My brother asked me to write about some places I have traveled to so he and people like him can know what to expect when visiting them. You have probably read my Love letter to New Orleans and childhood memories of Antigua on the beach. If not, get to it. In 2018, I braved the freezing tundra to see some of my family and friends up north. My partner and I traveled to Canada for a short trip after Christmas and New Year's Day to get out of warm balmy Atlanta. We visited Toronto and had a fabulous time with our extended family. After, we drove to Montreal. While there, despite freezing to the bone – Montreal (Montréal in French) is still my favorite city on ice.
Why We Decided On Montreal
Apart from the obvious, visiting family, I wanted the cold to be worth it. This may sound silly, but I believe there should be some benefit when it’s cold, like snow. I know there are some U.S. cities where snow halts everything. But I also know there are many cities, including some I have lived in, where snow is a delight and encourages people to get out and have fun in the beautiful white stuff. Basically, we wanted cold and to experience snow.
There are other reasons we decided on Montreal. We have friends there. I even found one of my old graduate school classmates, who opened a fantastic restaurant called Le Tire-Bouchon Bistro Parisien. It’s a must-visit. Besides, Montreal is absolutely beautiful. This is a city with a splendid French-influenced. Montréal, pronounced in French as “Mon-re-al,” was a fur-trading outpost. While their official language is French, everyone we met spoke English. The houses are these picturesque townhouses, colorful even behind the winter frost from our breaths. There are fine dining and art that reflects the French lifestyle. One of my favorite breakfast places is called Snowdon’s Deli. My mouth is watering right now as I remember this.
Why Montreal Is a Really Cool City
Having a friend in an unfamiliar city is always excellent for getting personal tours. We met up with other friends who were visiting and had a grand tour of the city. Meanwhile, the temperature was a frigid -20 C (OMG -4 F). Despite my desire to see snow, it was too cold. Here is something that amazed me, and this may be because I am from the tropics—everyone was outside walking, eating, and enjoying life despite the cold. They dressed appropriately, some even in fur coats and fur hats. So, visiting means you must dress warmly to have fun.
Frostbite is no fun. I experienced this as a child living in New York. Luckily, it was only split lips. The pain sets in when your skin thaws after a few minutes of being inside. New York is another story for another time. The point is to plan your visit. Check the typical temperature of the city at that time of the year. Ahead of my departure, I always set my weather app on my smartphone to provide real-time updates on the city I visit. It helps you to plan the clothes needed for the journey. No one wants their time ruined by feeling miserable from the cold.
“Let Toronto become Milan. Montréal will always be Rome.”
— Jean Drapeau CC GOQ (February 18, 1916 – August 12, 1999)
Great To Have Friends All-Around
We stayed in an Airbnb on Avenue Bannantyne. It’s in a neighborhood called Verdun, located southeast of downtown Montreal. It’s quiet and close to everything, but not too expensive because it’s not downtown. At first, one of my Montreal friends accused me of staying in a shadowy part of town. However, we felt safe and truly preferred quieter parts of cities because we value restful sleep on vacation. Today, Verdun is noted as one of the coolest places with its craft brewery, cocktail pubs, cafés (can’t remember the name of one we went to one morning, but again, great food), and avant-garde eateries. But don’t let not knowing anyone in a city stop you from visiting. Just go!
I spent a week in Montreal a few years before while training for my international airport professional (IAP) certification with the United Nations Special Agency – The International Civil Aviation Organization, Airports Council International, and Concordia University. I commuted on the metro, ate at city restaurants, and mostly hung around the city’s business districts close to the international agencies’ offices. We stayed up late to work and often headed home (our hotels) exhausted from a solid day of pontificating about the future of airports globally. The experience left me with a good feeling that Montreal was not just a great place to visit but could be a good place to live as well.
Toronto vs. Montreal
Honestly, I don’t think there is a need for competition. I agree with the late Mayor of Montreal, Drapeau. I have family and friends in both cities. They are both places with a high quality of life. Admittedly, I like Montréal because I love the French influence. Yet, with limited French, you can get around just by speaking English. Finally, I encouraged my brother, who made me write this article, to visit. The experience will open his eyes to a whole new world.
Finally, I cannot seem to dis Toronto because that’s my first root in Canada. I have been to the city for work and vacation several times. As a teenager, I once spent an entire summer there, walking for hours on Yonge Street and exploring Eaton Center Mall. For me, even the summers were cold. It can be 10 degrees cooler in the shade. Coming from anywhere south of New York, you probably don’t have the right clothes for Canada’s winters. My best advice is to layer up so you don’t spend a fortune. Scarves, mittens or gloves, a wooly hat, and long thermal underwear will be vital to stay warm.
Get waterproof jackets and leggings if you are going to Niagara Falls. It’s a must-visit and gorgeous, with ice-covering rails, trees, and parts of the falls. Take a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist. If you can afford a long, waterproof winter coat, go for it. Don’t mind family members from there who balk at the cold. Their DNA acquires polar bear morphology when moving there, even from the Caribbean.