I have been on.
But you may be asking yourself what in the heck does Yellow Zebra Safaris have to do with Montréal, and secondly what even is this safari company? Let me tell you!
Technically, Montréal and Yellow Zebra Safaris have nothing to do with each other, except for the fact that Yellow Zebra is running a blogging competition that yours truly has now officially entered!
Not only was I able to hopefully (fingers crossed) paint a vivid picture in all of your minds as to why I love Montréal and why it has been one of my favorite places to travel to but, this competition they are running could allow me to tick off one of the very top things on my bucket list: Go on safari in Tanzania!
Ask anyone who knows me and they can attest to the fact that my bucket list is a less than conventional one, to say the least. I am someone who looks for the slightly unknown local treasures and the memory making experiences. I would rather bundle up and visit Russia in the dead of winter, trek into Rwanda to see the silverbacks, search for mummies in Egypt, or camp in the African bush for days (showers optional) just to see the mind boggling wildebeest migration, than sit on the banks of the Seine drinking wine.
If I could head straight to the airport right this second and go anywhere in the world Tanzania would be the spot. But not just visiting Tanzania and the Serengeti for a day, a full on multiple-night trip where I lay under the stars at night and fill up ten 64GB camera memory cards during the day.
Africa as a whole has been a dream of mine since I was in grade school. Yes, it sounds cheesy but it was The Lion King (and later David Attenborough and Planet Earth) that sparked and further fueled this flame.
Dreaming of seeing all of these animals up close, and the stories I have heard from friends and colleagues who have actually been able to experience a safari, are what have given me the motivation to not only achieve the goal of visiting the Serengeti but the continent as a whole. Sometimes when I get that urge all you have to do is look over at my Spotify and you’ll see Toto’s ‘Africa’ playing – lame I know.
I BLESS THE RAINS DOWN IN AFRICA
When I think about this opportunity and being able to do it with a partner as great as Yellow Zebra Safaris, I can’t help but smile and get a little giddy. After all some little girls think of their dream wedding, I dreamt of my dream honeymoon – on safari.
Yes, going on safari is and has been my dream for a long time but I have also been someone who identifies with documentaries and the truths they bring. Being an adventure and outdoor experience focused blogger I appreciate and marvel at the magic and beauty that comes from mother nature. I want the complete awe that brings you to tears when you see the animal kingdom up close to be around for not only myself but for me to bring my kids back to one day.
So there you go! My love of Montréal coupled with my childhood dream to go on safari, which hopefully made you want to plan a trip to both places.
Whether I win this trip or not, one day I will make this dream a reality. But hopefully, just hopefully that can happen sooner rather than later through the amazingly kind folks at Yellow Zebra Safaris, and next year I can bring you all along with me to the wilds of Africa through an endless amount of tips, and all the photos your heart desires!
For now, pop on over to the Yellow Zebra Safari Tanzania page here to learn more about going on a safari in Tanzania!