Wandering Downtown Montreal

Much of my family lives in the city of Montreal, Quebec. And so I’ve visited the place a couple times and figure I’ll do a writeup on it as it’s an interesting city. One of the most interesting in the world actually, if not nearly as historic or dramatic as many of the others I’ve visited.

Hmmm… Montreal is a fun city to wander because once you escape the confines of the local tourist trap area (charming although it may be) you get a nice blend of old meets new with all sorts of quirky results. Sometimes impressive, other times not-so-much, but fun as hell to explore either way! The main shopping street, named Saint Catherine I believe, is a collection of smaller shops spread along a fair distance with a smattering of big businesses and malls along its length. The most popular and widely visited length of the street is mostly a collection of fashionable clothing shops with ye-olden style fronts, quaint stone gargoyles, stone carvings and the like, while in either direction from this main fashionable shopping core the quality of the storefronts begins to slip some and smaller, more unique stores pop up among generally lesser quality and seedier shops. This extends till suburbs on one end and industrial another. It’s also fun to note that ‘adult’ stores are plentiful along this street with all sorts of fun and hilariously out-of-place signs. It’s a bit awkward to see a seedy looking strip bar with pictures of skanky girls all over it among otherwise high-end stores and sporting a nice classical storefront, but hey, can’t deny it adds a bit of flavour to the area.

To the west of this core avenue I believe you’ll find what I interpreted to be the ‘upper class’ shopping area, a series of quaint little shops all in perfect great condition that look extremely pretty, for lack of better words, and are for the most part jewelry stores, high quality restaurants and more clothing stores till it dissolves into mostly office buildings. To the south is housing, I’ve never explored it much, and to the north is industrial. Finally to the west are mostly office buildings leading to tourist trap central and the pier, a fun area to be sure. Keep in mind my north-south-east-west are all based on about ten minutes I spent looking over a map of downtown Montreal once while relaxing in a Chapters bookstore, so I’m probably wrong on my directions here but nevertheless I hope you atleast get the general idea. Probably the main attraction here is Old Montreal, a street nearby the waterfront that’s a depiction of downtown Montreal circa-whenever (Mostly built around the 1700’s I believe.). Most memorable for its twisty narrow brick streets with storefronts left and right all well maintained older buildings with wooden signs out front for that added ‘ye-olden’ look that’s only broken by the fact that most of the stores are souvenir shops, local novelty shops and expensive restaurants. Still, nice street to walk along.

Then there’s the pier area, mostly waterfront shops and boat docking, all closed for the season while I was last there and the ice frozen over (It does tend to get quite icy and cold in Montreal, which makes it perfect for sight-seeing in my opinion since it all but eliminates the usual droves of tourists and can provide a much more relaxed, if chilly, experience. Mind you I’ve always rather liked winter so opinions will vary!). Great view though! Nearby is the Basilique Notre-Dame, an amazing cathedral-style church somewhere between st.catherine street and the pier. The only place in Montreal that I’ve payed money to see, $4 in-fact, and so impressive I spent that extra $1 from my fiver to buy a postcard just in-case my pictures didn’t turn out alright. The architecture is extremely impressive, exterior the usual stone carvings and the like but the interior an amazing display of wooden craftsmanship and design the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. There’s even a modern touch in that the lighting in the Cathedral is set up to enhance certain areas presenting an absolutely glorious display of color and setting an extremely dramatic tone to the entire experience. I’m told there are even full light-shows that take place there complete with music, which I someday hope to see since even the default lighting is extremely impressive. Very interesting place and more than worth the admission price. Go there on a chilly day as I’ve done, and you’re likely to have the place to yourself too which makes the experience all the more moving!

Perhaps my favorite part of Montreal though is the number of quiet corners and forgotten spots where time just seems to have slowed to a crawl or stopped entirely. An abandoned old school-like building, now covered in graffiti and the gate around it breached in so many places, yet stained glass windows still visible from one corner of the building and nice stone architecture untouched. A single small shop, now fallen into disrepair and surrounded by a parking lot, looking lonely and awkward there all by itself like the last man standing after a long conflict. A series of storefronts underneath the train tracks, all boarded up long ago and forgotten. Nothing remarkable in themselves, but the frequency of such little spots adds up until there’s a sort of all-pervading vibe throughout the city. And I’m not talking slummy areas either, those you can find in any city, more… forgotten spots that just seem to have been pushed aside and left while the rest of the city continued to advance and grow.

Wandering downtown Montreal is an entertaining experience both for its diversity and its uniqueness which set it apart from other places in the world. Certainly worth a visit. Me? I recommend during winter as there’s nothing quite as dramatic as walking along the streets with the wind and snow in your face and not a crowd to be seen. But that’s me. Either way; visit, enjoy! It’s a beautiful place.

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