Because this post was getting to be long, I’ve decided to split my Life in Montreal article into three parts: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. No copyright infringement is intended. Uh, don’t I have to say that?
I probably can’t claim to be entirely new to Montreal now that I’ve spent more than one winter here. But my arrival experience is recent enough to give a few pointers for newcomers to Montreal about what to expect when moving here.
I came to Montreal in January 2012 knowing very little about the city. Friends of mine who had lived here told me it’s fun, but they also warned that it gets extremely cold. Other than that, I had few expectations. Chico had been here for about half a year before I arrived, but since he’s always jetting here, there and everywhere, he wasn’t a reliable source of information about the city (I love you, Chico!).
First, the Good!
Montreal is surrounded by natural beauty. If you are an outdoorsy person, this is the city for you. Even on the island there are tons of parks, even a national park at Cap St-Jacques on the west end of the island and the famous Mount Royal that gives the city its name.
There are bike paths all over the city. As soon as the weather turns warm, people kit up and cycle to and from work. (Remind me that I need to come back to this point in the Bad section.) There’s a public bike system called Bixi that is active from April through November which makes biking around the city so convenient and easy. It’s been one of my favorite parts of Montreal!
Public transportation is pretty good (though a little pricey at a monthly pass rate of nearly $80), and though also a bit expensive, food shopping is decent with two large markets in the city at Jean Talon and Atwater. There’s a lot of retail shopping options (I got my wedding dress up at Plaza St-Hubert!), but as the Canadian dollar is quite strong these days you are better off making a quick cross-border weekend trip and hitting up shops in Vermont, New Hampshire or New York state.
Montreal is also an incredibly diverse city. There’s of course the mix of English and French which makes the city unique. But then there’s the huge “allophone” (as the non-English and non-French speakers are called) population that makes Montreal so vibrant. My home is not far from the Portuguese neighborhood and there’s an Italian quarter, Jewish neighborhood, Greek area, and more. The city has done a lot to bring international businesses here, so in the streets you hear all kinds of languages as you walk down Ste-Catherine street.
With all these diverse cultures comes a large variety of food. A bad meal in a restaurant in Montreal is a crime, and sometimes you can feel overwhelmed with choice for dinner spots. I use UrbanSpoon and Yelp, but there’s also RestoMontreal and of course individual recommendations. The café culture here is great, and as soon as the weather turns nice, restaurant terraces pop up along the streets. Ste-Catherine street is shut down to traffic most of the summer, and pretty much every weekend there’s some kind of festival or street party going on.
Perhaps my favorite part of Montreal so far has been the combination of European style and North American customer focus and friendliness. People are polite and positive (for the most part) and if you come here speaking both English and French (or at least willing to try speaking both), that immediately ingratiates you with most people.
There’s more that’s good, but I’ll end it there. Tune in at some later date (I’m not making any promises of regularity here) where I discuss the Bad parts of Montreal.