Packing my belongings on the eve of my departure from French Canada, contemplating my time in the vibrant Quebec city of Montreal, I began a list of ‘Things I Will Miss About Montreal.’
It became somewhat of a homage to a place very dear to my heart.
To be fair and objective, I also considered things that I would not miss about Montreal.
To the city’s credit there are a lot more things I will miss, than not. Except for Arctic temperatures in winter!
This blog might contain some inside jokes or knowledge familiar to locals, both Quebecois and ex-pats – so apologies if some points may not be fully understood by outsiders.
For wannabe travellers or expats looking to live in or visit Montreal – I hope this offers some insights into life there.
I’ve been fortunate to have travelled around the globe, well at least enough to have a yardstick to know if a place really resonates with me or not.
Every country, city and town I discover – ‘uniqueness’ can always be appreciated.
Each destination has qualities, and sometimes shortcomings which gives it its identity.
On my travels, some locations I’ve yearned to go back to, some I couldn’t wait to leave. Some I have fallen in love with, some have been eye-opening…and some places I just would never-want-to-return-to!
As for Montreal – it immediately felt like ‘home!’
It is a place…where I happily arrived and sadly left!
Walking ‘rues’ during my first weeks after arrival, I connected with Montreal’s “personality.”
It was almost as if I had already lived there before, perhaps in another life.
Here, I felt, I had found “MY people”!
Even as a newcomer and a solo foreigner, I never felt out of place.
There were some lonely times but when I actually think about it, I never felt alone.
Because, in Montreal everyone belongs, in some way or another.
There’s a profound and tangible vibe of vibrancy, creativity, quirkiness and diversity that radiates on this island. And its contagious!
Montreal’s character evoked so many wondrous responses in me – intellectual, emotional, creative and humanitarian. My time there was marked by moments of surprise, enlightenment, entertainment, education, inspiration, challenge, wonderment, connection and – lots of fun!
If Montreal was a person, she would be edgy, brazen, unconventional, embracing, open, tolerant, artistic, cultural, sometimes a little seedy and dirty, but always friendly, welcoming and loveable. And most endearingly, bi-lingual!
Unfortunately, she is now over 17,000 kilometres away now (or 10,600 miles) !
Things I Miss About Montreal
- Open-minded, welcoming, kind, helpful, considerate and tolerant Montrealers (both locals and immigrants).
- Hundreds of festivals, many of which are outdoors AND free.
- Speaking Quebecois Francais (or trying to) ! Speaking Franglais or Frenglish, or just speaking French or English…or speaking a melange of all these variables all in the one sentence in a sometimes incoherent, but always amusing, attempt to communicate!
- Confident creative beings. Montreal is a city filled with musicians, artists, writers, performers, acrobats, poets, dancers, singers – all making the choice to live their lives pursuing what inspires them. Even if it means taking chances with their craft and living on the breadline. Meanwhile, they share their gift with us on the streets, in parks and in the metro. There is so much talent in Montreal and an enormity of passion! It’s inspiring.
- The eclectic, eccentric but always friendly people who live on the street, for example those familiar faces collecting money on Avenue Mont Royal. Despite their circumstances, which distressed me sometimes, just seeing them each day and saying hi gave me some comfort…maybe just to know they were still with us.
- Being able to buy beer or wine at the corner store, “the depanneur” (the dep) until 11pm EVERY night of the week.
- Ming, my Chinese friend at my local ‘dep’ who sold me a milk crate for my bike! We talked about the weather throughout the four seasons – she became a constant feature in my life!
- My language school. The teachers and students at CLC who, in many respects, transformed my life.
- Bar Inc. A casual drinking venue on Avenue Mont Royal which was my nucleus as a new arrival. I made many new friends here and had some incredible interactions with local people.
- Quebecois people who have hugged and adored me, just because I tried relentlessly to speak in French despite my inadequacies.
- The animated, intimate, random and sometimes raucous conversations which I would overhear taking place in my rue/street anywhere from 1am to 4am ANY night of the week. This reassured me that I was not the only one still up philosophising into the early hours. When the passers by were singing, especially riding along on their bike, it was an extra special moment!
- The vintage scene in Montreal. People appreciate the ‘old’ stuff like books and vinyl.
- A thriving EX-PAT community. Internations, Mundo Lingo and other international groups where you meet people from all over the world.
- Finding useful free things on the street in Le Plateau.
- Cultural diversity and the events which celebrate this, and there are many.
- Photography exhibited on the street.
- La Distributrice. My daily coffee and people-watching destination. A magic caffeinated hole in the wall on Avenue Mont-Royal. I made some great friends here, as well as encountered some epic conversations, connections and observations. Sun, Snow or Rain, I was at this spot almost daily for almost 14 months.
- Melbourne café on Ave Saint Laurent. Another favourite coffee institution but also an Australian point of anchor. Angus and Xavier’s place is always on the list when taking visitors on the tourist circuit of Montreal.
- L’Itineraire. The magazine for the homeless. Camelots (homeless people who sell the magazine) are doing something constructive to try and make ends meet! I encourage everyone in Montreal to support them!
- Epic street art on corners, laneways, buildings, walls – I love that Montreal is a living breathing street art gallery!
- Grocery deliveries in winter. When you can’t face taking 20kg home in your day pack in horizontal snow sheets, delivery becomes a true blessing!
- The lack of violence on the city streets. In over a year I rarely heard cross words between anyone, let alone any physical aggression. Only once did I witness an altercation outside the ‘beer festival’. I love and admire that folks here, especially in my hood of Le Plateau, are respectful and friendly. People here don’t need to raise their fists to get their point across!
- BBQ’s in parks at 9pm on a weekday in summer. It’s never too late to eat and hang out with friends in the warmer months!
- Being able to order a drink from your table and not need to get up and line up at the bar. I miss SERVERS!
- The efficient metro system. OK sometimes it is really crowded in peak hour, but I never had to wait long to get from A to B!
- Considerate car drivers who stop at any intersection to wait for pedestrians to cross the road.
- Bike-lanes throughout the city. Montreal is a bike rider’s dream – flat, with organised lanes for riding, you don’t even need to use the efficient metro to get around. You’re not really a Montrealer if you don’t ride a bike!
- The city’s proximity to Central and South America – oh and Europe. Actually, close to anywhere in fact, except Australia!
- Food markets such as Jean Talon and Atwater and the sublime local produce.
- The majestic season of fall with the multi-coloured foliage and cooler temperatures (but when it’s not yet super cold!).
- Being able to easily rent a furnished apartment. Come as you are!
- My beautifully kind neighbour, Ginette, who gave my flowers plant food and gave me human food…one of the best neighbours I’ve ever had!
- Seeing flowers and trees come back to life in spring – and seeing the ecstatic smiles on people’s faces when the sun and warmth returns.
- Bars and staff caring about your wellbeing!
- Split bills in restaurants and bars. You only pay for what you have rather than spending time and energy trying to work out amongst yourselves on who had what, and what everyone owes. Finally, going out with a group is never a hassle!
- Being interesting to other people, just because I’m from Downunder/Australia!
- Watching skateboarders riding helmet free, with guitars on their backs. It just seems so…hipster!?
- Seeing all manner of random things and people, day and night. Some of which had me laughing with disbelief. People watching is always interesting here!
- Being able to get back into a bar or club after 1am (Australia’s lock out laws suck!) Street violence has nothing to do with when you leave a bar, or when you can re-enter a bar – it’s about culture.
- Hot French Canadian men with looks to kill, endearing accents, who ride bikes and play guitar! Does it get any more poetic than that!?
- Too many people to name specifically – my international group of beautiful, worldly, diverse friends who I have forged lifelong friendships with. I’ll carry you in my heart, always!
- JUSTIN TRUDEAU. Ok, you are not always perfect. I might even be starting to have some concerns. But I do miss having you as my ‘quasi Prime Minister.’ This is one guy I’d love to interview…and maybe ask if I could immigrate!?
But just like people, no place is perfect!
Things I Won’t Miss About Montreal
- The stupid – beyond belief – plastic bag garbage and recycling system in some quarters like Le Plateau. Squirrels, birds and human foragers ensure your garbage is a nightmare for collectors to deal with. I hand it to the people who collect the rubbish and recycling – they put up with, and handle a lot of mess. Bring in mandatory (community) garbage bins and stop the carnage on the streets!!\
- The politics of separatism. Quebec is part of Canada and always will be! Time to get over it and get on with it!
- Poutine. Chips in gravy and cheese curd – totally overrated in my opinion!
- Paying taxes and tips. When you think your order is $20 and the bill ends up being $30.
- Hundreds of cigarette butts on the ground where flicking is a way of life. The justification for this is that street sweepers will pick them up. But what about those that make it to the river, those that injure dog paws, or simply the fact that the streets look like an oversized ashtray? One of my biggest wishes would be that Montrealers take more pride in their beautiful city – just walk that extra metre to put cigarette butts in a garbage bin!
- Stolen bikes. Theft of bikes is an unfortunate but common occurrence.
- Bed bugs. Thankfully I never experienced this but this is a nightmare for those who have!
- The feeling that you can’t help everyone! There is only so much money you can give out to people who ask in Montreal. There comes a time when you realise this epidemic is way beyond you.
- Roadworks and construction. Geez! Cars are handy for things like a weekend away and grocery shopping. But day to day – getting around with a car can be a real pain, especially when in summer all you face is delays and detours!
- Quebecois Mosquitos. They are so much more brutal than the Australian breed!
- Venues which are too hot in winter and make you feel like you’ll pass out – which is virtually everywhere – bars, supermarkets and the metro.
- Metro doors which need superhuman strength to open. And the subsequent wind gusts which hit you when you finally get it open, when you need superhuman strength again, not to get blown over!
- Being asked almost every single time I meet someone whether I surf, have Kangaroos jumping down my street or suggesting how tough I must be to live in a country which has so many dangerous creatures, like spiders, snakes or crocodiles.
- Arctic temperatures in the winter.
For all her positives and despite some of her negatives, Montreal will always be one of my most favourite cities on earth.
Montreal is more than a place – it is a way of being!
Je manque Montreal!