Mini Vacay in Montreal (we found ourselves happily crying together)

Warning: there was a lot of actual “doing things” during these two days, so unfortunately I took very few photos. This is more of a journal entry than a blog post – specifically to lock in our own memories and less helpful to anyone looking for more than a simple travel-day story with some phone photos.

Setup

I needed a reset. Something totally different than my daily routine in London, Canada. So why not move to Montreal for two months? So that’s what happened, my girlfriend and I would drive up to Montreal with a fully loaded car of most of my possessions and we would vacation there together for five days using my 2-3 month sublet as a home base. 

Natalia’s work is a bit weird when it comes to taking time off (something about they need her throughout the entire year so she can’t use any of her vacation time in 11 months of the year), so she was only able to get 3 days off. Our plan was to leave late on Friday, September 14th, 2018 and arrive in Montreal around 5 AM… but as anyone who knows me knows, that didn’t have a very good chance of working because I’m horrible at leaving places. GREAT at staying – horrible at leaving. 

I’d left my packing to the last minute so the evening was spent doing that. By 11pm we had everything packed in Natalia’s Nissan Versa. We strapped her Everyday Bike on to the bike rack as a final touch and finally at 12:39 AM on Saturday, September 15th, 2018 we started driving to Montreal.

The Drive from London to Montreal

Our first stop was a nearby gas station to make some noise with a small, portable air compressor that I had only just discovered Natalia had sitting under her seat – it’s actually pretty awesome.

Pro Road Trip Tip top up your car’s tire’s air pressure before driving out of the city and warming up your tires too much. You want them cool so the air pressure isn’t wonky. Also, don’t go by the air pressure that the tire says, go by the air pressure rating that’s stated on the sticker on the car’s frame on the driver’s side door frame. 

I drove about 80% of the way there without feeling or getting tired somehow (I really don’t know how that happened because I’d been up all day) but with around 2 hours left, Natalia took over and I slumped over in the passenger seat as if I had just disconnected my body from my brain. She’d been resting on and off throughout the entire ride so she was fairly rested. 

We got there at 8:38 AM (instead of our planned 5 AM’ish time frame), unpacked, and said hi to my new roommate Nicole. Nicole was busy and was able to say hi for a few minutes before dashing off to McGill University for the rest of the day (I learned that this is an everyday occurrence soon after). As our sea legs got used to land, Natalia passed out for an hour and I organized my pile of possessions into something that resembled several piles of things instead of one gigantic pile of things… so almost helpful but not really. Good try, Ben. 

The 33km Bike Tour of Montreal

At 1:33 PM we decided it was a good idea that with so little sleep, we should explore Montreal on bicycles! Again, I’m not sure how we did all this without any sleep but I’m impressed. We biked 33km until 9:44 PM, when we finally got back to the apartment. HOW?! I DON’T EVEN KNOW.

Right off the bat, we decided that we didn’t really care where we were going and we just wanted to explore by getting ourselves lost in side streets. We hadn’t checked a map and didn’t have the slightest idea of where we were going. We made our way South-West from Outremont area towards Côte-Des-Neiges— Notre-Dame-De-Grâce. We found hills. A lot of hills. We also happened upon a sprinkler which we totally jumped around in like children with not a care in the world. To say the least, it was SO REFRESHING.

Natalia posing with our bikes in front of a sprinkler... which we totally ran through because it was incredibly hot outside

Our Fondest Montreal Memory (where we cried)

Then came one of our fondest memories of Montreal. We made our way South-East until we happened upon a quiet little road with a separated double-way bike lane on one side of the road with a barrier between cars and bikes and its own little yellow line separating cyclists who were going in opposing directions. This was Boulevard De Maisonneuve Ouest and it isn’t just a “quiet little road”, it’s a major artery which heads right downtown. For cars, Boulevard De Maisonneuve Ouest is a one-way South-West flowing road, but for bikes, it’s an amazing, safe, peaceful ride all the way through downtown.

As Natalia and I made our way North-East up the road, we couldn’t stop smiling and grinning and just… being so amazed and happy. It might have been the lack of sleep, but we were just SO HAPPY. At one point, we were at the corner of Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest and St. Mathieu Street and we looked at each other and both admitted that we had tears in our eyes because we were just so happy haha. Luckily no one could tell because we were wearing sunglasses but our sniffles might have given us away to anyone paying attention. “It’s… it’s just… bad allergies! I swear I’m not crying over how beautiful this place is!” 
I can’t quite explain the feeling because it was so unique. Everything had aligned so well and the weather was as perfect as it could get.

For Natalia, she hadn’t had time off or a vacation in a long time, so this break was something she needed… and she was loving it. Just being able to bike without a care in the world and without any intentions other than to explore a new city, feeling safe while biking with her very own french-inspired classical upright bicycle. I think it meant a lot to her. 

For me, it was very much the same. For once, I was in full relaxation mode. I didn’t have a camera with me (though I always wish I did), I had my phone on Do Not Disturb, and my senses were taking in all there was to see. 

This was pure intoxicating happiness. 

Bicycle Infrastructure

Anyway, we kept biking until the end of the line… it had to end eventually – and it did. We were thirsty, so we stopped at a public water fountain to refill our water bottles and then pulled up Google Maps to find some lunchtime places. We looked at a few places but Cinko stood out at us, so I plugged it in and we biked over to our first experience locking our bikes up in Montreal. 

Put simply, the city has thought about its bicycling infrastructure very well. It might be through necessity though because even though there are bike racks seemingly EVERYWHERE, some areas have fewer bike racks and bikes can be seen locked to every sign imaginable. But this also brings us to actually locking our bikes up…

Before even setting foot in Montreal, I had searched online about bike theft and heard from Nicole that there was a thriving market for stolen bicycles. 

Side tidbit of research: If you’ve ever wondered how many bikes get stolen in Montreal per year, the number is around 20,000 (as of 2014. source.). That’s a lot. And where do those stolen bicycles end up? I found this CBC article where they investigate this and they found that sometimes “[people] buy bikes legally, and then sell them to their home countries in Africa for four times the price”, though they’re also sold at municipal auctions even when they are seized… but then go unclaimed. The article goes on about how they’re also sold on the street but 4-5 years later at the end of 2018 (when this is published), I suspect that Kijiji and other Classified websites and apps are an excellent for sellers to find buyers through.

Put simply, we locked out bikes up quite heavily though it took us 5 minutes. We got faster at this as the days went on and as locking our bikes up started becoming second nature (although we’d probably need more than 4 days to master it).
I primarily use the “uglification of bicycles” method of theft deterrents, mostly because my bike looks like crud anyway because of the nature of my DIY eBike with cables running along the frame and milk bags duct taped around electrical components like the controller. So I just use my 20 year old SuperCycle U-Lock from good old Canadian Tire and a cable for the front wheel and my helmet.
Natalia doesn’t have the “benefit” of an ugly bike… because hers is ACTUALLY a comfortable, elegant, and aesthetically pleasing Everyday Bicycles Trinity bike. So she uses a normal Kryptonite U-Lock and a cable for her front wheel. She also uses the power of love and will power to keep it hidden from prying eyes… and prying bars.

Anyway, back to lunch!

Lunch

Cinko was advertised for its “Colourful eatery offering eclectic tavern grub such as nachos, salads & burgers, all priced at $5” as you can see in the live map below. 


Problem: Everything wasn’t $5. I personally kind of expected this and was sure that this to be just designed to bring customers through the doors… but why even advertise that if you’re SO FAR OFF? Here’s our receipt:

Cinko Receipt with amounts over $5 per item. Which is wrong because... see next image.
It CLEARLY STATES "Colourful eatery offering eclectic tavern grub such as nachos, salads & burgers, all priced at $5." Obviously not the case.

This is our receipt from Cinko. NOT “offering eclectic tavern grub such as nachos, salads & burgers, all priced at $5.”

We didn’t care at the time but now that I’m going back and looking at these receipts and writing about this… huh… Yeah, I feel like that’s false advertising to the Nth degree. 

Selfie at Cinko with Natalia on the left and Ben on the right

We had a good meal though and had fun!

Passing out in public

After eating, we got tired… super tired. Our lack of sleep was catching up with us so we made our way to what we now know is Old Port, but at the time all we knew was Natalia wanted to see the waterfront so that’s where we were headed!

Champ-de-Mars park, right out front of Vauquelin Place. Although I had been feeling safe all day in Montreal, when we got to the park we noticed that there was an open-walled building with a bunch of mattresses and homeless people living there, although I believe the building was meant to be a quaint scenic outlook. 
I just mapped this building out and it looks like it’s actually the top level of a Metro entrance at the corner of Rue Saint Antoine E and Rue Gosford. 
I think I only felt uneasy because we were overly tired and slightly out of it though haha. We wandered over to the furthest and quietest bench, parked our bikes in front of us, and sat down, taking in the sights and sounds of Montreal again.

I can’t remember if Natalia or I passed out first but either way, we took turns falling asleep for about 20 minutes at a time with our heads in the other’s lap (awesome pillow compared to the wooden bench) and the rest of our body and legs laying on the bench. 

Old Port

Following our naps, we made our way towards the waterfront where we ran into the pop up shops (a lot of them made out of old refurbished shipping containers from the company MUVBOX) and hustle and bustle of The Old Port Of Montreal. It was amazing to see so many people all enjoying themselves in one place. In London (Ontario), we have a “downtown” but I can’t say it’s anything like this. Maybe it’s something to strive for but oh man, it almost just seems like a cultural thing that Montreal has over most other cities – I can’t place it just yet.

We wandered around and eventually decided that we wanted to go to “that island over in the water” (Ville-Marie), so we made a “big U turn” around the South of the port, biked under some industrial area-looking underpasses (where Natalia said she wouldn’t have gone without me because of its sketchiness, rightfully so), up past the polarizing Habitat 67,  and up into yet another nice quaint area.

Selfie on Ville-Marie, with Montreal's Old Port in the background

What we had thought was an island was actually a piece of land that jutted out to a point in the middle of the water, allowing you to look out Westward toward Montreal and its Old Port or Eastward toward St. Helen’s Island or Ile Notre-Dame. 

sunset photo of Montreal's Old Port
Montreal’s Old Port shot from Ville-Marie

Poutine

We took in the sunset, strapped our lights on to our bikes, and started on our way back home. We may or not have also looked up a Poutine place as a snack on the way back because we had not yet gone grocery shopping and had no food at home (this is why being a tourist is more expensive than being a resident). We stopped at Poutineville because without a doubt, they would be serving poutine.

our two poutines from Poutineville in Montreal

The funny thing was, when we got there, for the first time that day, we couldn’t find any bike racks near Poutineville. So, as we discovered is the norm in Montreal, we started figuring out a way of locking our bikes to the railing of the business. A gentleman (who I presume was the owner of Poutineville) came out and asked us if we were getting some poutine, which we said “yes” to and he helpfully advised us on a locking location for our second bike because of the limited space. 

I have to wonder though: if we had of said “no”, I wonder if he would have said we needed to lock our bikes somewhere else? I mean, personally if I were in his shoes, I’d say that this bike parking is reserved for Poutineville customers… but it’s hard because there wasn’t anywhere else that was lockable! Not even sign posts! Anyway, we ordered a simple sampler of two different poutine types and shared it.

Parking our bikes

Cut to us arriving at home after a nice hot poutine snack and we realized that we would probably have to bring our bikes up two flights of stairs to bring them up to the third story apartment.

The decision of whether to leave my bike locked to the railing out front of the apartment building overnight or to bring it into the apartment with me would become a dilemma for me in the future but for the few days that Natalia was there, we decided to haul the bicycles up the stairs into the apartment with us just for the peace of mind, knowing that our bikes weren’t stolen or vandalized.

A screenshot of my Strava app with "Nicole didn't believe we'd bike everywhere in Montreal..." written on it.
A screenshot of my Strava app with "But we for sure did. And it was amazing!" written on it.

We slept SO WELL that night. Our bodies needed to rest of course, but our senses also needed time to relax after taking all that in.

Closing Journal Thoughts

I could easily go into more details about beater bikes vs nice bikes vs heavy bikes vs light bikes, or biking vs public transport vs driving, etc… but that’s for another blog because this one kinda turned into a journal entry without much learning to be had for the reader.

Sorry if this isn’t a normal informative blog where you learn something and is instead of log of what we did on our first day in Montreal… but that’s what it is and I’m not re-writing it haha. I actually found this one difficult to write because of the drawn-out nature of this style of writing (which I will avoid in the future).

It’s almost like I “have” to continue telling the story and can’t cut it off at any point. And you’ll notice that nearer to the end, I falter with my details of events because why bother? I’m so close to the end and all I want is to start on the next blog, so I feel like by the end of writing this, I just wanted to move on to something different and interesting, instead of continuing to write about how “we did this, then we did this, and this, and this, and then this, this, and this. And this.”

In the future I hope to add value and quality to the interwebs rather than just large amounts of words with few meaningful lessons or learning materials for readers.

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Ben Durham

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