Returning to Montreal
Number of Tim Hortons: 92
Number of Second Cups: 19 approx.
My first visit since 2009, far from being a favourite place, Montreal is one to see if passing. And passing we were on the big month-long Canadian adventure. I especially wanted the bf to see Montreal's creativity and quirkiness. And it's Frenchness, as he can actually speak more of the language than most.
Last time I was there, there was a noticeable divide with a French and Canadian side; those shops who stay speaking French and those who switch to English when they realise that's your preference. Having been unable to locate an Uber (called three, couldn't find where they waited), on this trip, bizarrely, we found the only person in the city who refused/couldn't switch to English - our taxi driver.
Go to the Forum. Regarded as the birthplace of (ice) hockey by many and this time I saw the incredible Rush documentary there
Walk up the Plateau. Plateau Mont Royal (‘Montreal’). Last time I did this walk in a snowy December, it felt safer to climb on the warmest day we had in the city. I was surprised to still see the colours of the fall still around in November too.
When you come back down, walk down Rue Sherbrooke passing the museums and luxury hotels back into downtown.
Griffintown – I expect this former industrial site already to look different now as it is clearly a fast-developing area this side of Peel River. On the way back into town, pop into West Elm which is full of furniture that cannot be transported on a plane and lots of other homely treasures that are too delicate too pack in a suitcase - although we managed a couple of striking plates. West Elm now has a branch in London, it’s part of the American chain Williams-Sonoma, which I also love.
It’s worth popping to neighbouring Little Burgundy and nearby Atwater Market, a tantalising old-school indoor food market that is designed to make your mouth water.
If you’re into it, pop over to the Grand Prix track, while it’s peaceful.
Cinema Banque Scotia on Rue St Catherine is special to me because it has a Tim Hortons. Of course there is one of these on every street you look but this is where I first discovered the real joy of Hortons and its glorious doughnuts back in 2009. The good coffee and legendary French Vanilla finding came later.
Co-work at Crew Collective. The guys who bring you Unsplash have this space (and they’re based here). This is not under ‘coffee shops’ but a must do because of the gorgeous building, once a splendid bank. Sadly there is no bathroom nearby and to use the corporate loos in the building one floor below, you need a key. After a 45 minute wait for the key, we had to leave and run to the nearest loos in the shopping/office complex opposite. It’s the only downside to what would potentially be an excellent working space.
The shopping in Montreal is endless thanks to the underground city linking mall after mall. It seems to be linked to more stations and office blocks now too so when the temperature really does plummet, you need never go outside. Just head to Rue St Catherine and pop into any shopping centre and you will find them all connected. It could be hours before you resurface.
Ogilvy at the end of this underground strip is what I imagine Harvey Nicks used to be perhaps in the 1970s and 80s. I only went in to use a bathroom last time but I made the effort to find it on this trip. I even bought a yet unused umbrella. It really didn’t rain much this time.
As far as department stores go, I love Simons because there are so few of them. I bought leggings last time and again this! Add the aforementioned West Elm to this list.
Jean-Talon Market – to shop for food or grab lunch, this place is legendary for a reason. And has the delightful Café Henri outside.
The food markets are a must, especially if you are AirBNBing. In which case a visit to the Italian supermarket not far from Jean-Talon is recommended.
Thai Express – found in seemingly every food court and always a success. The food courts serve up a massive variety of fresh, inexpensive hot food in every shopping centre.
Restaurant week – MTLaTable is the week in November when hundreds of restaurants offer set low priced menus. We happened to land during this time and had one of the meals of the year at East Pan Asiatique (Renaissance Montreal Hotel) followed by a surprisingly flavoursome sticky rice and mango sorbet combo with lashings of courteous service.
Brunch – We thought the well regarded Le Butterlume may have been a mistake as it has an incredibly limited menu but actually the fancy French brunch was excellent. We chose two dishes out of the three on the menu and luckily it worked out this time; we liked both and shared the salmon & caviar & the scrumptious raspberry tart. This is the sort of place to avoid at weekends though. Talking of waiting in line for food (in a city that’s full of restaurants) I’d avoid the overhyped L’Avenue.
I love Tim Hortons more on every visit to Canada, first for the doughnuts but now just as much for their fresh (and oh so cheap) coffee and their legendary French Vanilla which we’ve both been obsessed with from Vancouver and have it once a day as a habit. And bring a tub of the powdery stuff home.
Second Cup is the coffee choice of Air Canada and it's Montreal that I first discovered the London Fog (not the luggage) back in 2009. Also known as English Fog, it was the branch by McGill University that opens 24 hours that made the formal introduction. I asked what it was and the staff said I would like it if I drink chai latte. I’ve been drinking it ever since, especially now that we have Second Cup in the UK too. Of course I had no idea for years that is was made with Earl Grey tea, something I've had a life-long distaste for.
Another significant point to make here is the Anne Tyler book I bought in the adjoining coffee shop here in 09. Having discovered this author then, to balance things out, I took her latest novel to read on this return trip but I never got around to it, bar the 40 pages on the plane from Halifax to Toronto.
Alarmingly, I didn’t realise this branch was a Second Cup until this return visit. The one that I fell in love with seems to have gone but lots have sprung up too. There seems to be one of these two big Canadian chains everywhere you look. I’m so grateful a little taste of Canada has come over to the UK. Word is, Tim Hortons is also coming over. I hope they keep all the prices and products the same too!
So, among the Montréal life changers, it’s where I fell in love with Hortons, Second Cup AND London Fog.
Of the independents, I had the best Americano in Moustache although I tend to have my much-preferred filter in Canada as the price isn’t hyped up as it is in the UK. Talking of which, Myriade had the loveliest filter which I enjoyed even though I was coffee’d out by the evening when we got there.
Pourquoi Pas espresso bar was OK (I caught it one our one rainy day) and I loved the Café Castel tucked away in a Best Western which we went to after the Snowden fiasco.
Also would have returned to Café De Campei which is on the corner of our street but sadly it closes on Mondays so missed out on having a last breakfast there!
Le Doggy Café – does what it says. It’s pure luck if you catch dogs when you go so look through the window to check before buying your coffee.
The elegant Saint Henri by Jean Talon market which had amazing pumpkin displays in early November.
Nothing to report from visits to Café Plume or a Presse Café.
The AirBNB apartment in Rosemont worked out well for us. There's a park and fantastic coffee shop at the end of the street, a library and grocery shop near the station (15 minute walk), 24 hour McDonalds and a Hortons – with crucial nightcap doughnuts - at the local Esso stop.
The smart travel card is Opus; $8 then load up as you need to use it on the metro or bus. We noted during out 10 days in Montreal how quickly the stations got renovated. We arrived to some bleak ones which had soon turned to bright ones by the time we left.
Also the VIA rail to Montreal via Quebec was a breeze; despite rumours to the contrary, train was pretty much on time. Most impressive is the space; plenty of legroom I could have gone to sleep better than I do on a plane, enough luggage space under the chair in front to fit a small suitcase (our 2 large suitcases were checked in to the ‘hold’) and there was room to hang coats on hangers as well as small bags hammock overhead. There was no restaurant cart but trolley carried hot food lunch as well as the usual drinks and snacks.